2018 will offer SMBs an unprecedented slate of digital marketing tools, all created by companies clamoring for their advertising dollars. ThriveHive is one such company. It aims to stand apart from the crowd by offering clients a “guided” marketing platform tailored to the location and culture of particular businesses and backed up by human marketing coaches.
Street Fight recently caught up with Adam Blake, ThriveHive’s SVP of marketing, and Steve Gottlieb, senior director of demand generation, to talk about the evolution of digital marketing tools for SMBs, striking a balance between digital and human support, and transparency in digital marketing.
Let’s start with an overview of what ThriveHive does.
Blake: ThriveHive provides guided marketing solutions to small business owners to empower them to grow their businesses. The solutions range from a mobile app to help them maintain their social media presence all the way to complex multimedia campaigns involving a range of different advertising products with a software platform in between that we call our guided marketing platform. But it’s all under a guided marketing umbrella. No matter what you do with ThriveHive, you’re going to get a guided experience when you do it.
What are the challenges SMBs are facing these days, and how can technology address them?
Blake: Marketing is still relatively new as a concept for small businesses. The Internet has dramatically accelerated it. Every year, there are more and more options for business owners to market themselves, and they don’t know what they should be doing. So, I think that’s one of the biggest challenges for them.
Once they figure something out that they’re interested in doing, it’s difficult for them to know if it’s working. If you talk to most small business owners and you ask them what their marketing budget is, they’ll tell you they don’t have a marketing budget but are willing to spend as much money as you want on something if it’s going to work. Having them navigate that landscape of figuring out what’s relevant to them and whether they should stick with it is one of the biggest challenges out there.
When you connect with small-business owners, what are the challenges you most often help them with? Could you take me through specific products you offer?
Blake: When we encounter someone who’s just getting started, a nascent business that doesn’t have an established advertising budget, we’re going to get them started on our guided marketing platform. That’s a comprehensive software platform that covers everything from their website to email marketing to social-media marketing and a bunch of lead-tracking as well as a light CRM. We put that all in one package and enable the business owner to leverage various components. Our data science shows the more of it they engage with, the better the results are.
As we assess their needs as they grow or as we get businesses that are further down the marketing curve in terms of their understanding and budget, that’s where we’ll open up conversations about a range of different advertising services. That could be anything from Google advertising to Instagram or in the coming months we’re going to be releasing some new video products.
How does the product and the technology itself guide the client, and what is the human component of that guidance?
Gottlieb: When somebody first contacts us, it starts with us understanding the business and where they fall on our range of products. If you start at the lower end of the products, such as our guided marketing platform and now — with the acquisition that we recently concluded of Closely and the Perch app — the guidance that’s involved in Perch as well … You’re going to answer some questions, and based on that you get a customized marketing platform. The software will automatically walk you through not just a fixed set of marketing activities, but activities that our data show will be the most effective for growing your business.
From there, we offer human support as well in the form of marketing coaches. If you buy the ThriveHive guided marketing platform, you’re buying access to a gym. That gym has fantastic instructions on how to use the equipment and is tailored to you, but there’s no human person guiding you until you get to the marketing coach, who is like a personal trainer. They’ll work with you and your marketing to ensure you’re getting the most out of the system. If you step up into our advertising products, then that guidance will take the form of ongoing transparency … on results and recommendations.
So many people on the software side just want to solve everything with software, and on the agency side, there’s too much of a bias toward people. We think the right combination is in between.
As you know, Street Fight specifically focuses on local. How do you cater to the specific needs of each business, particularly in regard to its location, but also its culture and the distinctive mission of the company?
Blake: There are two key elements that we start with. One is the business, and that includes the location of the business — is it in a rural area or a more metropolitan area, the size of the business, and the industry. The second axis, which most companies miss, is the business owner. Frequently it’s that business owner who is highly involved in whatever marketing is being done. If you don’t understand the characteristics of the business owner, you’ll never be successful in giving them guidance.
As you both know, the SMB category is quite a big one that ranges from Mom-and-Pop stores to companies with hundreds of employees. Does ThriveHive work with companies throughout this range, and how does your strategy change based on the size of the client?
Blake: We serve a wide range. We do truly go all the way down to the solo entrepreneur, and you can’t do that without technology. Perch is a great example of that technology as well as our guided marketing platform. Perch is free, and anybody can use it to help them stay on top of their reviews and their online presence.
At the other end of the spectrum, we might call it a regional business such as a hospital or a bank, we have a strategic accounts team where we do leverage a combination of technology and people.
When connecting with SMBs, do you encounter concerns about transparency in marketing, whether it’s the actual effectiveness of tools or where people’s ads are ending up on the Internet?
Blake: Believe it or not, that’s actually been a concern for the entire life of the company. I’ve constantly been surprised how aware small business owners are of the potential for their ads to show up in places they don’t like. There is an increased awareness of it now. Because we’ve always been set up to provide transparency down to whatever level of transparency businesses want, we do hear it more, but as soon as we’re able to show them through our platform what exactly is happening, we’re able to allay those fears.
Joseph Zappa is Street Fight’s news editor. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.