Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking with e-commerce guru Gavin Jocius of Wisdom.MBA and River Wise Ventures. We discuss Bronto, GrepBeat, Jurassic, and everything in between. We also geek out on the future of marketing tech.
I have known Gavin since 2006 when he was with Duke University, an early Bronto customer. In fact, when I peruse my email archives, the first email that I can find from him was related to a major system crash that we now fondly call the “May Massacre”. The crash was devastating but we survived. He stuck with us for many years and through many companies. So, thanks!
To follow-up on last week’s security post, Email Service Providers like Bronto need be vigilant about security and act like the banks of the new millennium — banks of personal information with email addresses increasingly being the new currency. Of course, if you walk through city streets with your wallet hanging out, a secure bank is not going to help you very much. Here are some thoughts on what you can do to keep your email and customer lists more secure:
Think about what you are storing. Customers’ contact lists often contain much more than email addresses. Be aware of what data you are storing on whatever email marketing platform you are using — in particular, avoid including very sensitive pieces of data like credit card numbers and social security numbers for your contacts.
Protect and rotate your password. Most intrusions happen through the first door versus technical back doors. Your password is often the front door key so it is best to have a “strong” password and change it periodically. Strike the balance of it not being so hard to remember that you have to scribble it on a sticky note that sits on your desk. That’s not secure either.
Control access. Every account at Bronto includes multiple users — use them. And, when some one no longer needs access, delete it. Shared user accounts and passwords are inherently insecure and a cause for break-ins.
This is all common sense that sadly isn’t common enough. Bronto has a full suite of security features to make these type of things easy to do. Read this post on Brontoversity to learn how.
Phishing and Key Logging
Now, here’s the tricky one that you probably didn’t think of but has been the reason behind some recent data thefts. This really happens so read this one carefully.
The intruder sends you a phishing email trying to lure you into downloading a computer virus. The virus is a key logger. The key logger runs in the background and secretly logs and sends every key to the intruder. Then the intruder simply listens for your username and password and then tries the combination themselves. Https and other secure connections won’t help you here because your typing is captured before your information is encrypted and sent along to connected website. Then the intruder goes in through the “front door” by signing into your account with your username and password and takes what they would like.
In addition to the suggestions above, I recommend the following to mitigate the risk from phishing / key logging break-ins:
Be aware of phishing emails and what you download from them.
Install and maintain current anti-virus software. Anti-virus software will monitor your system for common key loggers.
Limit the IP addresses that can access your account to your office’s IP address. Will this be inconvenient when you try to sign into your account from home or on the road? Yes but a secure office would have a VPN to let you securely access the Internet through your work network. Read the Network Access section of this post to learn about how to do this in Bronto.
Ultimately secure data is a journey and not a destination — you are never a 100% there and the effort to keep your data secure never ends. But, there is a lot in your control to make your data more secure and exponentially more difficult to steal.
Willie Sutton was a famous bank robber from the first half of the twentieth century. One time a reporter asked him, “why do you rob banks?” His now famous response was, “because that’s where the money is.” The new money these days is personally identifiable information — email addresses and related bits — and Email Service Providers like Bronto are the new banks.
Today this reality became thrust into the forefront with Epsilon reporting that they had a major security breach that resulted in stolen email lists from many top brands including Best Buy, Capital One and Disney. Read more from the article in Security Week.
This is an unfortunate issue and reinforces why we take security and privacy very seriously at Bronto. We’ve invested much effort in the past 15 months into improving not only our own technology and internal security stance, but also providing many features to customers to allow them configure their own security controls according to their preferences. Among the areas we’ve improved during this time are our network, our internal management applications, and our internal policies and training. Additionally we’ve also improved our ability to detect and monitor activities going on inside our application and network, so appropriate staff are alerted to investigate, 24×7. On the customer side, we have added new features in the areas of account management, password security, user permissions, & API security. The security of your data is of the utmost importance to Bronto, and we never forget that.
We understand that we are a twenty-first century bank and the vault of your data is extremely valuable and needs to be kept very secure.
Unfortunately, with incidents like this, no one wins and the only redeeming value is that it sends a strong message to everyone in the industry that their security, whatever it is, could be better and forces them to re-assess and improve. We will certainly be re-assessing ours and looking for improvements. And we welcome conversation with anyone in the industry regarding how all of us can tighten security and provide a more secure world for all.
Intuit has a history of running their acquisitions as distinct sub-brands versus rolling them into a uber-platform. This would be very important in realizing value of something like CTCT (or like competitor) given the fickle nature of their customer base. Someone one described to me that the micro-business customers that make up the bulk of CTCT’s customer base have almost a symbiotic relationship with the product. Alter it a lot, like what would happen if it were redesigned to fit into someone else’s platform, then there would be significant churn.
Here are thoughts on the valuation:
Intuit (INTU) has a market cap of $9b. Constant Contact (CTCT) has a market cap of $500mm.
I put a 40% premium on the deal from their public market cap. Omniture had a 45% premium, which is rich but not unrealistic.
The revenue multiples make sense. CTCT did about $130mm last year. They have about $50mm in cash. So, 700 – 50 is 650. Divided by 130 makes it 5. A valuation at a 5x revenue multiple would be consistent with other acquisitions.
Of course, Intuit could buy a smaller competitor like iContact or Vertical Response, but my gut tells me that they would step up to the plate with a good mix of cash and stock (Intuit has about $1b in the bank) to make a solid stake in this area versus opt for something less.
You heard it here first. If it ends up happening then the investment bankers can send me some of that multi-million dollar fee. Thanks.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last year, you might have noticed that iContact and Vertical Response do a lot of banner advertising. For most of 2009, iContact was the main one stepping with the advertising spending but in the last few months Vertical Response has stepped their ad spend considerably and I probably see them more now than anyone. We have an ad war folks.
Here are some of my thoughts:
The email marketing business breaks into two levels — low and high — primarily based on price and sophistication. It used to be low, mid, and high but as the market has been maturing, like Shar VanBoskirk of Forrester correctly explained to me several years ago, the market would polarize around between just low-end and high-end vendors — just like every other market. I refuted it at the time but, in the end, I have to admit she was right. Folks, like in the mid market, either go down or up. We have been going up.
The king of the low-end is Constant Contact. They are publicly traded and are a fair bit bigger than both Vertical Response (VR) and iContact (iC) put together. They are doing well. I like them because they been consistent with their message around focusing on small businesses. Their fast followers, VR and IC, compete for the #2 and #3 spots but from my perspective have been less consistent on their messaging around small businesses. They have small businesses because they are cheap and simple not the other way around.
iContact was very aggressive for most of 2009 with their banner advertising and really streamlined their acquisition model, including turning their website into really just one landing page aimed around one thing — getting a free trial. I think that the model is akin to a whale swimming through the ocean trying to suck up as many small brine as possible. Smart to take advantage of the lower CPM rates in a crummy economic year. Also, they hired their CMO from Lending Tree — a firm that clearly does a lot of consumer-esque advertising and has deep an understanding of conversions. All that is good.
Vertical Response, I believe, was a bit more asleep for the last couple years and let iContact challenge their #2 position. I’m not sure what their plan was but it was not nearly as aggressive on the advertising side, as far as I could tell. Perhaps they relied on their strong SEO position on Google. Somewhere during the year, I noticed iContact bump up above them at one time so perhaps that woke them up. I think that has since reversed results. Of course, Google might personalize all search results by person these days, which make that little scientific analysis not so valuable.
Now, I see Vertical Response ads everywhere. They re-did their website / landing pages to more conversion friendly, which has to have bumped up their customer numbers. Also, I have to imagine that their pervasive advertising has upped the customer acquisition costs for both companies.
Constant Contact manages (probably smartly) to stay out of the fray and focuses on their mission of serving small businesses. I see their advertising and sponsorships as much more targeted. You won’t see them sponsor high-end email marketing conferences, but their fast followers will — dumb, dumb, dumb. Speaks to an ill focused marketing strategy. Strategies around “we’ll be everything to everybody” usually means that you’re being a lot less effective than you think you are.
Constant Contact has launched a few more products. The survey product was a no-brainer, although I do think that they would have done better stepping up some cash and buying someone with more of a presence. I wonder how much traction that really has had. I do that the event management / charging makes a lot of sense and really solves a headache for many small businesses and non-profits. I do like Constant Contacts’ strategy of focusing on small business franchises. If you start at the top, you can avoid some of the blood bath / commodity ad wars that everyone else on the low-end seems to engaged in.
A rising tide floats all boat so everyone’s growing. That’s great and I’m sure that all these players are benefiting from the adoption of email marketing by small businesses regardless on their strategy. I do think if some of these providers want to eventually go public or be acquired, it will help tremendously to have a better differentiation and strategy story than they have now.
Since I do see their ads everywhere, included my beloved TMZ, I do have a few creative advertisement requests:
For iContact — can you scrap the series with the scruffy college kid for regular iContact and the business man with glasses for iContact enterprise (another post some day on the “enterprise” label). I like the plain ones with simple messaging about roi. The create, send, track, … ones are nice too. The award logo like it was done with WordArt and puts in question the validity of that award. A little makeover would help.
For Vertical Response — Your CEO Janine seems like a really cool person, but all the ads with her picture seem a little odd. I like your “low price” & “best service” ads more. Of course, the truth really lies in the conversion rates, which I don’t know. Your landing page / website looks nice too and presents you very professionally, especially with the swooshing background graphic.
Wow. That’s more than what I planned to write on the topic. I have been in the email marketing space for a while now and it’s fascinating to see the fever pitch of advertising for small business email marketing these days. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes.
Social marketing is hot. It is hard not to stumble upon a marketing article these days that doesn’t discuss how some aspiring business is connecting to others through Twitter or finding new niches through Facebook. It is easy to see why. Facebook has become one of the most trafficked sites, second only to Google. And, Twitter has grown tenfold in terms of unique users over the last year, according to the most recent ComScore analysis.
With all this excitement, it is difficult for the marketer to separate the reality from the hype; the ROI from the distraction. Also, it leaves the all important question for many marketers: how social marketing relates to their leading customer retention medium — email marketing.
Wait no more. At the Online Marketing Summit this week in San Diego, I am going to lead a presentation that answers these very questions. In fact, we’ll look at three things:
How email marketing and social marketing are more like peanut butter and jelly versus apples and oranges, They are great complements and rely on each other to be effective.
How marketing engagement strategies that worked for other mediums also work here and introduce the GAMER framework: Goals, Audience, Mediums, Execution, and Results.
A few examples from other organizations (retailer, B2B marketing, college, …) that had a blended email marketing and social marketing strategy to drive some very real marketing results.
Last week I was interviewed by Andrew Kordek of the blog the Scrappy Email Marketer. Great conversation with someone who really understands email marketing. Much of the interview was also about our approach toward our customers — open, transparent and truly committed to their success. It’s in our DNA and we think essential for anyone trying to do marketing right.
You can read the article on thescrappyemailmarketer.com or inline here:
Wilma…give me a Bronto Burger please.
December 5, 2008 by thescrappyemailmarketer
A few weeks ago I put out an APB to all ESP’s to contact me as I would like to interview them for my blog. Bronto was only 1 of 2 ESP’s that contacted me and I was sure glad they did.
Once our schedules synched I had the pleasure of speaking with Joe Colopy the CEO of Bronto the other week. Imagine my surprise that when I called him, he picked up his phone. A CEO picked up his phone and apparently that is not the only thing that is open and transparent about Bronto…..according to Joe, he does not have an office, but rather sits out in the open with the rest of the Bronto folks. Pretty cool if you ask me.
In any event, I really wanted to know why the name Bronto? He told me that he was fascinated with dinosaurs as a young kid and even thought there really isn’t a Brontosaurus anymore (which isn’t true according to my 7 year old in that the Brontosaurus was actually renamed in 1975 to be called an Apotosaurus) he really wanted a symbol for his company which was physical in nature , but wanted also the ability to empower people in his organization.
So what does the future of email marketing look like in Joe’s eyes. For one he sees a tremendous amount of innovation specifically centered around the integration of social marketing in the B2C space and the near term, the ability for B2B folks to integrate well with lead management systems.
Speaking of social marketing I asked Joe if the integration into email is just hype or is it here to stay. According to him and I agree, its here to stay.
I asked Joe about Bronto and their sweet spot in the marketplace. He indicated that Bronto is a mid market player with a good strategy in play for long tail retailers. His differentiators in the marketplace are the fact that they have experience in the marketplace and their openness and transparency.
Joe and I talked about a lot of other things both personally and professionally and I found him to be really open and honest and truly committed to email marketing which is refreshing to see in the marketplace. I think that he truly cares for the success of his clients and its evidenced by his companies blog and market presence. I follow their blog regularly and interact with with DJ Waldow on occasion and I can truly see why Bronto is who they say they are. They seem to have a tremendous amount of passion for their clients and as an industry as a whole, which truly makes them unique this business. Its rare that you find companies out their that want to help the greater email community and do it selflessly.
One final note, I got my inflatable Bronto in the mail the other week and can’t wait to submit my picture. If you have no idea what I am talking about, ask Bronto as I am sure they will be sure to oblige.
A couple of months ago I wrote an article about the evolution of email marketing for DMNews. In the midst of juggling other things, I neglected to post it here. Await no more … you can read it inline below or from dmnews.com. Enjoy!
Mark Twain once wrote, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme.” His quote definitely rings true in the online marketing world. In the early days of the web, online marketing practices closely mimicked those of the print world, before evolving to fully realize the unique benefits of life online.
In the mid-1990s, websites splashed onto the scene to the excitement of marketers everywhere. Online pioneers modeled their websites after the print world – a world they were most familiar with. Unfortunately, early websites had many of the limitations of print media – static content with little interaction with its audience. With time, websites evolved beyond their static origins to become more dynamic, often integrating user-generated content and “mashups” with other web services. These advancements, often embodied as Web 2.0, were significant steps forward in engaging online. Of course, these developments did not happen immediately and took time to evolve past the limitations of the print world.
Email marketing is no different. In the beginning, email marketing meant simple one-way campaigns to lists of email addresses, regardless of demographic, relevance or timing considerations. Marketers were speaking at their customers rather than engaging them in an ongoing conversation, just as they had done before in the traditional print world. Today we know that email marketing is much more powerful. Today, Email Marketing 2.0 is possible.
Email Marketing 2.0 empowers marketers to establish a relevant and ongoing relationship with their audience. As user-generated content and “mashups” help engage website visitors, Email Marketing 2.0 dramatically increases relevancy for marketers with the use of intelligent, automated, transactional, and time-series messaging. These techniques let the marketer connect with the right recipient, with the right message, at the right time, multiple times. As more email marketing service providers offer more straightforward and approachable automated and triggered messaging options, migrating to email marketing conversation will become attainable by even the most novice email marketers.
Email Marketing 2.0 opens up an exciting new world for marketers. It lets marketers stay relevant with their audiences, increase mindshare, and drive revenue. This has always been the “Holy Grail” of marketing, even back before Mark Twain’s time.
Two weeks ago I gave an interview about the nuances of email marketing for Internet Retailer. Now the results in the last issue of the publication. Email marketing can yield incredible results for retailers but there are some nuances with it that determine whether the results pay off: relevancy, deliverability, …
You can read the article on Internet Retailer along with similar insights from Responsys, YesMail and Arial. You can also skim a few of my quotes here:
“The noise in e-mail marketing is only going to grow and as it does, retailers need to pay more attention to fundamental best practices if they want their e-mail marketing messages to effectively drive sales,” says Joe Colopy, CEO of e-mail marketer Bronto Software Inc. “Focusing on the fundamental best practices can greatly improve the execution of an e-mail campaign.”
“The idea is to create a sense that the customer is getting an inside deal or access to information no one else is getting,” says Colopy of Bronto Software, which provides such features as advanced reporting, web analytics integration, and dynamic content that enable retailers to deliver relevant, timely e-mail messages. “Subject lines need to convey a sense of compelling value.”
“Every e-mail client interprets the format of the message differently, so what looks good in Microsoft Outlook may be unreadable in Google Gmail,” says Bronto Software’s Colopy. “Messages have to be tested in different e-mail clients to ensure the integrity, readability and appearance of the message.”
Maintaining consistency with timing, frequency and relevancy with content can prevent customers from opting out of mailing lists.
“Best practices around these areas create consistency in the quality of the retailer’s brand and keep the customer interested in the retailer’s communications,” Colopy says.
“The secret to e-mail marketing is strong marketing practices, but retailers will need to be conscious of the nuances of e-mail in the mobile environment,” says Bronto Software’s Colopy. “Traditional direct marketing techniques are not going to translate well in this new environment.”
There is nothing too revolutionary in there but the best advice never is.