Play: DNW Radio: Bruce Marler on Local Internet Marketing
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With: Bruce Marler
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ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Domain Name Wire Radio. Find Domain Name Wire on the web at www.domainnamewire.com. Now here’s your host, Andrew Alleman.
ANDREW: Welcome to Domain Name Wire Radio. I’m your host, Andrew Allemann. Today’s guest is Bruce Marler, but before we talk to Bruce, I just want to remind everyone that you can see past Domain Name Wire shows, listen to those and read transcripts www.domainnamewire.com/radio. I’d also like to thank our sponsor, Traverse Legal. So, Bruce, welcome to the show.
BRUCE: Thank you very much, Andrew.
ANDREW: So, Bruce, a lot of people probably know you by your blog at www.brucemarler.com, but what is your relationship to the domain industry? How and when did you get involved?
BRUCE: I started buying my first names back as early as 1996 and 1997. I can’t say that I went full in and really quite understood the value of what I was doing at the time, but I was at AT&T and helping to deploy their internet backbone and some of the their internet services back in those days and started picking up on what was happening, and figured a few of these names may be valuable to me as I was building a business of my own and kind of picked up a few; didn’t really do a lot with them. Then in early 2000 it kind of hit me in the face when I was looking to start a consulting service in the VOIP world and started realizing how everything in such a new technology field such as VOIP really was taking up and realized the stuff I was onto earlier really had a lot more value than maybe I gave it credit for and really started jumping in a bit more about early 2001/2002.
ANDREW: You have been involved much longer probably than most people listening here, so how many domains do you have?
BRUCE: Currently, it’s a real interesting question because it was split between my personal holdings, which is much smaller now, and my company holdings, and we have approximately 1300 – 1400 names between the two and a lot of them are geo targeted names, but we have a lot of good generics as well.
ANDREW: Ok, great. So really one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is although you are a domainer, you also have a business that is local marketing…local online marketing business called LocalTek. I was hoping you could talk a little bit about that, how it came about, and what exactly it does.
BRUCE: Sure no problem. Actually what I think many people are probably aware of and if they aren’t then hopefully they understand the relation. Our local marketing business at LocalTek actually came from the launch of our Missouri.me site. So the whole formation of the business really came from the launch of a business on a great domain name. We understood the branding that Missouri.me could give us for local community sites and realized that today companies really need more than just advertising on sites to succeed. They really need a holistic marketing plan online as the market becomes a bit more fragmented as people search and go to portals and do all the different things they do online, and we actually created LocalTek to bring together the advertising world that we had on Missouri.me and the other state.me’s that we have and pull it together with a full holistic marketing solution — whether it be local SEO, web development, social media — whatever it was it would pull together into one company being LocalTek.
ANDREW: So you created Missouri.me and as you’re out there talking to these companies, basically, you realize that they needed more?
BRUCE: Well I have to say we saw a lot of it ahead of time. We weren’t completely blindsided. I will say if you ask me what percentage of our business I thought would be such as web development and local SEO, I probably would have said I would have thought it would have been a bit smaller, only because I was kind of under the impression a lot of small businesses really had a lot more solid web presences than they actually did. We actually get a good portion of our business from people who currently have what they considered online marketing and web development solutions, but we’re taking them over and redoing them and helping them be found online. So actually we saw a lot of opportunity ahead of time, but we actually were able to enhance our marketing plan quite a bit as we got more market intelligence out there and really truly put together the whole holistic marketing solution from advertising to development.
ANDREW: And when did you found LocalTek?
BRUCE: It was founded January 2009.
ANDREW: Ok, so just a year, and of course, there was a ramp up period. How many customers do you have now?
BRUCE: We are over 100 customers now.
BRUCE: Yeah, and really the first half of last year, I was actually employed by a company named GenBand selling next generation telecommunications equipment. In the middle of the year we got our platform done for Missouri.me and started some feet on the street marketing and sales and July 1st is when I stepped away and we really started hitting the streets hard selling and doing our marketing seminars. By the end of last year we were right around 100 customers and obviously throughout this year we have continued to increase that, and as a matter of fact, last week we had a record week that was just phenomenal.
ANDREW: So really this is in 6 – 9 months that you have accomplished allâ€¦
BRUCE: Right the first half of last year was really spent developing the platform, talking to customers, making sure we had the features the customers wanted in the platform, and then we really started ramping up the sales and marketing starting in July and if you really ask me, you know, put me to the wall, I would say September is really when we got our message where it needed to be and really had all the intelligence we wanted to have to be able to move hard and strong forward.
ANDREW: So obviously you are not doing all of this by yourself then?
BRUCE: No, we’re not. We have a team here. We have content writers on staff. We are all local. We don’t outsource anywhere. We have feet on the street sales people. I have a business partner that I work with that comes from the small business world who has had small businesses and successfully ran them, and we actually just hired our marketing coordinator last week to start taking some of the seminar work off what I’m doing and it is no secret … that we have actually started picking up some of our first external investors to help us ramp up even faster as we start to hit our growth mode here.
ANDREW: And so that must have been somewhat of a tough decision. You had a lot of good results early on and usually when you’re successful people then start bringing the money to you. So how did you decide to take this outside funding which I assume was through perhaps angel investors?
BRUCE: It was. It was a very interesting process and one that I actually look forward to as I meet more people and talk to them, I’d love to give people some thoughts on how to go about it. We actuallyâ€¦it was actually December of last year, I was in LA, I had just got off a plan and Morgan Linton picked me up ironically enough, and I actually got an email from a large investment institution wanting to meet while I was in LA. I sat down with them and it was a very, very good meeting, and then had some follow-ups with them and basically it helped me get in the door to some fairly large vc funds that as a company we knew that we didn’t want to lose the core of what our business was and it wasn’t quite time to release the control of thebusiness. We needed to make sure it stayed moving forward to help the businesses we could help and where our core was. We actually stepped back, decided to do investment in a little bit different manner so we could retain the company as it was at its core and the customers… would provide support and working with local investment and business leaders in the region we are in to actually develop to actually craft an investment plan that keeps the company as it is and lets us grow in the manner we need to.
ANDREW: And when you say the region you’re in, you’re in Missouri.
BRUCE: I’m in Southeast Missouri about 60 miles south of St. Louis.
ANDREW: It’s funny. I’ve noticed recently having grown up in St. Louis, myself, there are quite a few domainers in the area, aren’t there?
BRUCE: There are and it’s actually quite humorous, because Aaron Meystedt a good friend of mine and we talk fairly frequently and it kind of became a joke that we kind of have this domainers’ mafia thing here in Missouri where there is a whole lot of us here and a lot of people really don’t realize how many people are sitting around this state. Everybody from Brian Null at Mo.com. Tia does developments based here in Missouri. We have Gary Dellins. There are actually quite a few of us here in the state that a lot of people have run into along the way.
ANDREW: I guess Patrick Carltonâ€¦
BRUCE: Yeah, I can’t forget Patrick. Patrick is a good guy, and I’m going to be hanging out with him Thursday night to talk geo domains.
ANDREW: Ok. And Aaron, of course, is the one who owns Symbolics.com?
ANDREW: Ok. He got a lot of press this past week from the 25th anniversary of .coms and symbolic.com as the first .com domain name registered. So I believe he said you met with him that night.
BRUCE: Yep. I had dinner with him that night. Actually I had dinner with him the night he bought it and dinner with him on the anniversary, and you could not meet a more humble, calm guy when it comes to stuff like that. It’s not every day that what you own is mentioned all over CNN and everywhere else in the world, and you would have never known it as we were sitting there having a burger.
ANDREW: Well let’s circle back here on the business on the Local marketing. So you and I had had a conversation via comments on Domain Name Wire about selling marketing to local businesses and one of the people chimed in saying that, you know, it’s all about the ROI and that sort of thing that these companies are getting, but what do you kind of experience when you talk to these customers? How sophisticated are they?
BRUCE: And you justâ€¦that last part of itâ€¦and it’s by no means demeaning when I say this, but they’re not sophisticated technology wise, because they are not supposed to be. I actually give them a compliment actually because they aren’t, because they are focusing on their business and most of these companies are small businesses; they have a few employees. It’s not their job to understand technology. It’s our job as people who are going out and working with them on technology services to explain to them the value of it. So all that said, one thing I learned real quick is that pay per click, things like Google Ad Words and you know the other ad networks out there that are in the pay per click model, mostly small businesses will never understand that, because it’s not their job to understand it and it’s really a technical subject, and as much as we people in this industry don’t consider it technical, to most people it is a very technical process to go through and bid on keywords, determine what keywords you want, and do all the targeting you have to do. Most small businesses do not want to do that. They are used to the pay me once; here is your pricing for the year type of pricing model in advertising. They are not used to the pay-per-click model.
ANDREW: Right. So what does that mean from a domainer’s perspective? See, now I own a lot of long tail geo domain names — just sold another one this morning — but if I were to approach say a small business, let’s say it’s a doctor’s office–what are some of the niches that you have a lot of?
BRUCE: You know, we have accounting names, we have some wine names. There are actually quite a few as you can imagine as we did Missouri.me, we did pretty well picking up some other names as well in different niche networks.
ANDREW: So let’s say we are going to an accountant, and I’ve got, you know, cityaccountants.com. What does the pitch need to be to get their attention, given that they aren’t sophisticated around the web and web marketing?
BRUCE: The simple answer is targeting. That really is targeting and obviously I don’t want to give up to much of our secrets, but at the same time I can say this pretty openly, because I think any domainer will understand this. Having a targeted message in your sales pitch helpsâ€¦I can just say a ton without gettingâ€¦without sounding too funny there, but having that helps a ton only because the legacy media methods of advertising were very shotgun approach and you were hoping somebodyâ€¦it’s all about eyeballs, you know, the preaching is it’s all about eyeballs. Where today with the way the web works, that changes completely and whether it be targeted traffic off, you know, type in traffic or whether it be using the exact match domain name to get high rankings from a search perspective, and be able to have that targeted traffic, either way it is more targeted and converts better than the legacy advertising method.
ANDREW: Explaining that value as opposed to say the yellow pages or the broadcast TVâ€¦
BRUCE: You’re hoping somebody cares about what you’re selling and they happen to see your ad [on TV].
BRUCE: And that really is it. I mean, one of the great things is, and I must say thank you to some of the regional radio stations here, because we are actually about ready to form some partnerships with some of the local radio station networks only because they understand how to work together and balance the targeted with kind of the promotion of the website on the radio as well. So as much asâ€¦it’s all about targetedâ€¦if you can figure out how to bring it together in a holistic method, it works really well and kudos to the legacy media that is starting to understand that.
ANDREW: So are there certain types of small businesses, you know, you’ve named a few that you think are more receptive to marketing online, or even the opposite, or doctors are very difficult to get to understand as opposed to different types of businesses?
BRUCE: Yeah, you know, it’s funny; doctors, it’s kind of funny, there’s some history there, but doctors actually do get it. The problem with doctors is time.
BRUCE: Let me just say now, you think you’re going to easily target doctors and get in and be able to sell to them, you’ve got another thing coming to you.
BRUCE: People who like to promote and contract things easily on coupons and things like that are things like restaurants. Restaurants do well. People, I mean, honestly, and the reason it’s hard to give a good answer here. I’ll give you an example why. About a month and a half ago I had somebody say, well what type of customers work best with what you’re doing from a local search perspective and everything? And not a joke, I had 14 sites on my white board that we were working on at that time and kind of working through analysis on. Every one of them was a different type of business. So I don’t mean to sound like well it works for everybody, but in all seriousness, people are looking for things online and if the local business isn’t being found they are getting it somewhere else. It becomes something more than business growth that you are looking for. Now that everybody is going online and searching for products and buying online it really becomes customer retention. And those local businesses are losing business to the big chains onlineâ€¦the Amazons of the world, because they are not being found when people search locally.
BRUCE: It really becomes a customer retention thing as much as it is a business growth.
ANDREW: Ok. So as you move from, you know, kind of domaining origins to more of a mix between using domains and local online marketing, how do you see your involvement in the domain industry going forward?
BRUCE: What I really want to help with…by no means am I completely out of pure domaining. I mean I like to sell them as much as the next guy, right? With that said, where I really can see the most value from my involvement is really helping people with development. Not necessarily the code work, I’m talking giving some guidance and experience that I’ve had while we developed our company and developed different names and specifically in the geo domain community, there are a lot of great geo domainers out there. I mean the Castello brothers, Patrick Carlton who you spoke about earlier, and Skip Hoagland, you know, you go down the list. All that said, we have kind of a new different type of experience. We approach it from more of a grassroots geo niche model in some areas. Missouri.me developing that and other areas and doing community level like that, and I really think my involvement you’re going to see a lot of at least trying to help or give guidance in the geo domain development and how to monetize best and make money off the direct adsales that you can get in that business model.
ANDREW: I have to ask, because you have Missouri.me, Oklahoma.me, you know, a lot of people look at anything that isn’t .com and say ‘well that has to be impossible to market and get people to understand’. So what has your experience been with that?
BRUCE: I can tell you, and let me just say, because it’s not like I’m some .com basher, I mean, most of my names are .com, let’s just be real clear. That said, my customers don’t care. Matter of fact, for the most part the reception that we had from customers when we say “Missouri.me” is “Wow, that really works” or “that’s really cool”. We’ve had top marketing directors at major banks, very conservative though, actually sit there and actually want to meet with us separately just to talk about all the neat things you can do from a branding and marketing standpoint, because of how we are doing it. People remember .me. It’s pronounceable, it’s short, it makes sense, it’s not like a lot of the re-purposed CCTLD’s. It’s actually one that fits the brand, it makes sense. People remember it. That’s really the trick. It’s not like you are coming up with something and trying to force feed it to them. People remember .me when it’s used in the proper way. What I go by, and I’m sorry if somebody owns this, would I go buy refrigerators.me? Probably not. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. But you can use the branding of .me in certain ways and it really works well, and our customers have really taken hold of that, and it’s been good for us.
ANDREW: So in other words it may be because of the use and the connotation of .meâ€¦Missouri.me might be better than say Missouri.net?
BRUCE: In many cases, you know, I had this conversation with somebody once, and you know there is no way to prove and by no means would I knock .net; I do very well with .nets in other ways. When it comes to the branding, I think .me is probably more memorable than having the .org or .net in this case.
ANDREW: Well, Bruce, listen, I really appreciate you coming on the show, I know you’re really busy, obviously, moving from zero to 100+ customers here in about 6 months and taking on external funding, and if anyone listening wants to follow-up or keep tabs on the company, it’s Localtek.com. You can also read Bruce’s blog at BruceMarler.com. Bruce thanks so much for your time.
BRUCE: I really appreciate it. Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: Thanks for listening to Domain Name Wire Radio. Keep up to date on domain name news at www.domainnamewire.com.