Small Business Owners Get Intimate With Visa's New Network1 Dec, 2008 By: Jacqueline Renfrow Response
The world's largest retail electronic payments network seeks to help small business owners during tough economic times by utilizing social networking site Facebook.
Marketing Within the Community
So far, Craddock says that VBN's online community has exceeded expectations in becoming a "one-stop shop resource."
Alex Craddock, the head of small business marketing at Visa, saw opportunities to utilize DR marketing in online social communities. Soon after, the Visa Business Network application launched on Facebook.
Part of the initial success may be tied to Visa's offer of a $100 advertising credit on Facebook to the first 20,000 U.S. small businesses that become members. "The ad credit program has been very well received and the businesses are using their credits," says Craddock. "There have been some great anecdotal stories of the response businesses have seen from the advertising they have done in Facebook as a result of the credit." VBN exceeded calendar target dates by signing up the first 20,000 members in less than three months.
"For a small business, it's a risk to try something new, so for them to make use of this Facebook trial is a great opportunity," says Craddock. During launch, Visa also advertised the application across TV, print and radio channels. Plus very targeted online marketing is planned for the future, especially to those already members of Facebook, or as Craddock refers to them, "the low-hanging fruit." As he points out, Visa knows it can target, at the very least, the 80,000 businesses already on Facebook. "We want to reach the personal profile page as well so, we're going to do traditional banner ads and also social advertising in news feeds and on personal pages," he says.
Initial concerns included the idea that the demographics of an online social community were skewed too young to be effective for VBN membership. But after research, Visa found that more than 50 percent of Facebook users are over the age of 36. "This surprised us. But it shows how much it [Facebook] has evolved and changed so quickly," says Craddock. "It's the place where everybody is existing, regardless of age or where they are."
Who are the community's members? The companies on VBN are located across the United States, with clusters around the major metropolitan areas. And although the companies have broad industry coverage, two key verticals are business services and telecommunications and technology.
Looking toward the future, Visa plans to continue to expand its relationship with Facebook and perhaps, more importantly, looks to create a better way to engage in dialogue with small businesses in real time. When the time is right, Visa plans to extend the network by creating additional functionalities; adding content; and partnering with more third parties — such as banks and merchants. And Craddock hopes that the new functions will be dialogue-driven by the small business owners themselves.
"Whatever helps them succeed is what we're focused on," he says. "We need to have an open mind and it will evolve in line with where small business is going and community is going."
Although no marketing has been conducted yet outside of the United States (but will be done once the community is well established in America), the online network has already seen some international interest. "That's the nature of Facebook and the Internet — once you put it out there, it will be found," says Craddock.
And with the way the economy is looking, and the concerns of small business owners, Craddock sees the VBN as reinvigorating. "That's where the network is hitting a sweet spot. They're saying if I'm going to fight through the downturn and continue to grow, then I need to look at doing things differently," he says. "We're excited about what Visa is doing; it's opening up a new way to market. It makes us think differently about how we're conducting our marketing and our business. It's good timing because it ads value and it can only add more value in a good economy."