Jan 08 10 | Dave Gibson 2009 was quite the year to remember… no really. As much as there were parts I’d like to forget, I’m proud of what we did accomplish. So here I’ll review things learned from 2009 and share our plan for 2010.

Facing what we knew would be a dramatic drop in business this past year, we succeeded in cutting our costs more than 50%. This was no small feat and its exciting, as a business owner to be capable of adjusting to the most extreme economic swing in modern history. Sure we cut costs, but you can’t cut yourself into profitability, so we embarked on a number of initiatives focused on efficiency, elasticity and agility– so that the future Propeller would be more capable of stretching and shrinking without cracking. We also adjusted our service offering to align with the changing needs and realities of our partners. We delivered 26 new service programs designed to be cost-effective and leverage our expanding expertise in SEO, paid search, and social media.

We were largely successful, but I have to admit that we didn’t meet all of our goals. Our largest challenge this year was in meeting both project and maintenance demand. We faced what became a perfect storm when scheduled project work collided with unforeseen maintenance demand. I think the paralysis of Q3 08 into Q2 09 left our clients with a large amount of pent up “maintenance” needs. That demand from 13 years of client build-up collided with our annual push for our winter resort projects this fall. Needless to say, we failed to meet a number of deadlines – and we didn’t manage this as best as we could have. This wasn’t completely out of the blue and though we had been working to prepare, the development team still lacked the elasticity to expand to meet the demand. Our account team was also stretched to the max, which resulted in poor marks for communication. No excuses. We all know that a lack of communication only makes matters worse.

In the past, Propeller has relied on the resource capacity of an internal team. We looked closely at this model and compared it to the “virtual” workforce model with workers spread out and connected digitally. Key to me is to have solid walls and have team dynamic where ideas are exchanged and a sense of common mission is developed. I decided to pursue a hybrid “hub and spoke” model. In this model, we retain an internal team of key strategic members and outsource work to a vetted team of contractors. Currently, our “spokes” are developers and online marketing specialists. Over the past year, we’ve been experimenting with three contractors as we create supporting processes, systems, and management resources to ensure quality and efficiency. This test has been very successful and we’re now adding new contractors to this team. With this problem solved, we’ll have a much deeper burstable capacity while keeping our fixed cost in line with revenue. We’re very close to this point now.

One of the other lessons I’ve learned is that our reputation and ability to weather storms relies on a strong base of partner clients – and making sure they get the attention they need. To better serve our partners we’re doing two things. One is to shift more of our sales focus to existing customer, and make sure their needs are met first. We are reducing our new business sales emphasis and are shifting people and resources accordingly. The other is to reduce our client base considerably. As I mentioned before, we have 13 years of clients, and for some, we are no longer a good fit for each other. We won’t leave anyone high and dry though, and are doing our own work to find reliable companies to refer these clients to.

In terms of business development, we plan on selectively building in the two categories of business where we’re already established. One is the resort and tourism category. We have a great deal of experience in this category and understand the needs of both clients and their customers – as we are also avid snow enthusiasts. The other is health care with an emphasis on hospitals. Our recent work for Vermont’s largest hospital, Fletcher Allen, compliments our existing portfolio in the category. We will not restrict ourselves to these two verticals however, and will continue selectively working with a diverse group of clients that challenge us on creative, technical, and marketing levels.

What our clients can look forward to in 2010 is a commitment to providing proactive partnership and leadership. We know your business well and understand the economic realities that we together face. Our goal is to deliver ideas that take advantage of new areas of opportunity – whether that’s new features for the website and optimizing it for organic search, engaging with customers via blogs and the myriad of social media channels, or actively building brand exposure and traffic through various paid advertising and affiliate marketing channels.

The type of advice we’ll have for you will be based on a broad view of all the marketing channels and web properties available. Most partners have multiple properties such as website(s), blog(s), Twitter, YouTube, Facebook; and also have multiple marketing channels such as SEO, paid search, banner, affiliate, and email. Ultimately we’d want to consult and provide a master plan to match each with specific audiences and conversion goals, and ensure that the brand identity and message is cohesive across the board. Further, it’s important that all properties work as a system - where content is distributed efficiently from an administrative standpoint, and even more importantly, where properties are integrated to provide visitors with paths to conversion. Plus, on top of all of that, users aren’t just connecting via desktops –new mobile devices that are GPS and Web enabled and require unique navigation, design and functionality. Fun.

Some specifics to consider now as you plan for 2010, and as you do keep these keyphrases fresh in your mind:

> Integrated marketing channels > Integrated properties > Engagement > Mobile

Online Marketing The spectrum of online marketing encompasses all that we do. The website generally serves as the primary conversion point still, but its one of many planets in a system that should work together. The lines blur often as initiatives affect multiple points in an integrated system – everything is connected. We’ll apply an integrated approach when advising options for

  • SEO – site optimization, linking
  • Pay per click advertising – search, social, content networks
  • Email
  • Social
  • Blogging

Engagement – Social Media – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc! Social media is complex as it touches multiple goals and properties. We can provide the map, build and brand the infrastructure, feed content from one to the other, and provide guidance for your PR/marketers – but we can’t “do it” for you. Every brand can use social in different ways to

  • Engage with customers
  • Convert customers into active word-of-mouth marketers
  • Get feedback
  • Steer traffic to conversion points
  • Support SEO
  • Expand brand reach
  • Influence influencers (PR)

Multi-Property Management – Content and Traffic Funneling With the recent explosion of social media, the resource strain on clients to feed these points with quality content can be overwhelming. The key is to have a master plan that connects the dots for both the flow of content (aggregation and distribution) out and the flow of traffic back in – to convert. We’ll look to align the content with the audience in a way that requires the least amount of effort to administer.

Website – Mobile Version While its recommended that your current website to be mobile-accessible, mobile users have unique needs that often require a separate mobile version. Considerations include:

  • Analyze current paths taken by mobile users in analytics
  • Truncated navigation to points that mobile users go
  • Simplified design for usability and speed
  • Mobile apps

Website - CMS & Technical Infrastructure You may not see the code on the back-end, so you may not think about it. Code does have a shelf life however, and many are past-due. We are putting the finishing touches on the latest 2.9 version of our propCMS content management system that will provide key enhancements to both administrative usability, as well as security and performance. A completely new propCMS is also under development. Points to consider when assessing your site include:

  • Is your CMS/code more than 3 years old?
  • Performance
  • Security
  • CMS version and usability
  • Maintenance plan – new plan will be mandatory for all clients. Details coming.

Website – User Experience Analytics often tells the story best as we analyze how users are interacting with your website.

  • Has the navigation grown to a point now where content areas are hard to find?
  • Are paths to conversion clear and easy to follow?
  • Do analytics show bottlenecks in that path to conversion?
  • How does your site perform for mobile users?

Website – Brand & Marketing Message Change is constant as brands and audiences evolve. We should make sure the website is telling the right story to your most valuable audiences.

  • Is your marketing message still current and clear?
  • What changes in either your offering or your audience should be considered now?
  • Are there more engaging mediums (video) to communicate your message?

VIP Service Plans Different clients have different support needs. We have introduced three new plans that should cover the spectrum of needs

Change in our space is as rapid as ever right now. We look forward to providing both the guidance and execution of your integrated multi-channel/property program that will make you successful in 2010.

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