The online marketing space has grown exponentially in the last 10 years. The additions of platforms like Facebook, Google, Instagram, Pinterest and more have given businesses owners a new way to reach their customer. With the introduction of these platforms comes the software and tools business owners need to manage things like their websites, social media platforms, ads, reputation management, etc. This gave us the Marketing Technology industry - a space that exploded with software solutions over the last 15 years.
We first forayed into Marketing Technology (MarTech) with our acquisition of Grade.us back in 2016. We knew reputation management was just a piece of the MarTech puzzle for these business owners. From there, we expanded into SEO, Business Intelligence, ecommerce marketing and social media management software through 8 additional acquisitions.
In March 2020, we brought these companies together under one brand - Traject led by CEO Alice Song. The Traject suite now includes: Grade.us, Gatherup, AuthorityLabs, Traject Data, Cyfe, Traject SKU, and Fanbooster.
Today, we’re excited to announce we are further expanding Traject’s footprint in social media with our acquisition of PLANOLY.
PLANOLY is the industry-leading social marketing platform that allows users to visually plan, schedule and measure performance across Instagram and Pinterest, as well as cross-post to Facebook and Twitter.
PLANOLY will join Traject as the 9th acquisition and be led by CEO Christina Martinez. To learn more about the evolution of MarTech software, PLANOLY’s business, and their future plans, I sat down with Christina for a Q&A.
Q&A with Christina Martinez, CEO of PLANOLY
How has software in the MarTech industry evolved over the years?
Years ago, the rise of online marketing created a sort of wild west for businesses and consumers looking to market their products and services. There was enormous opportunity, of course, but that quickly became paired with fierce competition and channel complexity. The internet enabled businesses to have far greater reach, but less control over their message, and many more channels to manage.
In today’s world where ‘content is king’, a savvy marketer pays attention not just to what they are saying, but also where they are saying it - their message must be carefully but scalably managed across their own website, multiple social media sites, paid ads, etc. Businesses also need to understand what their customers say about them. Most of us read online reviews when deciding to buy a product or service, so reputation management has become a critical competency for online & brick-and-mortar businesses alike.
All of this needs to be done while a business is measuring the impact of their marketing efforts. To do this, they need a) good data and b) a way to analyze that data.
The question then became - what software will enable business owners to achieve all of the above?
Over the past 15 or so years, thousands of new Marketing Technology (MarTech) companies entered the scene to answer this very question, many aiming to solve a very specific customer need. These companies differentiated themselves from one another not just by function (email marketing, reputation management, social media management, etc.) but also by target market. Some products catered to the enterprise niche, others to consumer, and every space in between.
What you began to see over time were these really high quality, highly specialized tools that were finely tuned to serve the needs of their specific customer set. A product with that profile is incredibly sticky and has fantastic acquisition dynamics because they tend to grow cost-effectively through organic and word-of-mouth marketing.
While these tools were helpful, they added complexity.
With thousands of different MarTech solutions on the market, it is easy to get overlooked if you do not define your clear expertise. Users are expecting decreased complexity in one of two ways. Either they are looking for an “all-in-one” MarTech tool (like Hubspot) or they are looking for point solutions that exactly fit their use case - with no fluff.
How did we first get into the MarTech space?
When we looked at “all-in-one” vs point solutions, we started to realize it didn’t have to be an either / or scenario. Instead, we set out to buy and grow best in class, deep functionality point solutions in a scaleable, rapid way to increase the value we provide to customers and stakeholders.
If we could acquire these point solutions, share resources, learnings and leadership, we could scale like an “all-in-one” while honoring customers specific needs.
This foray into the MarTech space first began in 2016 with the acquisition of Grade.us, a leading reputation management solution. We liked the reputation management space because it has a large addressable market, and the products have strong recurring revenue dynamics. Grade.us stood out in particular because of the B2B2B sales motion where our customers are agencies, and agencies resell our product to their clients. As we learned more about the MarTech space, we found that agencies use a number of different tools to manage their clients’ businesses, and we saw opportunity to move into adjacent verticals like SEO, Business Intelligence, and Social Media.
How did that evolve into what is today known as the Traject portfolio?
After we acquired Grade.us, we subsequently acquired 3 other businesses in the reputation management space. We then ventured into SEO with the acquisition of AuthorityLabs, into Business Intelligence with Cyfe, and into Social Media with the acquisition of Fanbooster.
Up to that point, we had been operating as ASG MarTech. In 2019, the team initiated a rebrand to consolidate all brands under the ‘Traject’ name.
We rolled teams up to a single senior management team led by CEO Alice Song, and launched an initiative to cross-sell our product suite. I even got to spend 6 months as Traject’s Chief Innovation Officer.
All of this consolidation gave us significant cross-team communication benefits, and allowed us to be nimble in shifting our attention between products when necessary. Our strategy has evolved from a single-product focus, to a focus on agencies, to an expanded focus on digital marketers as well.
Who is PLANOLY?
I just love PLANOLY’s founding story. It makes me so proud - and so humbled - to join this company and have the opportunity to nurture and grow such an inspiring legacy.
PLANOLY was initially started by a husband and wife team - Brandy and Andy. Inspired by Brandy’s experience balancing the demands of being a new mom and running her namesake jewelry brand - PLANOLY was built in 2016 from her need to visually plan and schedule Instagram posts. Back then, she was editing photos during nap times, arranging a ‘fake feed’ in Photoshop, typing captions on Evernote, and then setting alerts to post each photo.
Andy saw the connection between her social marketing efforts and sales, but didn’t understand why something so simple had to be so complicated. After recognizing the need to build a tool that would make social content planning simpler, Andy and Brandy asked Kenny and Thai to join as technical co-founders.
The four founders sought to build a product that allowed users like Brandy to save time while visually planning social content, so she could spend more time growing her business and being with her family.
What was so compelling about PLANOLY?
What I liked most about PLANOLY was the growth profile. Not just that the product was growing, but why it was growing. It really came back to a customer focus. PLANOLY got off the ground as a solution to a personal pain point of one of the founders. This gave PLANOLY the edge of having a product-market fit almost immediately because the founders designed the first iteration of the product to fit a need they knew well.
As the user base grew, the team followed the same playbook - identify a niche audience, deeply understand their needs, and in a very targeted way market PLANOLY directly to them. Using this formula, PLANOLY first onboarded jewelry designers, then the fashion industry, then photographers, then lifestyle influencers, etc. This focused approach built trust with each audience segment, which in turn facilitated a flywheel of organic growth that continues to sustain the product’s growth - as evidenced by their rapid rise to 5 million users in just four years.
I am a big believer in customer-led growth, and PLANOLY is better at that than just about any other business I have seen.
The bottom line: PLANOLY wins through functionality, storytelling, and business impact. The team has built the best visual social marketing planner on the market. When I ask users what they love about the product, more often than not I hear some version of “it makes my life easier”. When you dig in, you find that people appreciate the thoughtful, user-friendly design of the product. Then when you press one level deeper you understand that users leverage Instagram as their primary method for distributing content to tell their story and connect with their audience. And going another level deeper you get to the heart of it - our users’ businesses grow because PLANOLY facilitates their success on social media and it saves them time that can be spent on other revenue-generating activities.
What does PLANOLY bring to the broader Traject suite of solutions?
PLANOLY’s impressive track record of growth spells potential for the future of PLANOLY and Traject together. PLANOLY was recently recognized as the fastest-growing company in Central Texas by Austin Business Journal’s Fast 50 rankings in the under $10M+ revenue category. PLANOLY brings pace, scale, a strong foothold in the social media space, and an incredible team into the Traject family.
PLANOLY bolsters Traject’s authority in the social media space, and expands our SMB & consumer user base.
Our portfolio is now much more balanced between the two large sub-verticals we’re betting on - reputation management & social media.
How has COVID-19 impacted this business and the broader MarTech industry?
What COVID-19 showed this industry is that the acceleration of online shopping & experiences is here to stay. Every industry has been talking about the offline-to-online shift for years, but we saw that trend in hyperdrive this year.
While we know not all in-person experiences can be replicated online, we’ve seen businesses get impressively creative with how they offer products & services to digital customers during 2020. I expect that consumer confidence with online advertising & online shopping will only continue to increase. I also expect that the majority of consumers & businesses are sorely missing in-person interactions, and the MarTech industry should be prepared to help customers bridge the gap between online and offline experiences in the coming year.
Unsurprisingly, PLANOLY experienced a period of high growth during 2020. After the initial attrition and shock of April and May - which was typical of businesses with a high SMB customer base - we saw massive gains in new customer additions fueled by an accelerated growth rate.
PLANOLY’s growth in 2020 can be attributed in part to a continuation of an existing trend (the business has been growing steadily), and in part to being well positioned to serve new customers who began to increase their online presence during COVID. PLANOLY’s best-in-class customer service has remained excellent throughout 2020, and we launched a new ecommerce product called Sellit to help businesses quickly turn a single link into a storefront.
What’s the future for PLANOLY?
This is a perfect place to invoke one of PLANOLY’s core values - ‘create the future’. My time at Traject taught me how quickly the social media industry can change, and as a leading social marketing tool, PLANOLY must remain ahead of the curve in addressing industry developments.
We’re going to remain obsessed with our customers, in tune with industry dynamics, and we’ll double down on what we know fuels growth for our product. We’ll find smart and resource-light ways to add value to the entire Traject portfolio.
What's next for ASG in the MarTech Space
We are excited about what PLANOLY brings to the broader Traject portfolio under Christina’s leadership. Doubling down on reputation management and social media during a year that businesses are relying heavily on the digital experience to reach customers presents a ton of opportunity for how we can better serve this space. We look forward to what PLANOLY and Traject can do together.
As for what’s next for the Traject portfolio - we are continuing to evaluate opportunities to grow this portfolio both organically and inorganically.