Aiding clients is a growth business

  • Article by: TODD NELSON
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • September 20, 2009 - 2:07 PM

Helping companies boost sales and cut costs could be a road map to growth for Plymouth-based Marketing Bridge, especially in this tough economy.

Marketing Bridge provides Web-based, automated platforms for managing marketing materials and programs.

"It's a killer app, in my opinion," President and CEO Kris Tufto said. "You'll never have to hire or fire people in your channel organization once you have Marketing Bridge.''

The platform, Tufto said, enables corporate marketing departments to outsource both the tedium and the expense of marketing management on behalf of countless resellers and distributors.

Instead, sales partners log in to an online portal to customize and order marketing materials. Direct-mail pieces, sales support materials, signs and other in-store merchandising are printed and shipped; e-mails, banner ads and other interactive pieces arrive digitally.

Partners also can use the platform to buy prospect lists and to tap into corporate market development funds (MDF) that can help pay for sales and marketing efforts.

"It doesn't matter if you have a hundred resellers or a thousand," Tufto said. "You can service the same amount of partners through our platform."

The potential savings depends on the company's size. "Typically they will see less head count than if they were doing [marketing management] manually or using some point solutions," Tufto said.

The Marketing Bridge platform is delivered as a Software as a Service (SaaS) application, Tufto said, so it's scalable and doesn't require hardware or software installation. The online platform carries that company's brand and looks like an extension of its website.

Tufto, an electrical engineer and veteran executive in software and Web services technology, was president and CEO of Eden Prairie-based Jasc Software Inc. from 1998 to 2005. Jasc's sales grew from $5.5 million to $40 million in that period, and the company became a global leader in the digital imaging software market with its Paint Shop Pro application. Tufto also led the company's sale to Corel Corp. in 2004.

Tufto consulted with a number of smaller SaaS applications and services companies from 2005 until he joined Marketing Bridge last year.

Sales at Marketing Bridge reached $3 million last year and the company is growing at 25 to 40 percent a year, Tufto said. The company, founded in 2004, has 12 employees and three contractors. The company was spun off from Gage Marketing and has three owners, including founder Frantz Corneille.

Marketing Bridge has added 30 customers in the past year or so, Tufto said. Existing customers range from giants like Microsoft to a three-person Bay Area start-up.

National Financial Partners, a financial planning and investment advisory firm, is a customer. The firm has 200 offices around the country that use the Marketing Bridge platform to order brochures, business cards and marketing materials, said Kevin Jackson, vice president of marketing.

"The true advantage is their seamless transition from the beginning to end ... their technology capabilities and the fact that they're very good at what they do," Jackson said in an interview from Austin, Texas. Marketing Bridge has cost less and provided more services than a previous vendor, Jackson said.

Planning internationally

Tufto said growth has come in part through a newly designed sales process as well as from marketing carried out by using the Marketing Bridge platform itself. While North America is the company's focus now, Marketing Bridge likely will begin to expand overseas late next year, he added.

That's something customers have asked for, and would mirror Tufto's experience at Jasc, where international operations grew to represent 35 to 40 percent of revenue.

A distinguishing feature of the Marketing Bridge platform, Tufto said, is its ability to show whether market development funds are available. Resellers can see the market development incentives funds that companies have provided on their portal home page, and can use that money to pay for prospect lists and marketing materials and programs.

Companies can specify larger amounts for more-active resellers, for example, or target money for specific activities.

"I have not seen anything that robust in a competitive platform," Tufto said of the Marketing Bridge MDF engine. "The big guys, they know how to use it. We're preaching to the mid-tier and smaller guys to rethink how they use MDF because it truly can be strategic in driving reach."

In some cases, Marketing Bridge is temporarily waiving its usual charge for using the market development fund engine, to encourage companies to try it.

"That's kind of the economic environment we're in now," Tufto said. "We've had a few vendors take us up on that and they've started to understand the power. They can try it before they buy it.''

The expert says:

Bhabani Misra, director of graduate programs in software at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business, said Marketing Bridge appears to have several factors in its favor.

More companies are using SaaS or so-called "cloud" computing to manage financial and other data, so Marketing Bridge appears to be well-positioned in using that approach, Misra said. Pay-as-you-go models such as Marketing Bridge's are gaining wider use because of their affordablity, he said.

"There is a large market for this type of help for small retail stores and small businesses," Misra said.

"There is a huge market for people who cannot afford to have a large expense but can afford to have this kind of help."

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is

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