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Local companies are looking for ways to efficiently connect to increasingly fragmented audiences and recapture customers that are being diverted by a host of new competitors. Many of these businesses are diving into digital marketing.

Although roughly half of local advertising and marketing dollars go to such legacy advertising media as newspapers and broadcasters, there is increasingly a shift of dollars away from advertising and towards marketing, and especially towards digital marketing.

Some of the reasons dollars are being diverted from advertising, and are heading to the digital media are:

• Seeing the precision at which audiences can be targeted through such keyword systems as Google’s AdSense, both national and local brands are scrutinizing with increased intensity the returns produced by the dollars they invest.

• Empowered by the ad-creation tools and comprehensive analytics provided by such digital media companies as Google, Microsoft and Facebook, brands are embracing the ability to create, monitor, measure and modify their advertising programs in real time.

• Witnessing the viral power of the social and mobile media to motivate consumers, brands are seeking ways to use these digital platforms to turn their customers into advocates, raising word-of-mouth marketing for the first time in history to an efficient, predictable and scalable force.

• Recognizing that the digital media deliver unique and personal experiences to every individual, national brands are trying to leverage digital channels as aggressively as possible to establish direct, long-term relationships with as many customers and future prospects as they can.

But these trends are also creating difficulties for local companies. Every new marketing medium, whether a Facebook page or website, Twitter feed or blog post, is like a little monster in the room. It has to be fed, or it will not thrive. And feeding the little monsters turns out to require some skills, some resources, and a lot of enterprise discipline.

Some of the new tools used in digital marketing are prohibitively expensive, and others are rightly seen by smaller businesses, as quite complex and labor intensive. Even so, digital marketing represents a significant and appealing opportunity for community companies, especially when they use these products and services to leverage the local relationships and reputations they enjoy.

The promise of digital marketing is appealing, but it is not easy to do it well.

What successful marketers have in common is detailed information about individual users that helps them efficiently target their offers to the most likely prospects. This requires the sort of deep and granular data that the leading national digital platforms routinely collect about customers:

• Who they are.

• Where they are.

• What they are searching for.

• What they are reading or viewing.

• What they have been shopping for.

• Where they have been shopping.

• What they are buying.

• Who their friends are, where their friends are, what the friends are reading, what the friends are buying – and so forth.

The sophistication of ad creation, targeting, tracking and analytic tools is quite high among such companies as Google, Bing, Facebook, and Twitter. By contrast, the most common digital offering typically offered by local media companies, banner advertising, more closely resembles the old reach-media model than the sophisticated systems and metrics provided by pure digital players. Employing the effective advertising models of their print and broadcasting media to their digital operations, most legacy companies concentrate on increasing unique subscribers and visits at their websites to enable them to offer flights of banner advertising in ever-expanding, increasingly-targeted bundles of page views.

And banner advertising works. But advertising is not the only media touch-point that modern advertisers want. While legacy media companies correctly assert the supreme value of their audience is its size, they understand the additional huge value they deliver by providing actionable insights regarding that audience.

Because for all the success the pure digital companies have had at gathering data that can be used by national advertisers, even the biggest of the industry leaders has had limited success in accumulating deep, rich and actionable data at the local level. The reason is this: Although the audiences of the big digital players number in the millions and are spread around the world, their penetration in any given geography is too incidental to allow them to gather deep data about individuals in any particular market.

The failure of the national players, to date, to aggregate significant local data represents a substantial opportunity for local media companies and their customers. With marketers of all sizes demanding ever more granular information about consumers, local publishers who possess detailed information about local markets own the most valuable data of all. This is especially true if that data is unique and not available anywhere else.

Because the digital and legacy media platforms operated by newspapers typically are the largest in each market they serve, these local media companies have a distinct advantage over all other competitors in the race to aggregate local data. The advantages enjoyed by local media companies are formidable:

• They are prominent and well regarded brands.

• They possess unsurpassed content creation resources and vast archives.

• They produce widely consumed media that can efficiently promote any new digital products and services.

Local media is now joining the digital natives in being able to capture data about audiences across multiple content areas and multiple platforms like the web, mobile and social media. And local publishers now have the opportunity to make the data easily accessible to, and readily actionable for, local marketers.

In the next few weeks, the Ahwatukee Foothills News is launching its suite of tools that will provide local marketers with the tools and analytics they need to help them purchase advertising, maintain their websites, manage their social media presence and market their businesses via direct mail, email and the mobile media. The paper’s ambitious mission is to help local business owners cope with the increasing complexity of managing their presences across the digital media.

This is a new idea for the Ahwatukee Foothills New — to move beyond advertising, and to provide local businesses with tools to plan advertising and marketing programs, and then benchmark their progress against others.

With local markets the greenest field left in the digital arena, local businesses may fear that it is only a matter of time until a flood of capital and competitors wash over them. Time, therefore, may not be their friend. But they can fight back right now. Now may the perfect time to learn to feed some monsters.

• Greg Swanson is a general manager with 1013 Communications (owners of the Ahwatukee Foothills News) and Itz Publishing. Reach him at

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