The local ad opportunity (and the danger of losing it)

The promise of local ad support for news will come only if a new population of very small businesses can be served in new and effective ways – before Google beats everybody else to it. That’s apparent in the results of Webvisible and Nielsen surveys reported by MediaPost (via Marketeting Pilgrim and Frank Thinking), which show that local marketers are leaving newspapers and the yellow pages but are still dissatisfied with – and don’t pay enough attention to – internet marketing. Factoids:

* 42 percent of small businesses say they use the local paper less and 23 percent use yellow pages less – while 43 percent use search engines more.
* “Though 63% of consumers and small business owners turn to the internet first for information about local companies and 82% use search engines to do so, only 44% of small businesses have a website and half spend less than 10% of their marketing budget online.”
* “Only 9% are satisfied with their online marketing efforts.”
* Mediapost found a disconnect in how small-business owners act as business people and marketers vs. how they act as consumers. That is, as consumers, they use and are satisfied with the internet and search to find other local businesses, but as marketers themselves, they use online less.

In these stats lies a big – but fleeting – opportunity: serving local businesses by helping them use online well. By this, I don’t mean doing what local newspapers have been doing: trying to sell them display or directory ads, just as they did in papers but in a new medium. Instead, I mean redefining what it means to help them succeed online. This might mean helping them place ads smartly on Google with good SEO (see Fred Wilson’s tweet out of our New Business Models for News Summit at CUNY). It might mean finding was to help local businesses interact more meaningfully with their own communities. It might mean enabling armies of citizen sales people – neighbors who really know their local businesses – to serve and sell those advertisers. It might mean providing tools to help local businesses create better (more informative, more SEOed) online presences and providing them data to show them their return on investment. I might mean finding other means to efficiently sell local businesses (can phone rooms ever work?). And so on…..

The assumptions I so often hear about local advertising – it doesn’t work; it doesn’t pay enough; small businesses are ignorant – need to be updated. The assumption that most needs to be updated is that a business needs an ad. It may need other tools to be found in search and to reach the right people and to improve relationships with them. All that may count as marketing, but not necessarily with an old ad in a new medium.