Vantage Points: How Can Local Businesses Fight National Competitors

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This is the latest in BIA/Kelsey’s Vantage Points series. On a semi-weekly basis, it will tap the perspectives of various lookout points from around the local media and tech sectors. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect that of BIA/Kelsey. Please contact mbolandATbiakelsey if you have insights to share. 

The “New Local”: How Can Local Businesses Fight National Competitors?

By Lynn Tornabene

Lynn_Tornabene - AffinityX

Local advertising used to mean just that: small or mid-sized businesses (SMBs) trying to reach consumers in their local markets.

No more. Today’s SMBs must compete in the “New Local”– a battleground where the SMB’s message must compete against powerful national brands for mind share, especially in digital advertising.

The good news? A new generation of providers are offering SMB owners the tools to win against the giants and bring more business to Main Street USA.

What Has Changed

Approximately 40 percent of local ad spend is now invested by national brands, according to BIA/Kelsey. Part of this is due to advancements in ad technology that have made it far easier for national brands to message on a local level, as Rex Conklin recently described.

The way ads are bought and sold online has changed dramatically. Once, big brands and agencies bought directly from publishers. Today, they increasingly take an audience-centric approach. Brands target users that fit a certain audience profile no matter what device they use or content they access — whether that’s a small local news site on desktop, a game app on mobile, or an online portal on their tablet. And speaking of mobile, it accounts for more online time than ever before, and the information that these devices provide has led to growth in geo-targeted and hyper-local advertising.

All of this means fierce competition for SMB advertisers — “Davids” who have far less money to spend on reaching their local customers than the “Goliaths” in the Fortune 500.

How can SMBs fight back?

SMBs can fight back — and win — by doing what they have always done: adapt faster and be more agile. In theory, it has always been possible for SMBs to leverage the same exact technology and strategies that giant brands do when it comes to messaging their target consumers online.

But until recently, it was hard for SMBs to embrace that technology. Few SMBs have big agencies to manage the tech, or can afford to bring the technology in house. Remember, some SMBs have only $500 per month to spend on a campaign.

The companies that serve SMBs are rapidly stepping up to answer the need. Trusted local Newspaper, Cable and Radio partners are adding advanced digital advertising capabilities, and including advertising opportunities well outside of their owned and operated inventory. Advanced programmatic advertising solutions are also being offered by national marketing services companies and local agencies. What all of the providers have in common is that they’re managing the infrastructure and making it easy for local advertisers to embrace programmatic advertising.

Why are companies that serve SMBs making this move so aggressively? They’re seeing it doesn’t just boost the revenue they get from their current core local customers. It also significantly increases their scale in their markets, to serve local advertisers with products and services that they never bought in the past.

For the local advertiser, these partners can provide everything from the ads and landing page or website, to reaching their target audience, to reporting. SMBs can — and should — embrace these tactics now to remain competitive. With the right creative and targeting, these local “David” companies are learning that they can be incredibly effective against the “Goliath” big brands.

Keys to Success

If you’re an SMB advertiser, or a partner who serves them, evaluate providers for their:

Ease of use

Most SMBs have incredible expertise and depth of knowledge about the customers they serve. But few have the time or inclination to become data science gurus or optimize a media plan.

A good provider should make it easy to reach the right target audience. Look for one that offers “Do it with me (DWIM)” or “Do it for me (DIFM)” capabilities, with experienced SMB marketing consultants who can help you through the process.

Programmatic advertising capabilities and campaign management

A challenge for small advertisers is reaching a large enough audience to ensure positive results. A good provider should be able to offer reach that goes well beyond a local publisher’s owned and operated media properties, and should be able to scale that audience as the campaign drives results.

Here too, access to experienced SMB marketing consultants makes a difference. This is due to their expertise but also — as mentioned — it’s very much a function of available time.

Creative capabilities

When competing with big brands who have deep pockets for design, small businesses have to look their best. When evaluating providers, SMBs should ask to see a portfolio of creative work — and ask if their designers have worked on like businesses. Advertising is an investment, and the quality of the advertising says something about the quality of the business and what it offers.

The “New Local” is a lot different than it was a generation ago. But the new generation of SMB owners now have the tools to win against the giants and bring more business to Main Street.

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Lynn_Tornabene - AffinityXLynn Tornabene is CMO of AffinityX, leading brand strategy, corporate communications and marketing. She also leads digital innovation as head of product strategy.

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