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Marketers must join media to get slice of online pie

By JEFF CORNWALL

The media and consumers are moving into the digital world at a dizzying pace.

For the media, this means offering their content in digital form, whether that content originally was in print, on TV or on the radio. All media outlets, especially local media, need to get better at monetizing the digital expressions of their core properties. (Translation: They need to make money online.) Marketers who depend on those local media need to grasp this concept.

The media's expansion of effort - and the resulting ad dollars - beyond their traditional business models is not a short-term fix for currently declining revenues. Instead, it's a long-term strategy that could be required for survival.

Why? Because the trend toward online has reached a tipping point. Consumers are moving away from traditional advertising-supported media.

"In 2008 consumers will spend more on media than advertisers," according to James Rutherford, managing director of private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson.

What are they spending it on? Consider your own outlays for cable or satellite television and radio, music downloads and entertainment media such as video games. Projections say the average American consumer will spend more than $1,000 a year on media by 2012.

In this sea of digital change, there is good news for local media companies. Consider a study of U.S. online consumers done by the Online Publishers Association.

The OPA study gauged consumer activities and attitudes toward local-content Web sites. The type of sites tracked included city guides such as City Search; classified advertising sites like Cars.com and Craigslist; local newspaper, radio, television and magazine sites; local channels of national portals; yellow pages directories and user-review sites such as Angie's List.

Consumers were very satisfied with the local coverage provided overall.

Portals, local newspaper and local TV station sites led the list. Ads placed on local newspaper and TV sites were rated most trustworthy. In fact, local newspaper sites outranked user-review sites by 19 percent in trust for local advertisers.

Visitors to local media sites do more than look; they take action. When asked whether they buy, research or visit a store as a result of Web surfing, they ranked local newspaper, television station and magazine sites as their top motivators. Almost half of all local newspaper site visitors are taking further action after viewing online ads.

Local site users like to buy
Local media sites also perform strongest with the heaviest spenders. Almost half of local magazine site visitors spent more than $500 online in the past 12 months.

So what types of businesses are consumers looking for when going to local sites? Restaurants and bars lead the list. Grocery stores, banks and financial services, department stores and physicians and health facilities round out the top five.

Consumer electronics stores, auto dealers and auto service, real estate, furniture and appliance stores and legal services complete the top 10 sites.

Marketers and agencies must accept the new media reality and understand the options available to communicate with their customers. It may sound ironic, but while the World Wide Web helps us think globally, it allows us to act locally.

Jeff Cornwall is director of the Belmont University Center for Entrepreneurship and the Massey Chair in Entrepreneurship. He writes a column exclusively for The Tennessean every other Sunday on issues facing new business owners and would-be owners.