As broadcasters ponder ways to compete with search engine and online directories for local advertising dollars, they should focus on the one strategy that they can uniquely own: the local advantage.
That's right, local broadcasters actually do have a competitive advantage against pure-play online competitors, but it's not being leveraged. Instead, many broadcasters are simply trying to mimic the strengths of their online competitors. Local stations can't beat Google, MSN or Yahoo! in the search game, and they'll have a hard time competing against the plethora of local online directories.
A broadcaster's key strength lies somewhere else. Since radio and television were born, broadcasters have the unique ability to truly showcase local advertisers. In their broadcast advertising, stations don't simply list local businesses or provide some text and a map. They provide local advertisers with a high-profile stage and production values, enveloped by the power of the station's local brand.
Online, local broadcasters can offer something that search engines and directories can't offer: a rare showcase for local businesses. Broadcasters can offer local businesses a chance to break away from being one of a million search results or part of a long directory listing. They can offer a local shopping space that focuses on quality of advertiser content, letting the consumer truly engage with the local business on the station's Website.
And while national advertisers are gobbling up local broadcast inventory through their spot buys, stations must use their Websites to serve local businesses squeezed out of broadcast time.
Broadcasters can leverage another key competitive advantage—their exemplary advertiser-service model—to differentiate themselves from the self-service approach that search engines and directories take towards small businesses.
It's tempting for local broadcasters to get in bed with search engines and online directories. After all, the revenue-sharing provides some online cash. But a strategy which focuses exclusively on these partnerships fails to leverage a broadcaster's unique strengths, strengths that are both palpable and sustainable.
Broadcasters must leverage their strong local brands online by creating a true showcase for local advertisers. They must think beyond listings and banners and provide opportunities for advertisers to truly engage with the viewer—just like in the “old days” when television was hyper-local out of necessity. Only when broadcasters get back to that on Websites will they gain their true local advantage.
Vazdauskas is president of Victory Branding, a marketing consultancy based in Portland, Maine.