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Small businesses often buy online advertising or e-mail campaigns and then don’t know what else to do to capitalize on the effort. Maximizing online advertising for SMBs is the new orientation of Portland, Maine-based Local Thunder, a four-year-old services company that we last wrote about in April 2007.

Local Thunder originally was focused on partnering with broadcasters to sell SMBs promotional gift certificates and other parts of a “promotional stew.” But the company has since broadened its customer base. It is now working with advertisers in 27 markets in partnership with a variety of media companies. In addition to broadcast station groups, it is eyeing relationships with newspapers and media conglomerates.

The company’s efforts may be divided into two related areas, says President David Vazdauskas, who assumed his post a few months ago after consulting with the company for three years. The first is to provide its media partners with a rich media showcase/directory for advertisers, many of which did not even have a Web site when they first started working with the company. In addition to existing promotional features such has coupons, the ability to upload videos and “unlimited content” is especially popular.

The second area is to tie the showcases to the “click-thru experience” that many SMBs already get with Google, Yahoo, other search players and targeted e-mail, says Vazdauskas. “The click-thru experience isn’t optimal,” he notes. Connecting the showcases “makes [SMBs’] investment in local paid search much more powerful.”

The company’s business model is based on providing full-featured showcases for a set fee, which can then be marked up by its media partners. Vazdauskas says the partners are vital, since Local Thunder has no interest in having its own sales capability and would rather rely on local partners. He also emphasizes that the showcases are “not totally self serve.” It would be folly to force SMBs to fend for themselves if they are just getting started, he says. “We offer high service … ‘life customer’ service.”

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