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sea of sameness
I was reading an article from Roy Greenslade, a former journalist from Ireland, about the woes of the newspaper industry in that country and couldn’t help but think of the challenges local media faces here in the US. I wrote about, what I thought was the fundamental reason back in 2008 (see here) when thinking about the directory segment. I went back and re-read that blog post and I’m more convinced today than ever that the local space is lost in a sea of sameness.

What used to separate each of the media types offered in local markets across the US and other countries was there was something unique offered by each media outlet. Newspapers covered local events and encouraged local discussions on events and issues of concern. TV was the brand medium and breaking news of the moment surrounded by engaging entertainment. Radio owned the music and entertainment space with all-day listening by format. Now we look at local media and everyone seems to be headed toward the same goal, with similar products, similar sales messages and often the same content strategies.

As an analyst firm to the local media space, BIA/Kelsey gets to see how media is being sold, products being developed and marketing strategies implements across all of the major media types. Often we see a drive to digital media without a content strategy matched to the effort. What I mean by this is that an understanding of digital products and consumer preferences has to be matched so unique content can be developed and tailored to each medium.

Newspapers and TV outlets have the advantage of reporters who can write volumes of valuable content and investigate issues that local communities care about; an advantage that seems to be lost as cost cutting has become the focus. Directories used to bring together the only comprehensive list of local businesses available, but have yet to adapt to how people now search for local businesses and how they can become relevant repositories of local information that influences research, connections and local business transactions.

When we look at the products being offered by local media companies seeking to adapt to the shift from traditional media to digital media, we see so many of the same products being offered through partnerships making them nearly indistinguishable from the media outlet across the street. Products like local search, SEO, display networks, reputation management, web site development all look remarkably the same to local business owners. How are local business owners expected to make a decision between options when the options are nearly the same? The unfortunate answer comes down to price and relationship and not unique value.

Media companies must examine their core strengths and develop products and partnerships that play to those strengths. The industry needs to stop desperately seeking digital revenues from the next “shiny” digital product and develop a more thoughtful way of bringing their product strengths to the market. If the digital product does not create a unique offering, or does not work to the strength of the media’s value, then move on to the next. Media companies should also demand more from their digital partners, working together to shape products that are unique to their market and leverage the media’s strength rather than pushing off-the-shelf products benefits.

In order to break though the clutter of media offerings to local SMBs, media companies have to get back to creating unique content and advertising offerings. Local business owners will then see distinct products from each of the local media outlets that will help them make good decisions based on value. Taking this step will also allow sales teams to develop clear sales messages and show how all the unique products they sell work together to supports specific business objectives.

BIA/Kelsey is about to release its Local Commerce Monitor survey and our new Consumer Commerce Monitor survey which should serve as a guide to how SMBs and consumers are changing and adapting to the digital shift on their own, and how media companies can uniquely adapt to create an advantage for their products, content and services to emerge from the sea of sameness weighing down the industry.

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