MarketFocus: Northeast Sites
Targeting websites that serve geographic regions is emerging as a workable media buying strategy, as more and more dot.coms fill niches in localized markets. In a September 2000 report titled “Regional E-Commerce Opportunities: Present and Emerging,” the Gartner Group research firm sets out an optimistic market outlook for three U.S. regions surveyed, including New England, which accounts for 5 percent of the U.S. population. Overall, the report covers nine U.S. regions.
Buyers considering the B2C space should know that of these nine regions, New England’s citizens enjoy the highest average income per family, earning $54,550 annually. As to PC and Internet penetration, the Gartner report indicates that New England ranks third, at 61 percent and 51 percent, respectively.
As New England’s cultural and commercial hub, Boston-oriented websites offer buyers the most clear-cut opportunities. Most of these are sister outlets to established newspaper and television operations, but others are sub-sites of the larger ISPs and portals such as AOL and Yahoo.
And yet, some media pros are skeptical. Chris Negron is a buyer for Starcom IP in Chicago and is, coincidentally, an ex-Bostonian, so he frequents regional powerhouse Boston.com to find out what’s going on in his hometown. His advice to clients, however, is to take advantage of the web’s strength—its worldwide coverage. He steers them away from regional plays unless they are dead set on it.
“Compared to TV, radio, and print, the national web audience is still small at about 128 million,” Negron analyzes. “Why shrink your target further with regional ads? One can geo-target using third party ad servers, but you’re still limited in reaching your demographic.” Other Gartner findings are noteworthy. For web-connected New Englanders, online shopping and buying figures are strong, as 40 percent shop online and 33 percent are counted as buyers, reflecting a browse/buy index of 0.825, placing the region second of nine.
Donna Rice, director of sales, claims that Boston.com, founded in 1995, is the most active regional site in the country, with more than 45 million page views per month. As a sister outlet to The Boston Globe daily newspaper, she says that the website has more content than the paper. Both entities are subsidiaries of the New York Times Company.
“We’re more focused on selling to established businesses and less so to pure-play dot-coms. Custom packages comprise sponsorships, a banner element, an email component, and a contest, let’s say. We do a fair amount of bundled programs with our print counterpart,” Rice adds. “But in my talks with media buyers, I hear them say everything’s about the yield, so they are struggling with branding issues. We are going to do our own branding study,” she concludes, driven in part because she hears so much conflicting information. Certainly, TV and radio stations often advertise their partnering websites heavily, so corporate branding is important. Branding may be especially important in regional campaigns, as leading site names and URLs are often very similar.
America Online’s regional Digital City (e.g., aol.digitalcity.com/boston) coverage includes not just Boston, but Hartford-New Haven and Providence as well. Links to an array of local businesses and cultural events are supported by banner ads, sponsors, and affiliates. The AOL local affiliates program could generate $0.03 per click-through for businesses drawing regional interest. Yahoo has a Boston Metro presence as well.
Margi Smith is a media buyer who is also focusing on branding as the key to leveraging regional market plays. As principal of Freelance Media Services, located in a Boston suburb, Smith says that the best way online is to use the opt-in newsletter. “If you like a newspaper’s website, for example, you can register to receive a daily newsletter. Once a user has done that, daily content, with ads attached, can be delivered to parties who have been pre-screened for interest.”
Negron also has a warning, against the exclusionary nature of regional spots. “If a user sees a new product on a regional site that he can’t get because of zip code or area code restrictions, they’re going to get annoyed and maybe never visit that site again. You cannot afford to offend the online audience.”
Ted Grosso, general sales manager of cable TV news channel NECN (New England Cable News), and its fledgling website NECN.com, reports that the online operation is struggling. Grosso qualifies that assessment by saying that “we’ve had some advertising success with local auto dealers, who report that click-through rates for their banner ads have been good.” But with only 1 million or so page views per month, NECN.com is on an uphill road.
David Buonfiglio, general sales manager of TheBostonChannel.com, reports that his site has delivered varying degrees of success with banner and tile ads. Buonfiglio differentiates his site from the competition by offering more streaming video, breaking news, and weather, thanks to the TV feed from his ABC affiliate. TheBostonChannel.com is associated with Internet Broadcasting System (IBS), which runs regional sites around the country. Thus, buyers could approach IBS for a blanket national buy or for targeted regional plays.
Freelance writer John Hallenborg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.