The ability to communicate with broad audiences through digital channels (websites, email, social media, YouTube, groups, etc.) has dramatically impacted the marketing communication world — and the world at large. Marketers today are faced with both opportunities and challenges as they consider the best ways to get their messages to their target audiences.

One interesting trend has been the move toward local, or targeted, communications and away from a broad-brush approach to connecting with the masses. After all, just because we technically can communicate with the world via digital channels doesn’t mean we should. There is still a wide range of organizations (think of restaurants, for instance) whose audiences come from within a fairly finite geographical range.

Google, a giant in the digital realm, has recognized this and has introduced Google My Business and Google Local Guides to help those companies who serve a local market most effectively connect with them. The idea that the Internet is only for those who wish to reach a very broad audience is one that Google and others have successfully challenged.

The reality of online communication is that the principles and concepts of connecting with people are really the same as they ever were. The marketing communication principles I learned back in the 1980s to communicate via what we now call “traditional media” are exactly the same as the principles I use today, as much of my work has transitioned to online channels. There are more benefits — and risks — though.

The benefits include the following:

  • The ability to better manage and own the message. Marketers today are not as dependent on the news media to convey their message broadly — and unedited — as they were in the past.
  • The ability to convey messages very quickly — literally within seconds.
  • The ability to convey messages very cost effectively. In many instances, marketers can save significantly on printing, postage or placement costs, for instance.
  • The ability to very closely, and very accurately, monitor how audiences are interacting with your content. Online analytics can tell us how people got to our content, where (geographically) they’re from, how long they engaged with our content, what content is most valued, etc.

There are some drawbacks, of course:

  • The viral nature of online content — sometimes this can be good, of course, but sometimes it may not be. It’s very easy these days for negative messages to spread quickly to audiences vastly larger and more far-flung than they were in the past.
  • Content consumption fatigue. Consumers are faced with so much information these days, and they are becoming highly selective about the information they choose to engage with. That creates challenges for marketers to create higher quality, more valuable content.
  • The need for speed. Whether trying to beat a competitor to market with a new product or service, or trying to get ahead of a potentially damaging media story, marketers no longer have the luxury of time they once did. Today’s communicators need to be both fast and accurate. Those two traits are often at cross-purposes.

One final point. Just because your market — and competition — are local today, doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be in the future. Digital communication channels are breaking down barriers of trade for a wide range of organizations, products and services.

Consider health care organizations. It wasn’t that long ago that there needed to be a physical, personal connection between provider and patient, requiring a local presence. Enter telemedicine. The competitive climate is changing dramatically for health care organizations because of the power and possibility of digital connections.

The same is true in the educational industry, as online course offerings have proliferated. It’s important for even the most solidly local of businesses to act local, but think global. Don’t wear blinders when it comes to the potential for new sources of competition.

There are many benefits for local businesses wishing to engage with local markets, especially today when the local movement has become so popular and consumers, more and more, are choosing to buy from local, trusted vendors. Digital communications can play an important role in your quest to connect with customers, and potential customers, but don’t overlook other sorts of connections — or assume that a local presence is all you need to attract, and retain, business.

Linda Pophal of Chippewa Falls is a marketing communication consultant, business journalist and the owner of Strategic Communications in Chippewa Falls. She is the author of “The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement.” Contact her at linda@stratcommunications.com or 715-723-2395.

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