CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The internet is big, and for a small business owner trying to carve out a niche in the local market, getting their foot in the internet's door can seem like a daunting task.
To help local businesses compete in the digital age, Charleston Newspapers has launched Convergent Digital Marketing, a new business venture designed to help local businesses get their foot in the door online.
"We want to help our local brick and mortar stores compete with the large online retailers like Amazon," said Joel Armstrong, Convergent's chief innovation officer.
Armstrong, who had been directing the newspapers' interactive online division, said Charleston Newspapers had been getting more and more requests from its print advertisers in recent years asking for help in beefing up their online presence.
"I was kind of shocked by how many people we talked to that while they may already have a web presence, it's not what they want it to be," Armstrong said. "They've said, 'We've been thinking about doing something with our website for a while, can you help us do that?'"
Armstrong and his web team have been working with the staffs of The Charleston Gazette and Daily Mail for years to help increase the papers' web traffic and social media presence.
Now they hope to leverage that experience to help local businesses do the same.
Unlike other print and broadcast forms of marketing that spread a message across an entire audience, digital marketing is all about targeting and picking the right place and right person to show an ad to.
Web users run into finely-tailored digital marketing campaigns every day, though they might not realize it.
If you've ever asked friends on Facebook what their favorite pizza place is, then, for the next week see ads on various websites advertising pizza delivery companies, someone has targeted that ad toward you.
If you email friends from your Gmail account asking about a home improvement project, then start seeing ads crop up on your computer for hardware stores or housing products, that's been targeted as well.
The Convergent staff now want to use those techniques to help local businesses make sure that when someone sends those emails or makes those posts, they start seeing ads for local companies instead.
"Since we already run two of the busiest media web sites in the state," Armstrong said. "With that experience, we can help other businesses with all aspects of digital marketing."
Scott Richards, Digital Marketing Consultant with Convergent, said the key to competing in the 21st century is making sure you have an online strategy that's better than a competitor's.
"It's crucial that businesses in today's world have a digital strategy in some form or another," Richards said.
While there are many national and international web firms offering online ad service, Richards said Convergent can use all of Charleston Newspapers' experience and research with the local market to give firms a leg up in the area.
This approach to marketing can be tailored to the specific needs and identity of a business.
"There are tons of companies out there doing what we do, but what sets us apart is we take the time to conduct a needs analysis on a business and find out what's really drawing their customers. Then we can develop a strategy based on their needs, not some package that they have to adhere to," Richards said.