President & CEO
Gannett Digital Marketing Services
Vikram Sharma, president and CEO of Gannett Digital Marketing Services (GDMS), a digital advertising arm of media and marketing services firm Gannett Co., is an expert in local digital advertising. Sharma spoke to eMarketer about how digital and consumer device usage has transformed the purchasing funnel into a “purchasing pretzel” and opened up more opportunities for local marketers.
eMarketer: Could you give me the elevator pitch for Gannett Digital Marketing Services’ properties ShopLocal, BLiNQ and Key Ring?
Vikram Sharma: ShopLocal is a digital circular that mirrors what you see in print. If Home Depot has 400 versions of the circular, consumers see different things in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and LA. We also leverage the capability that exists in the digital world to browse the circular by category, so the consumer can look only at electronics or apparel, say, in Macy’s catalog, or you can search the circular. Or you can browse by brand.
We also present offers to consumers in a contextually appropriate way all along the path to purchase to interact with them in a number of different ways, whether they’re on other websites, whether they’re in mobile, whether they’re in social or whether they’re searching. Also, let’s say you’re a visitor to Yahoo! and you’re searching for a Christmas tree. We ran a banner ad for Home Depot on Yahoo! that included Home Depot’s Christmas trees, and [if] we have [your] behavioral information from Yahoo!, then we might just show you the Christmas tree because we know you’re searching for trees.
eMarketer: BLiNQ is a social network for online deals and bargains, right?
“Twenty-five percent of Gannett’s revenues are digital.”
Sharma: BLiNQ is a company that helps merchants do social marketing, leverage the audience in Facebook, and take advantage of what we know about consumers’ self-expressed needs and interests and show things to people based on that context. We can reach into a user population that exists in social networks and present offers in a personalized, targeted way.
eMarketer: Key Ring is a digital loyalty app for your smartphone. What else should we know about it?
Sharma: For every retailer, we include the circular in there as well, so if you had a CVS card, you’d see all the items that are on sale and then other offers that CVS might be running. So essentially you’re carrying all your circulars and coupons in your hand. We’re able to show—as we help them acquire customers or as we help them run specific offers—how that’s driving lift in the store.
eMarketer: What percentage of Gannett’s revenues are digital?
Sharma: Twenty-five percent of Gannett’s revenues are digital. As consumer behavior evolves we’ve created a set of solutions that help the merchant evolve their media mix. So if it makes sense to add some money to mobile or add some money to social marketing or move some money to search, we’re there to help the merchant make those choices.
“Small businesses are overwhelmed with trying to understand how to work in a world where the consumer has become increasingly digital.”
eMarketer: The local market is incredibly appealing and you’re going up against powerhouses like Google. What is your competitive advantage?
Sharma: A couple of things that we have that we see as a huge advantage are that we have marketplace advantage and brand advantage. Small businesses are overwhelmed with trying to understand how to work in a world where the consumer has become increasingly digital. We have 150,000-plus customers. We have trusted relationships with these folks. For marketplace advantage, [unlike some] other digital players, we have that in-the-field sales force [and that] sales force has deep relationships.
eMarketer: What do you know about where consumers check for local deals now that they are not restricted to the printed newspaper circular?
Sharma: Today, the purchase funnel has really become the purchase pretzel, and people are in shopping or research mode either at home or in the store and anywhere in between. Different forms of media lend themselves better to each of those things. When you’re sitting at home you might be using a newspaper or a tablet or a desktop. When you’re inside the store or somewhere in between you’re typically using your smartphone or you might have some printed [material] that you’ve brought along with you.
Marketers are looking to reach customers and influence their shopping decision all along that path to purchase. It’s no longer just a decision that’s made at home or a decision that’s made inside the store. It happens all through those places and anywhere in between. It could happen on any device.
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