Tag Archives: DataSphere

Rethinking Coupon Engagement: DataSphere Launches LocalSaver

Can coupons be reimagined to spur more consumer engagement? That’s what DataSphere is working on. The Seattle-based company sells and hosts marketing solutions to more than 20,000 SMBs under local TV and newspaper brands owned by Gannett, Belo, Raycom, Meredith and other players.

Part of its effort has been enabling and distributing free coupons for its SMB clients. As part of this effort, it has developed a network that can send coupons out to national website and mobile players such as Coupons.com, GeoQpons and CouponSuzy. It also drives traffic via organic and paid search, Facebook, Twitter, affiliate programs and mobile campaigns.

DataSphere’s latest coupon-centric effort is LocalSaver.com, a destination site that showcases coupons based on category and popularity. It also uses the coupons to anchor a rich media experience for the SMBs. Every SMB coupon on the site links to a page that includes a video, pictures and information about the business.

“Consumers who look at a coupon are more likely to play a video and consumers who play a video are more likely to look at a coupon,” says SVP Gary Cowan. ”Eventually the aggregate of all these touchpoints hopefully results in a transaction.”

Cowan notes that LocalSaver is fully integrated into the company’s coupon network, which makes it easy for SMBs to frequently add or modify as many coupons as they like (for instance, they can set their coupons on auto-renew, or set a predefined date range during which they will be valid.) The compay also provides best in class coupons for particular business categories. Over time, there will be opportunities for advertisers to gain additional exposure across the network through premium service tiers.

Cowan is a featured speaker during our Sales Force Transformation session at Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing, which takes place Sept 11-13 in Austin. You may register here.

DataSphere: ‘Online Coupons Prove Value to SMBs’

Local media companies have increasingly zeroed in on smaller SMBs for growth. In many cases, however, they don’t have the resources to go after them. Enter DataSphere, which handles telemarketing, content and search optimization for its growing list of media company partners, while harnessing the media company’s local brand in each market.

The company was launched six years ago by former Amazon execs, and primarily works with TV station groups in 103 DMAs. The station groups include Gannett, Meredith, Cowles, Raycom, Fisher, Local TV, Morgan Murphy Media — and as of this month, Belo and Sinclair. Earier this year, DataSphere also launched services for Gannett’s Arizona Republic – its first newspaper. Adding Belo and Sinclair have provided a significant boost to the size of its network to 600 million page views a month.

DataSphere works with its partners on either a revenue share basis, or it buys space to place its inventory. Either way, the media partners don’t pay upfront and appreciate pure profit.

The 500 employee company, with offices in Seattle and Arizona, currently has over 20,000 SMB accounts through its partners. Each account is worth roughly $200 each on average, although the value of each account varies widely. Typical accounts come from such categories as restaurants, insurance, financial services, veterinarian hospitals, dentists and tree trimmers.

While the focus on SMBs has remained the same for the last 4 years, the offering has significantly changed. DataSphere’s initial efforts were centered largely on LocalNet, a platform for hyperlocal news content effort driving traffic to local blogs and SMB landing pages. LocalNet enabled DataSphere’s TV station partners to provide a more neighborhood-centric perspective.

Over time, the company has continued to provide a range of hyperlocal traffic drivers, including local event calendars and SMB landing pages. But it has expanded its anchor offerings to focus on coupons, which incorporate more tangible direct response components. Coupons in particular, clearly demonstrate value to SMBs, according to SVP Gary Cowan. “Unlike a news story, the beauty of coupons is that the content is the ad,” says Cowan.

Cowan notes that coupons are easily exposed beyond local media sites to a wide network of national coupon sites that localize, which includes such giants as coupons.com. The coupons also can be shown on multiple partners in a single market. In all, the DataSphere Coupon Network now attracts 40 million unique users a month.

The company’s coupon business also differs from traditional coupon leaders, such as Cox Target Media’s ValPak. “we offer a lower priced solution, which can be a better fit for many businesses,” says Cowan.

DataSphere’s marketing outreach, meanwhile, remains focused on telemarketing. Its 300-strong telemarketing sales force is based in Seattle and its growing Arizona office, with the majority of the growth planned for Phoenix. But the company is also doing more with self-serve advertising. The company learned from its roots in real estate leads that “self-serve develops warm leads,” says Cowan. “It leads to upsells for more extensive efforts.”

DataSphere SVP Gary Cowan appears on the Coupons section of the Deals Superforum at ILM West, along with ValPak President Michael Vivio and Savings.com CEO Loren Bendele.

DataSphere’s $8 Million Infusion and The Two Camps of Hyperlocal

The vision for Hyperlocal – if you believe in it — boils down to two camps. The first camp says it is a labor of love that must be hand-curated to work with merchants and engage the citizenry, town-by-town. Perhaps sites can use shopping and other directory tools, like Local Thunder and ShopCity, to tie things together and scale.

That’s The Batavian for you. GoLocal24. The Magic City Post. And Baristanet. That goes for hyper-vertical sites too, like MedCity.

The second camp says that that the only realistic and scalable opportunity is in a centrally managed operation, providing tools, strategy and branding. Local managers and writers –and sometimes, local media brands, for credibility — might also be involved. With 864 local sites, that’s what AOL’s Patch is. And on a smaller scale, Main Street Connect and DataSphere.

Some people think of these sites as money holes, suffering very high churn from very needy SMB customers, and very small, fragmented audiences. Others think they have the kind of vision that will lead to real success.

Today we focus on DataSphere, whose funding has now reached $32.5 million, with an $8 million infusion this week by First Analysis as well as existing venture capital partners Ignition Partners and OVP Venture Partners. Fisher Communications, the northwestern TV station group, participated in earlier rounds.

DataSphere’s been working with TV stations around the U.S., using their brands and promotional capability to sell services to local SMBs. For the TV stations, these are all new dollars – the TV stations don’t traditionally sell to them.

To work with DataSphere, the stations (and other media partners) essentially had to reach the conclusion that they were never going to attack this market themselves, and that they didn’t mind splitting revenues they would not have otherwise made. These are probably fair assumptions: more so for a TV station than a newspaper.

In a recent discussion with us, SVP Gary Cowan said that DataSphere has found a sweet spot with SMBs, focusing on expertly targeted coupons and other features to show “clear and demonstrable value.” The coupons are broadly distributed, not only on local landing pages, but across a larger network of relevant sites, such as Coupons.com.

The company now boasts 100 media partners, and its ads are now targeted across more than 1,900 neighborhoods. Gannett, Fisher and Meredith are among its largest customers. It has 420 employees overall, mostly sales, and the majority of them work phone banks in Bellevue, WA and Tempe, AZ.

Hyperlocal is a core focus at ILM East, which features AOL Local’s Mark Josephson, Consultant Merrill Brown, Main Street Connect’s Zohar Yardeni, GoLocal24’s Josh Fenton and Fisher Communications’ Randa Minkarah. Register Here.

Datasphere: New Focus on SMB ‘Adjacencies’ like Coupons, Events

We’ve long known that coupons provide real traction for SMB advertising. Nothing beats a customer walking through the door with a coupon in hand. But a lot of SMB website publishers haven’t really focused on them.

DataSphere, on the other hand,,has had a coupons product for some time. But it only recently has really zeroed in on their potential as “an adjacent space” to normal SMB activities, along with events, notes SVP Gary Cowan.

Coupons are actually easier to pull off than daily deals because “they don’t require the level of investment from partners,” he says. “They’re accessible to a wider set of companies. And they target advertising in a similar way.”

DataSphere, which is now in 85 markets with more than 300 sales reps, has taken an approach that more closely resembles “closed loop optimization,” adds Cowan. “We’re now helping businesses provide better content, and to make better offers. We tell them what the difference is between making an offer that is 10 percent off and 30 percent off.”

While coupons don’t drive the same volume as deal publishers such as Groupon, they lead to higher profitability because they feature smaller discounts, and have no commissions. They also typically run for longer time periods than deals.

DataSphere has also been focusing on exposing the coupons across a larger network of relevant sites, including Coupons.com. “There is no reason not to publish a coupon on several sites,” says Cowan. “It all goes to help the SMB advertiser in the end, and if they see more value, they’re more likely to stick around.”

With TV station partners such as Gannett and Fisher Communications, Cowan says the focus is on leveraging DataSphere’s increasing scale to “continuously evolve and add services with clear and demonstrable value for small local advertisers.”

Gannett Now Producing 264 HyperLocal Neighborhoods

Gannett announced during its earnings call yesterday that it is now producing 264 hyperlocal neighborhood sites in 10 markets. This includes the recent addition of 30 hyperlocal neighborhoods in Sacramento. The hyperlocal neighborhoods, produced in conjunction with DataSphere, have put out 30,000 stories and attracted 1.9 million page views.

In addition to the hyperlocal news, Gannett says that its new “common platform” for mobile will put out 100 sites during 1Q. The platform is capable of supporting higher end video. Mobile attracted 1.6 billion page views in 2010, representing 267 percent growth from the prior year. While much of the mobile activity centers around the national USA Today flagship, CEO Craig Dubow noted that there is growth in mobile content and advertising at both the national and local level.

More broadly, digital now accounts for $1 billion in annual revenue, or just over 18 percent of the company’s overall revenue. The digital division, which includes CareerBuilder, ShopLocal and PointRoll, had eight percent growth in 2010.

Gannett Digital Media Network GM Josh Resnik is speaking about “HyperRelevant” opportunities at ILM East in Boston March 21-23.

Gannett Broadcasting Goes Hyperlocal via DataSphere

DataSphere, which creates hyperlocal blogs and sells advertising packages to small businesses on behalf of local broadcasters, will now do the same for Gannett Broadcasting,

The deal initially covers ten of Gannett Broadcasting’s 19 markets, including Atlanta, Washington D.C., Tampa, Buffalo, Sacramento, Grand Rapids, Little Rock, Portland, ME and Macon, GA. Gannett is keeping the DataSphere arrangement separate from Ripple6, its social media marketing unit, which was recently merged with PointRoll, Gannett’s rich media services company.

Seattle-based DataSphere, which received $10.8 million in funding and is partially owned by Fisher Communications, now has deals with at least five media companies and powers more than 300 local news sites. Among its media partners are Fisher, Raycom Media, Local TV and Hubbard Broadcasting. More than 1,000 SMBs are served by the Fisher sites in Seattle, Portland and Boise. The service had also been tested out on a limited basis by Cowles.

Fisher CEO Colleen Brown: Focus on ‘Scaleable, Monetizable’

Fisher Communications, a big TV and radio group in the Northwest, has long made its embrace of new technologies part of its image. The publicly-traded company acquired Pegasus News, a city guide site; and prepared a major Web-based rollout of social services and small business marketing effort.

But then it seemed to retreat last year, selling off Pegasus to Gap Broadcasting, and apparently limiting its own plans to work with SMBs to partner with DataSphere, a vendor that would use Fisher’s brands and content, but supply its own technology and call centers. Retreat or not, the effort with DataSphere is among the most significant Internet efforts in the broadcast world.

Fisher CEO Colleen Brown, keynoting at BIA/Kelsey’s Digital Strategies for Broadcasters conference in Jersey City, NJ, said that it is all about being “scaleable and monetizeable.”

Pegasus’ City Guide model wasn’t the right solution for Fisher, she said, but provided useful lessons. “We learned that all of our digital efforts need to be interoperable” and operate on an “all-in-one platform.

The DataSphere partnership, which has sold ad packages to over 1,000 SMBs in Seattle, Portland and Boise, is a better fit. “There is a real desire for affordable advertising in our marketplaces that is attached to our brand,” said Brown.

Sales are made from a DataSphere call center, and offer subscription-based, turnkey solutions for rates ranging from $35 for a 6 month directory deal to $60,000 to reach all of Seattle. “We are rolling up the nickels,” she says, adding that KOMO-TV Seattle really didn’t have a product to sell to SMBs before.

Part of the appeal to SMBs is that the site reaches people at the hyperlocal, or “neighborhood site” level. There are now 124 neighborhood sites in its markets after less than a year. While promotion has been minimal as the kinks get worked out, advertisers are leveraging a full circle of information. This includes blogs, news content and vertical content from The Buzz, a Fisher-owned and operated site based in Orlando, Fla.

“The neighborhood sites have become our big “aha,’” says Brown, noting that the company plans to launch “real promotion” of the efforts this summer.