The Wall Street Journal carried the story today that the Washington Post's LoudounExtra.com website, a site designed to provide hyperlocal coverage of Loudoun County, Va., has lost its chief web architect and much of its tech team.
"Like hundreds of other hyperlocal sites launched in the past few years, LoudounExtra.com reflects a basic premise: Metro newspapers probably can't compete with the Internet or cable TV in covering breaking national or international news, but they can dominate what happens in their backyards," wrote the Journal's Russell Adams.
The problem is that the site has yet to find its audience. Adams says one reason for that is because "the team of outsiders didn't do enough to familiarize itself with Loudoun County or engage its 270,000 residents." He's exactly right.
This is a mistake corporate marketers are making more often as they attempt to move their companies closer to the prospects they sell to without changing the perspective on the lens they use to study them. Hyperlocal coverage requires traditional newspapers to do more than just tell the same old stories to an audience of people that all happen to be listening from the same county. It requires them tell stories that really matter to them.
I've seen something similar happen when companies start podcasting. As soon as the marketing department realizes that podcasts are a great new way to allow its prospects to hear the ideas that set the company apart directly from a top executive, they hand the CEO a corporate brochure to use as a script. But that's not the point. It's not that people are suddenly listening to podcasts instead of the radio, it's that they listen to get new insight.
People who listen to corporate podcasts do it to find out more about the people who are behind the brands they love, not to hear the same brand messaging in a new way. That's like a child coming in from outside and not remembering to switch to his "inside voice."
Getting closer to your customers via New Media communication tools requires companies to set aside the marketing collateral and bullhorns and enter a dialog with their customers and prospects. Those that don't will suffer the same fate as the Washington Post, an otherwise fantastic journalistic enterprise that forgot that getting closer to its readers required than just saying the same old things louder.