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February 12, 2015

Mobile advertising for Main Street?

Mobile advertising isn’t just for big businesses with big budgets anymore.

That’s the message one local Internet advertising company, Chitika Inc., is trying to convey to small businesses in the MetroWest region. By partnering with local business groups, the Westborough firm is aiming to acquaint business owners with mobile advertising, and show them they can manage it themselves without shelling out big bucks.

It’s not so much that mobile advertising hasn’t been available to small businesses, said Andrew Waber, a Chitika marketing analyst, but the metrics available to business owners who outsource mobile advertising to third-party services are not all that helpful, he said. Such services typically provide state-level data about who is seeing mobile ads, and where.

'Democratizing mobile marketing'

“There’s not much you can do with it,” Waber said. “Twenty-thousand people (might have seen) my ad last months, but were they very local? With state metrics, it’s hard to tell.”

And being privy to granular information about who your advertising is reaching is important, Waber noted, especially for small businesses that are primarily serving the local population, such as a nail salon or a bakery.

Chitika’s new mobile marketing company, Cidewalk, launched last year and caters to small businesses that want to participate in mobile marketing but don’t have the staff or large marketing budgets bigger firms enjoy. And it comes at an opportune time, as mobile marketing seems to be gaining traction in the small business world. According to a study by cloud computing firm SalesForce, 46 percent of small businesses are using some form of mobile marketing, compared to just 23 percent a year ago.

Through Cidewalk, the company says it’s “democratizing mobile marketing, providing small business owners access to the same technology and opportunities previously only enjoyed by Fortune 500 companies.”

Those small businesses that are located in Westborough and surrounding towns have the opportunity to get some freebies, including a free monthly promotion through Cidewalk’s platform, as well as workshops that teach business owners strategies for effective mobile advertising. This initiative is being offered through partnerships between Cidewalk and the Westborough Economic Development Corp. (EDC) and the Corridor Nine Area Chamber of Commerce.

Cidewalk was recently honored for its efforts to engage the local business community at the Westborough EDC’s first Year-in-Review Celebratory Breakfast. Waber said the company is hoping to form similar alliances with other area business groups in the near future.

"We believe all businesses, no matter the size, should have the same ability to access mobile marketing technologies as brands with massive budgets.” Venkat Kolluri, CEO of Cidewalk and Chitika, said in an e-mail.

A mutually beneficial partnership?

Of course, a primary goal is to generate new business through the partnerships, but Waber insisted the partnership is mutually beneficial, given the importance of mobile advertising today, even for hyper-local business owners who sometimes struggle to see its value.

Waber noted that small businesses were quick to jump on the Facebook bandwagon a few years ago, creating business pages that could reach fans at no cost. But now, Facebook’s rules have changed so that business page posts don’t show up in fans’ news feeds unless the businesses pay for it. That’s all the more incentive for small businesses to learn the ropes of mobile advertising, which Waber said can be daunting, but manageable with a template from mobile marketing companies (and there are multiple businesses in the same space as Chitika).

“Mobile advertising is still incredibly important if you want to keep customers coming through the door as the environment is changing,” Waber said.

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