Huffington says brands need to develop a grass roots online strategy

Cannes: Brands should enhance their online strategies to interact with local communities on a deeper level, Arianna Huffington and AOL chief executive officer Tim Armstrong told delegates at the Cannes Lions Festival.

AOL's chief executive Tim Armstrong at Cannes 2011
AOL’s chief executive Tim Armstrong at Cannes 2011

Armstrong said new “human” marketing strategies should culminate in brands facilitating and providing localised content to users in a particular area.

“Local has to be the largest white space on the internet because people haven’t taken it seriously enough,” said Armstrong.

“You have to translate your brand to a local level online – people want to know things like who their local car dealer is, for example.

“A local strategy is critical, because 83% of consumers use fewer than 30 websites a month. There is a limited set of brands people want to deal with and invest in, and we need to plan for that.”

AOL’s local content platform, Patch, is present in 827 towns in the US. The growth of Patch and the grass roots user engagement it facilitates, together with the purchase of The Huffington Post in February, is part of AOL’s move towards becoming more human and creative, Armstrong added.

He revealed that moving towards owning and investing in fewer but more impactful brands, such as Patch and The Huffington Post, were part of a plan to make AOL an “uber-brand”.

Arianna Huffington, founder of the editorial and blogging site, which she claimed surpassed the New York Times in traffic figures last month, publicly invited brands to use the site as a blogging platform to engage with users.

The Huffington Post will be launched in 12 more countries before the end of the year.

Armstrong said AOL is partnering with “heavy influencers” such as UK golfer Graeme McDowell to build both the AOL and Huffington Post brands.

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