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Wowtown to Launch 50 Web Portals for Localized Direct Marketing

Wowtown.com is set to launch 50 new local Internet marketing portals in the next two months and an additional 84 during the following three months.

The first round of city portals will launch July 1.

Having already secured 500 domain names that are also scheduled to become portals, Wowtown is seeking local partners — Internet service providers, Web developers and media properties — in participating cities to bring content to the portals and build a local directory format.

The sites will serve as local search facilities, or “baby portals,” until local partnerships are formed, at which time they will be fully activated. Wowtown currently has three active city portals in Seattle; Las Vegas; and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Founded four months ago, Wowtown, Seattle, provides direct communication between businesses and consumers via the Internet. Through its network of local portals, Wowtown offers participating bricks-and-mortar companies an Internet station to drive foot traffic to their establishments. The monthly rates for participating merchants range from $29.95 to $69.95.

“It's a measurable means to advertise, as opposed to putting your Web site in a billion Web page environment and not knowing who will see you on the Net,” said Patrick Helme, vice president of development at Wowtown.

Wowtown provides its members with a free Net Savings Card — an identification card that can be used repeatedly for discounts at participating businesses in cities that have a Wowtown portal. The card can be obtained via local portals.

“The Net Savings Card is the online tool that really drives consumers to the merchants,” said David Packman, president of Wowtown. “A Web site sitting there on its own isn't going to do that.”

Each city portal will follow that same business-to-consumer philosophy.

“It's a spin on e-commerce,” Helme said. “We want consumers to use e-commerce, but we want them to physically go into these establishments to make their purchases.”

Packman added, “I can never understand why companies spend money promoting their Web site using real media mechanisms. That's backwards.”

Amid the rapid pace of portal launches, Wowtown's membership in the cities with active Web sites is steadily increasing, Helme reported. Seattle and Vancouver, for example, have accumulated 5,000 and 6,000 members, respectively. Wowtown has approximately 250 participating merchants in those cities. The Net Savings Card has generated consumer traffic, albeit somewhat limited, Helme said.

In an effort to boost its membership and the number of partnerships with local businesses, Wowtown has formed an alliance with Yesmail.com, Chicago. Wowtown will allow its members to opt in to Yesmail's e-mail services. Wowtown also can use Yesmail's network to target specific groups via direct mail on a localized basis.

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