One recurring theme at last week’s Street Fight Summit concerned the ongoing project of creating, organizing, and aggregating data and content associated with location. As more consumers find SMBs via mobile applications (through search and other means), the objective of these companies is to deliver as much information about a business to apps and mobile searches as a company’s website would. A simple map icon on 3rd Street and Broadway doesn’t cut it. For SMBs, the new marketing strategy favors dispersed deployment of enhanced content across multiple media and mobile services.
Directory companies are leading the charge in building this new type of marketing network based on syndicating SMB pages that look like business websites across a media network. They are positioning themselves like media buyers and could eventually force the mainstream media to play along as one more spoke in their syndicate via the gateway to their SMB client base. I think recognition of the marketing leap from a single SMB website to a massively syndicated presence was one of the big takeaways from the summit.
There are four ways the local start-up ecosystem is creating or aggregating local data and building the syndication network. Many of these companies, like UBL, Yext, and LocalVox, are developing full-fledged vertical product offerings; others like Locu focus on niches like restaurant menu creation and syndication.
Selling the enhanced directory listing to SMBs is no picnic; it involves following the same well-worn path as the media ad sales and daily deals reps did preceding them. There are two sales channels: 1) partnering with media publishers to offer a directory product, and 2) going direct to the SMBs.
Trevor Sumner, founder of Localvox, sees partnering with publishers’ sales forces as a natural step: “The newspapers already have established relationships with SMBs, and they would be offering a directory product that clients intuitively understand. They meet the client’s need to be ‘in the newspaper.’” Meanwhile the publisher benefits by outsourcing to a marketing partner that extends a relationship with clients beyond advertising. Yext and UBL’s direct proposition of “set up once then publish everywhere” is an appeal to the automated, ubiquitous online presence that has always been holy grail of small business marketing.
The push to extend enhanced listings is relevant for retail chain stores, which need to show a more personalized, less mercenary face to the community. Most national retail websites have a “Find a Store” tab but usually lack content beyond the place icon. Enterprises also have control issues managing national and local content. Last week, BlankSlate introduced a store locator solution for retailers called Landing Spark that pulls content from social media and provides managerial controls at the store and enterprise levels.
SMBs have always wanted the contents of their websites plastered across every possible local media. Local media, however, is no longer exclusively the local paper. It also includes national mobile services like Yelp that allow consumers to drill down and find website-grade content related to their businesses. As SMBs seek to take control of how they’re represented in these media, directories are poised to take a greater and greater share of the local pie.
Patrick Kitano is a founding principal of Brand into Media, a strategy group for social brand management solutions, and administrator of the Breaking News Network, a national hyperlocal network devoted to community service. He is reachable via Twitter (@pkitano) and email (email@example.com).