A New Way to Think About Local: Last Mile Advertising

Paisaje de carretera.Concepto de viaje en carretera.Every purchase is a unique journey. A consumer starts with a need, desire, impulse or inspiration; takes actions that lead toward the satisfaction of that feeling; and finally, moves forward with a purchase. While this “path” always has a beginning and an end, it is rarely linear. Instead, consumers navigate various forms of media both online and offline that all circle around, and lead to, the purchase.

While advertisers today seek to take advantage of an increasingly fragmented media environment, those focused on local advertising have different challenges and opportunities in that they are in closer proximity to the point of purchase. Even with the tremendous growth of online shopping and e-commerce, two-thirds of all local purchases are still taking place in-person at brick-and-mortar locations, according to a 2013 BIA/Kelsey survey. This demonstrates the importance of adapting and engaging advertising on a local level.

Last year, our team at the Local Search Association interviewed executives from a range of advertising agencies, platforms and experts including R/GA, Sears, Twitter, Microsoft, YP, Groupon, Mashable and the IAB to develop a better understanding of what makes the local advertising market unique. We emerged from those conversations with an overwhelming feeling that the local space isn’t clearly distinguishable from advertising as a whole, but with a strong conviction that it could and should be. This is where we believe the term “Last Mile” can bring some clarity.

Some may recall the telecommunication industry’s use of “Last Mile” to define the final leg of networks delivering communications connectivity to customers. There is an obvious parallel to how local advertising works. Last Mile Advertising reflects locally targeted ads or messages that are delivered close to the point of purchase and facilitate consumer actions.

We see three segments that make up the Last Mile Advertising universe: Seek, Discover and Consider. Let’s define each of these segments in greater detail:

Seek: In the Seek segment, consumers are ready-to-buy, but are actively looking for a specific business that can sell them the product and service they want to purchase. In most cases, their queries are tied to a geographic location.

Local advertisers leverage a variety of platforms and methods to more effectively reach consumers engaged in this segment, including print and online directories, mobile apps, search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM), and listings management services. The integration of functionality tools such as click-to-call, click for map and online reservations and appointment bookings services are driving consumer actions within this segment.

Discover: In this segment, consumers are informed about a business and its products or services that they didn’t necessarily know was available and/or didn’t plan on purchasing. Consumers are attracted to this segment via digital and mobile ad networks, location-based apps and services, daily deals offerings, email and SMS marketing, digital and print coupons, signage and other awareness-building advertising. One-of-a-kind deals and offers that eventually lead to purchases are driving actions in this segment.

Consider: In this segment, consumers are considering a purchase, but want more information on the business, product or service they’ve identified. Consumers engage in this segment by browsing business websites, social media pages, online reviews, and videos. Advertisers manage their presence and generate leads by activating comprehensive reputation management strategies and content marketing that works hard to convince potential customers to move forward with a purchase.

Consumers navigate these segments in different ways depending on their specific circumstances. For example, a consumer may simply look for a local business via an online directory and call to make a purchase – staying fully within the Seek segment. In another situation, that same consumer may receive a daily deal, visit the business’ website, and then search for a competitor – navigating all three segments – before moving forward with a purchase. Because of the diversity of Last Mile Advertising, local advertisers need to be engaged in unprecedented ways across multiple platforms and channels.

Next month at our 2014 Local Search Association Conference, LSA|14, in Huntington Beach, Calif., we’ll focus on the evolution of Last Mile Advertising with presentations and panels featuring leaders in our space, most notably Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. We’ll also debut the winners of our inaugural Ad to Action Awards, which include this year’s most innovative local ad solutions.

What do you think of this new way of thinking about local?

Neg Norton is president of the Local Search Association.