Geomentum’s Lisa Bradner: Thinking Differently About ‘Scale’

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Is the hyperlocal space all about “shiny toys?” Lisa Bradner says it might be — and in some cases, that’s okay. Companies like Groupon and Foursquare may be media darlings, but they’ll face challenges and will have to evolve their business models, she says.

From where she sits as president of Geomentum, Bradner looks every day at consumers’ hyperlocal marketing responses and analyzes the ways that micro-targeted location-based ads can create more relevant consumer engagement. Here, she talks with Street Fight about the expanding concept of hyperlocal, the stickiest kind of content in the local context, and convincing advertisers to take a different approach when it comes to “scale.”

What do you think “hyperlocal” means these days?
Hyperlocal seems to fall into two buckets depending on who you’re talking to. If you’re talking to people who aren’t part of the tech world, what you get is, “Oh, okay so you’re going to do the coffee shops and the signups by the little league stadium.” Then, if you talk to people in the tech world, it’s Foursquare, Loopt, Gowalla; it’s very specific to services. The way we look at hyperlocal, I think, is somewhere between those two; it’s about creating relevance and content messaging, and the experiences of where people live and work.

So, it contains local, it contains some of the things that the services do, but it’s not just the services. I think we’re a little at risk right now in the industry of pushing the “shiny toys” — and then thinking if a shiny toy doesn’t work well, then hyperlocal doesn’t work.

What are some of the “shiny toy” business models that you’re seeing these days that you think might work?
Certainly Groupon is shiny, certainly Foursquare is shiny, but what we’re seeing from both of them is that the barriers to entry are challenging. Certainly in Groupon’s case everyone is getting into the scrum [and starting their own competing services] which makes it challenging.

From a Foursquare perspective, I think they are a little challenged to say: “Okay, are we simply a loyalty program —  check in, get a reward; that classic Pavlovian experience — or do we offer more service benefits?” I think they can get there very easily, very readily. They have the right merchant relationships. They have the practice of when somebody is in the habit of checking in it becomes a resource they look to and turn to, but I think the jury is still out a little bit for them: “Okay, so we create sticky services then the revenue can follow.”

We’re a little at risk right now in the industry of pushing the “shiny toys” — and then thinking if a shiny toy doesn’t work well, then hyperlocal doesn’t work.

What do you think makes hyperlocal marketing campaigns successful?
Where I think local and hyperlocal is most relevant and successful — and certainly what we see in our culture and clients — is in finding that in-between space of what we call the “one spot.” We don’t have to know who you are, we don’t have to know everything about your behavior, but we can understand where you are, the kinds of things you’re looking to do, and the type of person that you are and offer you services. And we offer things that are relevant to you because we’ve been smart about the life stage that you’re in, the demographic you hit, the location you’re in. But I think that’s where it really, really bridges the gap between big, big national campaigns and [personally identifiable information]-driven campaigns that either a.) require permission, which you’re not going to get from everybody, or b.) we start to see a lot of people feeling uncomfortable with privacy issues.

Companies like Groupon and Foursquare in the past couple of years have shown that you don’t necessarily need news content to be successful in hyperlocal. Is news the best vehicle for local ads ?
I think the question is “the best vehicle for whom?” Certainly we do a lot of laughing in the office — we all love AOL Patch’s “Mug Shot Mondays.” That’s the kind of news that gets everybody. There’s an element of voyeurism and an element of fun and everybody goes: “Ooh, I want to see that.” But, you know, what is news to the mom in the community about the local schools is different than news to a single guy living in downtown Chicago.

So, if you think not just news, but content… I think what’s interesting and what we will have to work through is not just offers and deals, but how do you bring in ratings, reviews, how do you bring in discussion. It’s always been the challenge. Being a content provider has been a labor-intensive job. The content doesn’t just necessarily create and refresh itself without a lot of work on the part of the provider.

So, I think it’s not necessarily just news, but nor do I think we can just assume that [user-generated content] will take care of it all and people will be so compelled to come that they will produce their own content. There is work to be done in curation and aggregation and organization to really make that content sticky and vital.

Have local advertisers started to embrace hyperlocal on mobile?
They are starting to. I think advertisers have been so challenged over the years to always think in scale. We [in hyperlocal] can get to scale, but it’s a different approach to scale. It’s much more bottom-up than top-down. I think a lot of people are still challenged to say, “Okay, if I start at the bottom and go up, how do I still get to scale?” Certainly you can do it, and technology is the core way to do that. All of us in the industry certainly see the connection to mobile. I think from an advertiser’s perspective, it really varies by vertical.

If you are a retailer with a store you see it: people are walking into my store, they are checking their device, they are looking for information. So, I think it will vary a little bit by vertical in terms of the adoption curve. But certainly everybody understands the promise that mobile hits. … In terms of providing information, in terms of getting people to purchase, in terms of getting people to communicate options, of course from a retailer’s perspective, that is an opportunity and a challenge. It used to be once I got somebody in my store, even in the Web era: “Okay they’ve done their comparison shopping and now they’re in my store. Now I have them.” That’s no longer true. If they’ve got their phone with them, they can get a great deal from Amazon as they are standing there in my store trying to decide whether to buy. So, there’s the opportunity to be disruptive to the purchase cycle.