What We Mean When We Talk About ‘Hyperlocal’

dictionaryToday, Greg Sterling, one of the smartest people in the hyperlocal space, asserted that the term “hyperlocal” should be retired. Tongue in cheek, he claimed he coined the term, which he later admitted he didn’t.

At Street Fight, we are happy to claim we absconded with the term. We expanded it from its traditional use pertaining only to passionate, driven, highly local publishers who were the first to act on the erosion of local media’s business. We have applied it to include anyone who is disrupting and taking market share from traditional media and offering local businesses new ways to reach consumers.

“Hyperlocal” businesses push beyond “local.” They focus on highly targeted geographic areas, from my neighborhood, to my block, to where I am right now this very moment, perhaps standing in a store.

“Location” represents a focus of what these exciting new start-ups do, but “location businesses” doesn’t capture the full extent of what they offer. Can you describe a point-of-sale marketing offering as “location?” In our opinion, no. But “hyperlocal” does reflect the “right here, right now” aspect of the transaction.

‘Hyperlocal’ businesses push beyond ‘local.’ They focus on highly targeted geographic areas, from my neighborhood, to my block, to where I am right now this very moment.

In truth, when we launched Street Fight in early 2011, we did lack a term that would include what then were perceived as disparate businesses that are now coming together (e.g. deals companies don’t stand in their own silos, and if they do, they’re in trouble: see, Groupon, Group Commerce), as well as the new entrants we anticipated, including payments and SMB services businesses. We also aimed to be inclusive of those local media companies who would begin to embrace these new ways of being a better marketing channel for local businesses, as well as traditional locally targeting businesses like yellow pages and coupons.

We saw “hyperlocal” as the most representative term of an industry that was using a range of digital means to help local businesses reach their customers. It has admittedly faced a challenge on two fronts: one, from its traditional assignation to refer to only publishers (and a stodgy, folksy term it was at that), and two, from “so-lo-mo,” which we acknowledge as a worthy strategy, but put that way, creates silos of efforts. (And which Anthony Ha at TechCrunch agrees is a terrible, terrible term — “outrages all decency and common sense.”)

We aimed to re-energize the term “hyperlocal,” and also to give the forward-thinking entrepreneurs in this space a way to identify and name the new industry they were building, and to support that growth.

It’s clearly an ongoing discussion and we’d love to have your input on how you describe your business and this industry.

Laura Rich is CEO of Street Fight.

  1. Matt Sokoloff
    January 30, 2013

    I constantly struggle with the term. Not ready to kill it off because it’s the best term we have.

    FWIW first usage I could find appears in a 2000 NYT article about the closing of the LA Times’ suburban weeklies. The first usage describing anything online comes from Jeff Jarvis on BuzzMachine. http://buzzmachine.com/2003/07/19/blogs-blogs-everywhere-and-not/

  2. January 31, 2013

    I my opinion hyperlocal points to two aspects of local; local in the sense of being in a particular place AND what being in that place actually means to an individual. Businesses that can accurately make this prediction and tailor the content based on it (because it is a prediction unless the users is telling you what they are up to explicitly) is giving the user the experience of being “hyperlocal”. I agree, the term might not be perfect – but what is?

  3. January 31, 2013

    My biggest challenge with the term is that the majority of my clients have never heard it used in regular conversation before. Most local business owners view marketing as just marketing…there is no such thing as hyperlocal marketing. Unless we see broader adoption of the term, outside of our own industry, I would imagine that it will disappear sooner rather than later.

  4. TomGrubisich
    January 31, 2013

    If “most local business owners view marketing as just marketing,” maybe that’s why they are throwing their ad and branding dollars in so many directions, including all the new exchanges and other middlemen who promise — I wonder how effectively? — to deliver the holy grail of new customers. The swelling number of national businesses that are entering the local/hyperlocal space are using increasingly refined consumer profiling to connect with market segments that may be individually tiny but significant in size when clustered. If there’s any term that may be headed to obsolescence, I would think it’s “local.” In, say, Washington, D.C. — just the District of Columbia, not the metro area — would you use “local” to define any or all of the approximately 80 communities?

  5. February 1, 2013

    – Mike Orren once said that the problem with journalism conferences is that by the time people agreed on a definition of hyperlocal it was time to get on the plane and go home.

    – Kurt Vonnegut said,

    “I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled ‘science fiction’ … and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal.”

    My experience with the word hyperlocal comes very close to Mr. Vonnegut’s experience with the term, “science fiction.”

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