Conference Notebook: Brands Refining Their Local Approach

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Multi-location brands that want to connect with local consumers have long been faced with the conundrum of how much marketing to trust to their local outlets. Giving freer rein to franchisees on the ground can help to build stronger ties with local communities — but it increases the risk of losing broader messages that corporate wants to get across.

At BIA/Kelsey’s National event in Dallas last week, a number of vendors and brand reps weighed in on this issue, and talked about how digital marketing was evolving to better serve brands trying to take their national campaigns local.

“Brands are schizophrenic from the top to the bottom,” said Yext’s VP of partnerships, Christian Ward, during a panel — suggesting that multi-location companies often have one personality originating from corporate management, and then other personalities in all of the specific locations.

Managing the interplay between these split personalities can be a challenge, as CMOs try to create flexible programs that can be adapted to the needs of individual communities.

In one panel featuring two multi-location brands, UHaul‘s director of local search Elnora Cunningham and El Pollo Loco’s VP of marketing Mark Hardison spoke about how they navigated this.

“We encourage our franchises to take a presence in the local community … and then we centralize that by supporting it” said Hardison, citing local outlets’ sponsorships of sports teams. He also said that when new locations open, individual franchisees will often host “preview nights” where they reach out to the community on social media and invite people who live nearby in for a meal — introducing themselves and creating connections with potential customers even before doors open.

But Hardison said that some marketing and community functions still needed to be managed by corporate headquarters — like posting on Facebook, and processing and responding to online comments and reviews on sites like Yelp. “We localize that, but from the central base,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cunningham said UHaul takes more of a centralized approach to marketing: “We don’t give [franchisees] the tools, per se — we take the burden off of them,” she said.

She also said that the 70-year-old company has enough of a reputation that it doesn’t spend any money on paid ads, focusing more on SEO and conversions via its website: “There is a great amount of history and expertise that I have been a part of and benefited from … we’re having record years just by our strategies on our site.”


In a panel about how brands are approaching listings management, Where2GetIt‘s CEO Manish Patel said that a key aspect of local marketing for brands was figuring out how to establish attribution and ROI, connecting the dots between location-based digital solutions and their effect on in-store purchases. According to Patel, the establishment of purchase intent has become increasingly complicated.

“The problem with having so many paths through the purchase process is that there may be leakage,” he said. “How do you manage all of the leaks in the path to purchase? … We’re looking at the entire process of how a consumer goes from search to store.”

Yext’s Ward took this a step further, saying that the “killer monetization app” of mobile was marketers’ ability to let stores reach their consumers as they shop.

“Visits are intent and attribution,” said Ward. “Just like search fueled ecommerce on the web, location will fuel in-store sales from mobile.”

He asserted that digital presence management was the foundation for understanding consumer intent, and that companies should stop thinking of digital presence as a box to check — and instead more as an amplifier.


“More than half of U.S. businesses that spend $1000-plus [per year] on local advertising do so without a pre-defined customer acquisition strategy,” said AdMall’s founder and CEO C. Lee Smith in another session. He noted the disconnect and suggested that platforms, agencies and advertisers could help.

Among Smith’s main points:

— “It’s better to reach the people that count than to count the people you reach.”

— Marketing budget is wasted when the message is not aligned with the audience.

— How you define your audience is the foundation of your customer acquisition strategy.

Smith gave a few interesting use cases where data could help illuminate strategies to reach particular kinds of users. For instance, he noted, people who tend to buy living room furniture are 35% more likely to be Pinterest users. Meanwhile, frequent fast food eaters are 3.5x more likely to have used Foursquare, and 2.2x more likely to use Snapchat. And adults who say they want to move to a different city or region are 74% more likely to tap on a click-to-call number, and 50% more likely to have looked for do-it-yourself/repair info.

While this information may not all be useful in and of itself, brand marketers can use these kinds of insights to tweak their message and targeting to reach more of the right people with the right kind of messaging.

Some other insights from Smith:

— “Stay top of mind for the bottom line.” Keep marketing at the top of the franchisee’s mind — even as they need marketing to stay at the top of customers’ minds.

— Integrate local and regional variances whenever possible.

— “You don’t need big data, you need big insights.”

— New does not always mean better — use existing media where it works.

David Hirschman is a co-founder at Street Fight.