Is It Time to Redefine ‘Local’ Marketing?

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It has been exactly a year since I penned my last column. At the time I was suffering from exactly the issues facing our industry; vendor companies and marketers had simplified “local” to mean the Google Map Pack. I was simply tired of spinning what has become a commoditized approach to a monolithic product. While I sat on the sidelines this past year, I took the opportunity to dig back into my study of brands, locality, mobile and consumers.

Local marketing communication has always fascinated me.  The fact that consumers of discrete geographies use differing approaches based on locality, media dynamics and linguistics when shopping for products and services. For example, if you are selling a device that protects your home from theft in the North or West, you call it a “Security System.” However if you are selling that same device down South, you refer to it as “Burglar Alarm.” Layer on simple findings like the above with the differences in mobile vs. desktop usage by region with preferred purchase mode (e-commerce vs. bricks and mortar stores) and startling findings begin to paint a picture of opportunity to rethink a local go-to-market strategy.

Yet as I survey most major brands, I see little or no differentiation of strategy or execution across local markets. In fact, we now have examples of how a single national approach has damaged brands like Macy’s.  Macy’s was a once leading retailer that was highly differentiated by individual market. Lee Peterson in a recent article that was published on pretty much sums up what led to the decline and the missed opportunity:

“Decades of distinct market knowledge ended up devalued and then simply disappeared, rolled up into a singular corporate branding and buying approach. But the forces of finance pushed for chain-wide savings ahead of doing something that might have helped the category: Staying closer than ever to shoppers. In effect, Macy’s stopped doing the one thing it was good at doing better than anyone else — something that might have saved it from obsolescence during tough times, from recessions to Amazon’s looming dominance in e-commerce.”

This is a pattern that has developed in many industries based on the mistaken belief that a singular approach is more cost effective and will deliver the same or even increasing sales results. In the incomparable words of a newly elected world leader: “WRONG.” Local targeting requires a local focus.

What Was Old is New Again
We have reached a pivot point where local market nuances and differences can create definable opportunity. I am not saying that the age of the big box retail or e-commerce portal are over, but if a brand does a better job at leveraging local marketing it can create a competitive advantage and differentiation point. The key is to separate traditional thinking from single strategy tactics and channels into integrated and tailored market specific plans based on defined or researched consumer behavior. A great integrated local strategy looks sort of like “Intent Based” marketing on steroids.

Required key points of understanding of ‘individual market’ dynamics:

  • Keyword/phrase lexicons
  • Media consumption of awareness media
  • Mode of directional media consumption (mobile vs. desktop vs. voice based searching)
  • Selection criteria (attributes vs. location)
  • Preferred purchase venue (e-com vs. in-store)

Armed with these types of insights the brand can then develop local/regionally tailored campaigns that leverage local market nuances and yield higher conversion rates.

Is Geo-Targeted Media the Local Approach?
Geo-targeting ads on Google’s network, Facebook, et cetera, can certainly be a start of a local approach, but they should not be the only focus. One reason: geo-targeting is not always 100% accurate. For example a desktop search for “Plumber Redding” returns geo-targeted results for both Redding, Connnecticut, and Redding, California, even though my location information is known to Google (Connecticut):


Additionally, highly localized media properties that are hyperlocal in focus can in some cases offer more cost-effective and efficient (less competition) advertising options.

I often hear of complaints that brands are being priced out of Google and other top portal sites. A good hedging strategy against escalating ad cost is to expand the venues that a brand considers in their ad plan. Interestingly, my firm has researched in excess of 20,000 locally focused hyperlocal websites that often provide ad placements that can generate sales leads at a fraction of the cost of trying to geo-target larger portal sites. Many of these hyperlocal sites’ advertisers are limited to local ‘mom and pop’ type businesses sold locally by a media rep. This absence of brand advertising can provide a distinct opportunity to stand out as a branded option away from other brand competitors.

The Bad News
A true local approach is harder work than simply geo-targeting ad placements. It requires specialized tools that can research media options and conduct ROI comparisons in near real-time. Programmatic platforms that focus solely on hyperlocal media options are just beginning to emerge. So today it takes a balance of manual and automated effort to tap the full potential of an integrated local media strategy/plan.

The good news is that employing an integrated local approach pays dividends in the cost effectiveness of lead generation. Also, if a brand markets via franchises or local dealer/agent networks, the relationship with the field organization improves as they begin to feel and experience localized ad support in their specific markets on the media venues they are most familiar with.

Finally, by tuning media venues and ad messaging to local market nuances a brand can sell more by being better in tune with the specific marketplace.

IMG_1400With over 30+ years experience leveraging the world of Local Marketing; Gregg Stewart leads 15miles, Inc. to help brands better grow revenue from Social, Local and Mobile integration.