Why Developing a ‘Near Me’ Strategy Has Become Critical for Local Marketers

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If marketers have anything to learn from 2016, it’s this: Mobile is no longer just an important or necessary element of a marketing strategy, it’s vital for the livelihood and existence of a brand. It has led to a critical shift in shopper behavior that brand marketers are rushing to understand and adapt their digital marketing strategies to.

In many ways, mobile has revolutionized how today’s shoppers research products, differentiate pricing and promotions and ultimately, where they make a purchase. Due to the rise in shoppers’ adoption and use of mobile devices, one trend that has exploded in the past two years is the local-first thinking of high-intent shoppers. In particular, use of “near me” in search queries and the integration of ads with mobile map services is changing the way brands market their products and build their digital marketing campaigns.

Shoppers increasingly use “near me” as a way to locate products or services in their neighborhood. In fact, by the end of last year, use of “near me” in search increased 130 percent. So it’s not just a trend; it’s a part of the modern customer journey. It’s up to brand marketers now to address the “near me” opportunity by building a robust omnichannel strategy that drives high-intent shoppers towards local stores. 

Local Becomes New Again
Historically, shoppers have turned to traditional advertising – like print ads or circulars – to learn which local store(s) were offering promotions on the products they wanted to purchase. Although some have predicted the demise of the local store due to the rise in e-commerce transactions, research shows that high-intent shoppers still favor their brick-and-mortar store.

Pew Research recently found that 64 percent of Americans prefer buying from brick-and-mortar stores because a majority says it’s important for them to try a product in-person. While shoppers’ local intent is exceptionally high, the challenge for marketers in 2017 is building connected marketing campaigns that incite a shopper to visit a local store after seeing an ad online — better known as “click to brick.” To accommodate for this, marketers must work more closely with their local partners. Today, more than half of “near me” searches result in a store visit, but alarmingly research reveals that nearly all brand relationships with their local counterparts is “hit or miss.”

Marketers must modify their strategies to keep pace with the burgeoning opportunity in local markets that has stemmed from the advent of mobile devices and search. The importance of driving high-intent shoppers from online to in-store has never been greater and will be essential for meeting sales goals. This starts by building an impactful omnichannel marketing strategy that includes and addresses the local-intent of modern shoppers.

The Rise in “Near Me”
The rise in “near me” searches is an evolution in the customer journey and one brands need to pay attention to as it signals the enduring importance of local marketing. In fact, research shows that four out of five U.S. shoppers now want advertising or search results to be tailored to their local market.

To help address this market demand, advertising giants Google and Facebook have optimized their platform for local marketing integration. To start, Google Search now autocompletes the phrase “near me” on both mobile and desktop devices, making it easier than ever to find a product or service in a shopper’s local neighborhood. The marketing world was introduced to promoted pins and ads in map services from Google and Facebook in mid-2016, further evidence that the industry is working feverishly to address the burgeoning local marketing opportunity. As these tools are designed to point shoppers to local stores, brands need to do their part in strengthening their relationships with local partners to ensure messages and promotions are consistent for shoppers who increasingly are being driven from click to brick.

How to Make Local a Priority (Again)
With local searches growing 50 percent faster than all mobile searches, it’s time for brands to wake up and embrace local as not just any channel, but the lifeblood of their sales cycle. While $70 billion is invested annually in marketing efforts to help improve local execution, nearly $15 billion goes wasted, suggesting that issues still remain.

One of the more alarming statistics to see in 2017 is that more than one-third of businesses admit that they still don’t have a mobile-friendly website. Due to changes in Google’s search universe, websites that are not mobile-friendly are deprioritized and become harder to find in search. This is a death knell for local businesses that rely on “near me” searches as a way to drive traffic, and sales, to their store.

Underscoring the complexities of the brand-local relationship is an inherent mistrust by brand marketers in their local partners, particularly as it relates to mobile. In fact, 97% say they don’t think their local partners are ready to market to mobile shoppers. However, by not working closely with their local partners, brands are cannibalizing their resources by creating one-size-fits-all campaigns that lack personalization and regional-specific messages.

One of the ways brands can support their local partners and ensure they’re being found in critical local searches is by ensuring the business name, address and phone number (NAP) are displayed prominently on each website in an easy-to-index format. This is a critical adjustment all businesses must make to ensure they’re being found in local searches – particularly “near me” searches which scan and identify NAP to help return relevant results.

Brand marketers should begin learning about and perhaps even experimenting with tools from Facebook and Google that enable promoted pins or ads in map services. In some cases, a marketer may even be able to include local product inventory or promotions as part of this content, which helps drive in-store foot traffic and conversions. Embracing these tools at their advent will put marketers in a more advantageous position to outpace their competition and win over critical local sales in the future.

Despite all the hype about e-commerce and the shifting retail landscape, more than 90 percent of sales in 2016 occurred in a brick-and-mortar store, evidence that marketers cannot afford to pour their budgets into solutions that solely address digital channels. Neglecting local – or the behaviors that drive local purchases – will doom brands. Instead, it’s time to think critically about connecting diverse channels and delivering high-intent shoppers seamless, cross-channel experiences that match their increasingly complex path to purchase.

Brendan_MorrisseyBrendan Morrissey co-founded Netsertive in 2009 after serving as the VP of Business Development for Motricity, an interactive mobile marketing technology company. Immediately prior to this role, he played a major role in the growth, subsequent sale and integration of venture-backed mobile marketing platform GoldPocket Wireless before being acquired by Motricity.