Location-Based Search Disrupts Brand-Centric Theory of Marketing

Building a brand will never stop being essential for companies with brick-and-mortar locations hoping to secure the dollars of nearby consumers. But a new report from location marketing firm Uberall suggests the rise of location-based or “near me” search is undermining the power of branding alone, increasing the importance of optimizing for searches in which consumers are simply looking for the closest, most convenient option while on the go.

Of course, the rise of “near me” searches, which are skyrocketing in number year over year, does not mean brands should stop trying to make a name for themselves. McDonald’s wants to stand out among competitors when a driver tells Google Assistant to locate “burgers near me.” But surging “near me” searches suggest it is essential that brick-and-mortars deploy marketing strategies to make sure they are showing up at the top of SERPs when consumers search for a business category or product instead of a specific brand name.

Uberall studied one year of Google searches, zeroing in on 22 brands with 48,000 locations as well as 450,000 SMBs. The company found that a striking 64% of retail searches were unbranded. Hospitality and travel had the highest share of branded searches at 62%. B2B firms topped the unbranded categories — 88% of B2B searches are unbranded at the outset.

“Companies need to optimize for both types of search and especially unbranded queries,” said Greg Sterling, VP of Insights at Uberall. “If you’re Bank of America, for example, you need to rank for your own terms but also for searches like ‘best 0% APR credit cards’ or ‘lowest mortgage rates.’”

Unbranded search is especially widespread for SMBs. Only 19% of searches for SMBs began with brand names.

The study concludes that staple hyperlocal digital marketing techniques are key to both ranking in unbranded searches and establishing loyalty, turning customers previously searching for products near them into customers searching specifically for a nearby brand they trust. Key tactics include making sure logistical information is up to date for each of a brand’s locations, generating content relevant to a local audience, engaging with customers who post reviews or GMB questions, and bidding on unbranded keywords.

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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He joined Street Fight as a contributing writer in 2015, has compiled the daily newsletter since 2016, and has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Shoot him an email at jzappa@streetfightmag.com.