Local is a pretty sexy play right now for start-ups and behemoths alike. One of the reasons it's so alluring is because it keeps getting more complex the more time we spend with it; kind of like the '82 Bordeaux, or the date you picked up at the library.
But the key to really unlocking this gem might lie in appreciating the four faces of local, and more importantly, recognizing how these four elements must work together. A lot of entrants in the online local marketing space are concentrating on just one or two. The real winners might be those who figure out a way to touch all the bases.
The real marketing day in the life of a local businessAlthough it doesn't seem to be a prerequisite for getting into the local marketing game, imagine for a moment that you're a local business owner. Let's say it's a bricks-and-mortar business. There are a few million of them out there. Pick one.
Now this is probably your deal. You're likely an established local business. Most Main Street bricks-and-mortar businesses are. (There are probably more new local marketing service providers than there are new local businesses.) You probably haven't yet launched an online marketing plan, but you're told by a lot of strangers that you should.
Here's how your business makes money. It tries to stay top-of-mind among customers in your service area. You do things to keep customers coming back and to draw customers away from competitors. Your establishment stays top-of-mind by advertising on local broadcast stations or in daily newspapers or community weeklies.
To entice customers away from competitors, you dabble in direct marketing. I say dabble because each effort inevitably gets different results. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. You experiment with different offers, different messages and different content. Sometimes you stuff menus in doors. Sometimes you print a card with a special offer so you can measure results. (Like "content," metrics also existed before the internet.)
You have probably tended to spend marketing and advertising money with companies you know: the local media, the printer down the street, maybe the Yellow Pages rep that pays you a visit every year.
When it comes to paying for marketing and advertising, you consider yourself a customer. Like the customers you serve, you probably expect some level of service yourself. In fact, it's nice to be served once in a while.
So now you need an online marketing plan. Are you going to change, or are they?
The three prongs of localThe marketing day in the life of a local business highlights four key elements: brand building, traffic building, trust and service. Here's how they translate online:
Who will win?Against these long established four pillars of local business marketing, current concepts like local search and local directories seem, well, incomplete. The same goes with mapping tools and click-to-call. How would each stack up against the four small business marketing imperatives? And perhaps more provocatively, how many of them presume that a business' main concern is to be "found," as opposed to engaging with locals who already know the who, what and where?
The future may feature a battle not just among the major search engines and local ad networks, but between the underdog traditional local media properties and the "national" search and ad network plays trying to live locally. Have local media properties undervalued their service and trust advantage in the local advertising space? Can the search engines and directories find a way to combine a brand building/traffic building message that has long been espoused by the traditional local media in their offline sales strategies, and can perhaps be retranslated online?
When players in the local online marketing space start focusing on touching all the bases, that's when things will really get interesting.
David Vazdauskas is president of Victory Branding, a marketing consultancy focused on the media and technology sectors. Read full bio.
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