Placing First in Location Targeting

A few days ago, I was in a glass elevator in a busy Chicago building when I looked down to see a message scrawled in chalk on the sidewalk below. The ad-hoc ad was promoting a theatre company that performed right around the corner. It even included an arrow pointing (literally) viewers to the show. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it drives a good many potential customers to that theatre’s door.

Such is the power of location targeting. It matches ad with audience and generates qualified traffic. Without a geographic targeting strategy, creative investments can go to waste. Often, it can mean the difference between a positive return on investment and a failed campaign.

Planning Local Placements

In the digital space, location targeting is represented by numerous media channels: local content sites (such as online newspapers), local search, group buying services like Groupon and LivingSocial, social media services like Twitter and Foursquare, and most recently, social media lead generation. In the context of local targeting, each of these should be considered a separate initiative from existing strategies, for example other search and social media marketing plans. In other words, even as you use local content sites and search – and more specifically behavioral targeting, contextual targeting, and retargeting – to reach in-market audiences and hand-raisers, you should maintain an ongoing local campaign to connect with those consumers for whom your product is most relevant and convenient.

This is a critical point even if your product or service is something that applies to everyone – something that can be purchased online and used regardless of physical location. Local consumers can be incredibly valuable to your business because they’re apt to feel an affinity to you based on close proximity and local flavor. They’re also often the most likely buyers to become brand ambassadors and connect your goods with others in their local circle, again because they value your mutual relationship with the city or town in which you’re both based.

New Trends Create New Opportunities

Recently, Google announced some improvements to its location targeting on AdWords that provide media buyers with more options and flexibility. Marketers can now target or exclude ads based on the consumer’s location or the “location of interest” (the location name that appears in their Google search queries). As Google explains, businesses can employ the new controls to cherry-pick consumers: regardless of whether your business’s location terms appear in a search query, only those searchers who are physically located nearby will receive your ads. Alternatively, you can use a user’s physical location to exclude them from receiving ads for your products if those products apply primarily to local consumers (larger items like furniture, for example, that can’t easily be shipped).

Meanwhile in the social space, marketers are increasingly recognizing the benefits of using services like Twitter not just to attract followers but to actively target and recruit the local Twitter users they’d most like to expose their products to. Using Google and a search query that couples Twitter with your location, for instance, can produce a list of Twitter users in your area, and once these users have been identified you can follow them and reach out with an introduction as appropriate. A similar feat can be achieved by leveraging Twitter Search, in this case by using the keywords that best represent your target audience to locate your ideal Twitter users. If all goes well and these users in turn follow you, your tweets – like your AdWords ads – can become the online equivalent of that sidewalk chalk message: casual, authentic, and, most importantly, geographically relevant.

When it comes to advertising on local content sites and planning campaigns on group buying services, a single rule can be applied to both: use special offers to lure new customers, but rely on CRM to keep them. Whether you attract customers to your site through a display ad campaign on a local newspaper property or a deal on Groupon, encouraging them to sign up for your email newsletter, read your blog, and follow your social media exploits will make a further impact with local customers while also closing the gap with national consumers who might not feel as close to your brand.

Think of a sidewalk chalk ad placed near a busy glass elevator as a metaphor for your next campaign. In getting in front of consumers, placement is just the first step; it’s a solid targeting strategy, the proactive use of social media, and a good brand experience that will take you to the top.

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