The New Local: An Intro

When it comes to local, you might be wondering what all the recent shouting is about. Local Internet advertising has been around for a while. National marketers have been regionally targeting Google search ads for years; and small businesses have long used digital Yellow Pages to reach customers in their areas.

But big changes are afoot. Rapid shifts in technology – especially around mobile devices and services like Foursquare and Yelp – have made it easier and less expensive than ever to deliver targeted content to consumers based on their location. And location matters. If you know where someone is and what they’re doing, you can respond more effectively to their needs and desires. In theory that should lead to better engagement, more conversions, and increased ROI.

In practice local has not been an easy opportunity for brands to seize. Many companies are struggling to understand how to connect the dots from a national strategy down to a local one. They’re waiting for consumer brands to take the lead and show them how it can be done, which leaves them at risk of being left behind.

Part of the problem is that you can take location too literally. Local is not merely a specific geographic radius around a consumer. It encompasses more than tailoring search based on GPS. The best new local strategies go beyond these ideas to embrace two key concepts: proximity and relevance. Let’s look at them in detail.

Proximity is where you are and what’s going on around you. It can be a physical location determined by GPS, or by the location of a laptop or desktop. But it can also be digital. Consumers don’t just live in physical spaces anymore. They might be blowing things up with their friends on “Call of Duty 3,” watching a show on a location-aware TV, or on a brand’s Facebook page. All of these “locations” are not only real, they provide us with insight on what might be important to a consumer at a specific point in time.

Relevance encompasses what we know about a person or a location. It can involve what’s happening around someone. Is the weather nice? Are they on a cruise ship or at a concert? If so, they have different needs and a different mindset than they do at home. We can also determine relevance using traditional analytical methods like customer data, pervious purchases, and previous behaviors. Or we can look at social behavior, including friends, “likes,” fans, tweets, and check-ins. We can even use in-app behaviors, loyalty programs, and other brand-specific metrics.

When we combine proximity and relevance, we can hone in on a consumer’s mindset right at the point where they’re most likely to want our goods or services. This gives brands a big reason to care. The closer you get to mindset, the better you can engage consumers – which can lead to increased conversions and ROI. We’ve already seen context-based local strategies with great conversion rates, and we’re just at the beginning.

If all this sounds a little ambitious, keep in mind that local is an opportunity that should be part of a more comprehensive strategy – not an end in itself. If most enterprises keep it simple and creative, they have a new way to engage their customers more responsively than before.

In coming months we’ll look at how to do local well, and what the new ground rules are. We’ll cover trends, respond to recent news, and talk to companies doing great things with local. If you have ideas for us, or would like to share your success in the field, please get in touch.

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