Why Local Search Is Direct Marketing’s Mirror Image

Why aren’t more companies making their Web presences a magnet for consumers performing local searches? For many, it may be because they haven’t picked up on how local search is exactly like traditional direct marketing.

To be more accurate, the model for direct marketing is exactly the opposite of local search. Once you get the role reversal, it’s easy to see strategies for local search optimization as the flip side of direct marketing.

In direct, the marketer does all the work: planning, strategizing, researching, analyzing, targeting, and finally executing a program. Success requires the marketer do all this proactively. The consumer’s role is just to respond to the marketer’s pitch.

The marketer wears all these hats, trying to put each opportunity in place. And the waiting begins. At the end of the day, the marketer can only hope the consumer responds and buys something.

Local search reverses these roles. The consumer takes on the jobs of planner, researcher, analyzer, and executer. The merchant just responds and scoops up the customers who come through local search queries.

Sounds great, right? Consumers do their part by being proactive and performing local searches. Every quarter, the count of local search queries continues its ascent.

But so far, most merchants aren’t doing their part. They aren’t giving consumers the information they need to make decisions.

What kind of information? Let’s return to the direct marketing model. Merchants have traditionally zeroed in on a universe of prospects and performed research to identify consumers in the target group most likely to respond to their value proposition.

The research often includes personal or household information, such as estimated income, age, length of residence, marital status, presence of children, and estimated home value. With such an understanding of its prospects, a merchant can improve message targeting to increase sales and profitability.

Since local search is the mirror image of direct marketing, merchants must feed consumers’ proactivity in local search by giving these consumers the information they need to do their own smart targeting.

This data starts with the basics, such as the firm’s physical location and line of business. It continues with other information that may separate the merchant from its competition: brands carried, hours of operation, payment methods accepted, special accreditations, and any special services, such as valet parking, delivery, and emergency service.

Anyone who has performed a search for this type of information knows it’s in short supply. About 30 percent of U.S. businesses have assembled the information consumers seek and made it available to local search companies. Even among that 30 percent, few merchants have included information on which products and services they provide.

So consumers are ahead of merchants, who focus on traditional market channels that consumers find invasive. But that may change as local search continues to eat into the mindshare of those channels as a medium for generating sales.

By distributing deep, relevant, organized information on their businesses to the search engines, Internet yellow pages companies, and topical niche search portals, merchants can help consumers do the research that leads to intelligent buying decisions.

Consumers are waiting. Local merchants should be willing participants in the local search business.

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