Local Search: “The Next Digital Battleground for Brands”

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If you had to choose the next battleground for digital marketing, what would you nominate? Gamification? Mobile? Content marketing? Well, how about local search? According to a new Forrester Consulting study commissioned by local search automation company SIM Partners (a client of mine), brands with local search strategies are enjoying crucial benefits such as improved leads and brand lift. SIM Partners CEO Jon Schepke says local is “the next digital battleground for brands.” But why? Two words: mobile and context.

First, big brands with multiple locations have made local a priority as mobile adoption increases. According to eMarketer, the global base of mobile phone users was expected to reach 4.55 billion in 2014, and by 2017, nearly 70 percent of the world’s population will own a mobile phone. And mobile phones facilitate commerce: 80 percent of local searches conducted on mobile phones lead to purchase, according to a study conducted by comScore. But local businesses (such as your local pizza parlor) and outlets of national franchises (e.g., Sonic Drive-in; Holiday Inn) aren’t going to get any of that commerce unless users can find them. Hence, search marketing retains the largest share of digital spend according to the Forrester Research US Digital Marketing Forecast, 2014 to 2019 (released in November 2014), with mobile accounting for 66 percent of the growth in interactive spend over the next five years. I don’t think the strength of spending on both areas is a coincidence, and neither does Forrester — the company identifies the mobile savviness of a brand’s customers as a key determinant of how urgent a brand should embrace local.

But something else is going on, too: the rise of contextual marketing. With contextual marketing, brands create more personal experiences based on the context of your behavior, such as where you are located. According to Forrester, contextual marketing is the new marketing remit. Customers, empowered with location- and context-aware devices, expect marketers to customize content accordingly instead of relying on generic messaging that is the same regardless of whether you are in New York or Seattle.

SIM Partners CMO Tari Haro recently noted that according to Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst Shar VanBoskirk, contextual marketing will “steal media dollars” to fund “customer-obsessed contextual experiences.” And VanBoskirk suggests that to become better contextual marketers, companies need to adopt a number of strategies, including going local. She recommends that brands have global business stories, but make them local in order to be more context-aware. U.S. Bank, for instance, works with SIM Partners to improve its local presence via social media, mobile, and search.

But the new Forrester Consulting report, Uncovering the Benefits of Local Search Marketing, also notes that many brands have not yet fully embraced local search. Limited resources and lack of expertise are hampering marketers’ efforts with local search. To me, the answer is to develop a strategy that links local to context, especially since Forrester Consulting agrees that brands with local strategies are realizing strong benefits. Local search may very well become a battleground, all right — with strategy separating the winners from the losers.

 

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