What You Should Know About Local Online Marketing

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For all the opportunities the Web has created for businesses to go global, often unappreciated opportunities lie at the local level.

In this article, we'll take a look at three practical opportunities that you can leverage right now.  No fluff.  No false promises.  Just three actionable items you can use to grow your business at a local level.  Some of it may be obvious, but judging by how underutilized they are, I think it's time we get a refresher.

1. Advertising Networks

According to Alexa.org, Canada's top two sites are Google and Facebook.

The opportunity: Both sites offer geographical targeting capabilities.  

With Google, you can create text ads using their AdWords program to target not only specific keywords, but also specific cities.  So if your business operates in Sudbury, Ontario (for example), you can choose to advertise only to people in that city.  This gives you the opportunity to get in front of anyone in your city searching for the products and services you sell. 

Let's say, for example, you sell cars.  If someone does a simple search for "auto dealers", your odds of showing up in the top search results are fairly slim.  It's a highly competitive search term.  At the same time, you wouldn't want to advertise to just anyone who does that search.  You would only want to advertise to those people who are both within your region AND who perform that particular search.

With Facebook, you can target your ads based on solid demographic information.  While there are many different targeting opportunities, the main one I'm interested in at the moment is location.  It's dead simple to specify your city.  Simply create your ad, put in your location, and blammo, you're advertising to your target market on the second most popular site in Canada.

Where marketers get it wrong: Advertising is about relevance.  Ads that are perceived as irrelevant get ignored, while those that are perceived as relevant are not.  While it's not terribly sexy to base your strategy on leveraging geographic knowledge, it is rather effective.  By targeting specific locations, your costs go down dramatically.  By including geography in your ad copy (like simply mentioning the city name), you gain relevance.  Put the two together, and you have increased ROI.  Frankly, the vast majority of advertising out there ignores this basic fact.

Notably, matchmaker sites (particularly of the adult variety) have embraced this principle with open arms.  Every time I visit a torrent site (not that I condone illegal downloading), I see ads that show me singles from my area.  (I know, they're probably not actually from my area, but let's ignore that for the moment.)  I think the reason they all seem to do this is because it works.

2. Local Online Media

Guess how much each impression costs on a site like NYTimes.com?  Now guess how much it costs on a site like TheSudburyStar.com?  You can bet that the latter is going to cost a lot less.  And yet, for people living in Sudbury, the Star is a far more relevant read than the Times.  

The opportunity: Advertising on local media sites is a huge cost saving as compared to mega sites.  More important, though, is that advertising on local media sites is perceived as more relevant than ads on major global sites.

No, I don't have the data on that one.  Feel free to contest it.  But just think about it.  An ad on my local news site is there because that business decided that Sudburians fit their target demo.  In contrast, an ad on a global site is, as far as I know, aimed at everyone in the world.  Those ads have to work harder to get me to think they're relevant to me.  Even if I see something I like, I'm going to hold reservations about how applicable it might be to someone in Northern Ontario.

Where marketers get it wrong: Global marketers just aren't present at the local online level.  (With the exception of metropolitan centres, of course.)  A recent look at TheSudburyStar.com, for example, revealed only one global brand – Dell.  Every other ad was for local business.  Even worse, each ad was basically just a logo.  This is simply a wasted opportunity.

3. Community building made simple

If you're reading One Degree, chances are you appreciate the importance of social media within the Canadian market.  You also probably appreciate just how difficult it is to earn a following and foster a community.  The challenge, as you've perhaps guessed, is relevance.  In a sea of blogs, tweets, Facebook pages, forums, and the other myriad of social platforms out there, you need to be remarkably relevant to your target market for them to pay attention.

The opportunity: Once again: location, location, location.  By focusing your efforts on a specific locale, you instantly gain relevance points.

Here's a great example you may have read about in Advertising Age recently.  Naked Pizza is a New Orleans pizza joint.  They sell healthy pizza – the kind you can eat and not feel the need to follow up with a marathon run.  They were marketing their business the usual way, with direct mail and e-newsletters, when one day they decided to give Twitter a go.  I won't go into the details (read the AdAge.com article for that), but basically it's become their most successful marketing channel.  Why?  In my opinion, it's because of (drumroll please) local relevance.

Pizza lovers in New Orleans are following their tweets, which gives insights into the world of pizza making and the like.  Perhaps most importantly, they frequently have single day offers that are exclusive to their Twitter followers, which encourages pizza lovers to stay tuned so they don't miss out.

Behind the veil of web 2.0 mystery, it's really a story about coupons and relevance.  They found a community, devoted themselves to it, and offered them something special.  It's a classic customer loyalty program, and it works.

Where marketers get it wrong: Sure, there are lots of success stories around Twitter.  But for the most part, marketers struggle to prove its ROI.  Naked Pizza doesn't have that problem.  The reason most businesses on Twitter fail to have an impact is because they think it's a global audience, and so they market to everybody.  Just because a platform is open to the whole world doesn't mean you should try to talk to the whole world.

What you should take away from this article

  1. No matter how new the platform, stick to the basics.  Define your audience carefully.  Find ways to be relevant to them. 
  2. While there are a lot of ways to be relevant, simple geography is a powerful one.  Don't wait for your competitors to beat you to the punch.  It's low hanging fruit – enjoy it.

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2 thoughts on “What You Should Know About Local Online Marketing

  1. James

    Mario, great article and encouragement for how to use small, local targeting.
    What I’ve found is that one of the most often overlooked parts of the process is the actual creation of ads. It’s the ads themselves that get businesses results!
    To solve this problem we’ve seen good success with local ad creation on AdHack — http://adhack.com
    We connect folks looking to buy ads directly with a network of over 400 ad creators to get great ads make — fast and easy.
    And for larger clients looking to source a whole bunch of ads for specific local markets, we can make the ad creation process scale.
    Then hopefully we’ll see ads in local media beyond just a company’s logo!

  2. Simon

    I just checked the ad rates for the sudbury star vs. NYT and they were almost the same. NYT has more readers in Sudbury and the site is far less cluttered. If I were to geo-target Sudbury only (NYT uses DART), wouldn’t I have a greater impact, particularly if I used “sudbury relevent” creative?

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