February 16, 2012

Four Developments in Local to Watch for in 2012

Four Developments in Local to Watch for in 2012

Last Friday night, I spent a few hours devising a plan to win the Powerball.  Using the winning numbers from the past two years, I created a database and concocted a formula to predict the next winning numbers.  I naturally included various factors—outlier numbers, recent trends, total history—that would influence the drawing.  Upon completion of this plan, I was wholly confident that my analysis would deliver a positive outcome – to my bank account.  As you’d expect, when the numbers were drawn Saturday night, I was ready to collect my winnings. Fast forward …

Since I’m now writing this post, I bet you can guess the outcome.  Out of the six numbers drawn, I got one.  Yep, you read that right.  One.

As I crumpled the ticket in angst, I thought about the many brands that have set their 2012 local online agendas in the same way. They’ve looked at what has happened in the past and have made the assumption that future success will come from employing those same local online strategies and tactics.  However, if the past few years have taught us anything, it is that consumer behavior is anything but predictable, and that being the leader in a new space is much more valuable than captaining a ship with a dwindling passenger count.

Fortunately, brands are not alone in their efforts to navigate the local online landscape of 2012. Following is my list of the top four local online considerations that warrant paying close attention to as we look ahead to Q2.

1. The Rise of Google+ As Social for Businesses

In 2012, Google+ will become the dominant social destination for businesses.  Google+ has topped the 100 million member mark, but it is nowhere near the size of Facebook and there remains debate over the size of its active member pool.  The launch of Search plus Your World renders those stats unimportant.  Google is now incorporating social results directly into the organic listings and seems to be heavily favoring Google+ results over other social signals, which will turn a brand’s involvement on Google+ from a luxury to a necessity.

What does this mean for brands?  Google+ Pages is the portal for brands to create, define and build their social presence on Google.  These brand pages have a similar look and feel to Facebook, but Google+ has one vital component Facebook can’t match.  On Facebook, social commentary dies after a few days.  With Google+ Search plus Your World, commentary can live on and influence organic search results.  Most importantly, this influence can and does extend beyond searches by those in a brand’s circle; there are already examples of social influence on organic results, whether or not the searcher is logged in to Google+.

What should brands do?  Brands should create a main Google+ Page for the brand and for each brick-and-mortar location, and take steps to gain friends and create circles for each page.  The larger the pool of friends, the greater the chance of the searches by those friends being influenced by the location pages at their points of consideration.

2. Social Content Will Continue to Flummox Marketers

Social network success will no longer be defined by number of follows, friends, fans or likes.  Brands will discover that these metrics define social success no more than Nielsen ratings define success for a television spot.  A brand may have 10 million fans on Facebook, but how many of those fans really care?    A recent study by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute shows the answer to that question is not what many brands want to hear; engagement by “fans” with a brand is actually only around 1.3 percent.

What does this mean for brands? No one brand has truly harnessed the power of social media.  Many have garnered fans and likes, but turning those likes into dependable revenue remains elusive.  Those brands that can construct a winning social formula will pull ahead of the pack.

What should brands do? Digital social media is the 21st century version of the picket fence or water cooler, and brands need to approach it as such.  Turn the current approach of a digital billboard to one of an engagement platform.  Stop thinking of friends as consumers and instead treat them as, well, friends.

3. IYP Sites Will Continue To Stumble

IYP sites will no longer be a prime destination for local information.  Although local online search generally started with websites that were the digital counterparts of local yellow pages, today this is no longer the case.  The local ecosystem has expanded and evolved, print directories have become antiquated and local search traffic has migrated to search engines or specific sites, leaving the IYPs grasping.

What does this mean for brands? Most IYP sites engage in paid models where basic location information (name, address, phone number, etc.) is free to list on the site, but further details require “upgrading” to a paid service.  With Google and Bing both offering robust listings for free—and covering approximately 55 to 60 percent of local search traffic—paying for a listing that delivers only a fraction of available traffic has been seen as a poor investment by many brands.

What should brands do? If a brand is currently paying for IYP listings, it should closely examine the benefits of that spend and determine if better results can be achieved through that investment, but in another place of the local space.

4. Mobile Has Truly Arrived As A Search Device

According to Google, this past Valentine’s Day, 62 percent of all US-based national chain restaurant queries came from mobile devices.   JiWire reports that 21 percent of consumers search for a coupon on their mobile device while in a store.  Morgan Stanley estimates that by 2015 there will be more mobile web users than PC web users.  90 percent of local mobile searches result in an action, typically within 24 hours.  Mobile has truly arrived…and in a big way.

What does this mean for brands? Having information that is accessible via mobile devices is critical for local businesses.  As more and more consumers engage with their mobile devices, having a mobile-optimized site (not only one or two mobile pages) will be essential to capture those consumers who prefer to shop via their devices.

What should brands do?  The first step should be to optimize all local business listings to ensure they have top positioning on mobile searches, as results past the first page are typically ignored.  Serious consideration should also be given to incorporating elements of HTML5 into brand site designs, as this can help the site render correctly on mobile devices.

This year will be one of advances and growth in local and will foster the continued bonding of local, social and mobile.  Those three elements of the digital world are now irrevocably intertwined and can no longer be viewed as separate enterprises and projects.  Implementation of the tactics discussed here will enable brands to ride the wave of so/lo/mo, while ill-prepared competitors get left behind.

Categories: Uncategorized

February 9, 2012

Is Google Setting Up A New Paid Platform?

For years, the daily deals model has been relatively stable and focused on smaller, local businesses with the flexibility to create market and niche specific offers.  Groupon’s success served to increase the quantity of deals sites, but the formula remained the same: city-specific deals offered by city-specific businesses.  In the fall of 2010, national retailer The GAP broke the mold by offering consumers a national daily deal and breaking the original “local” daily deals mold. They were soon followed shortly by other retailers, including sister brand Old Navy.   Following the lead of the above mentioned retailers, last year, Whole Foods became the first national perishable goods chain to offer a nationwide daily deal.

Google, which often serves as an innovator in the online space, announced a change to its daily deals offering last October that could very well signal the next broad evolution of the space.  The announcement unveiled a partnership with 14 separate daily deals providers that changed Google Offers from being a single offering to an umbrella destination for deal-seekers.  Along with this change, the search giant has adjusted the space making the “one size fits all” approach a more tailored experience by introducing a personalization quiz meant to hone in on a user’s interests; thereby providing them with more relevant deals.

The only thing greater than the quantity of daily deal sites is the quantity of deal sites that have failed.  Google’s decision to launch Offers, with targeting as an embedded part of the system, could be the necessary element making the difference between success and failure.  Given the history of the space, it seems likely that consumers will be much more willing to sign up and engage with Google Offers, considering that from the beginning of their membership, they will be assured a much more targeted, therefore useful, experience.

However, the targeting mechanism could serve a deeper purpose for Google.  Let us not forget that Google’s core service is providing targeted information to searchers, with a percentage of that information appearing in the form of paid search advertising.  It is not too far of a stretch for that to be applied to the deals space as well.

What does this mean for national brands?

Imagine a scenario where a pay-per-click model is applied to the deals space within Google Offers.  One where the deals shown are decided not only by their relevance to a particular user’s interests and the discount the merchant is willing to make, but also on a pay- per-click model that, naturally, would favor larger, national advertisers.

Large national brands, especially those with a significant local footprint, should keep a close eye on this evolving situation and look for the opportunities that will surface.  Daily deals have historically focused on smaller local businesses, but in today’s ultra-competitive marketplace, even larger retailers need to think, move and act like their smaller counterparts.  As such, we recommend the following:

  1. Know your space – Implement a program to monitor the major deal sites such as Groupon, Living Social and Google Offers to gauge competitors’ level of involvement.  You want your brand to appear as a leader in the space, not a follower.
  2. Think engagement, not profit – Old Navy and Whole Foods proved a national offer can have a local appeal and drive traffic into stores.  Do not look at deals as profit drivers, but as traffic and consumer engagement vehicles.
  3. Utilize social media – Chances are your consumers are engaging with your brand through social media, so use those resources as a free “idea box” for designing offers around what your consumers want.
  4. Innovate – Be a leader in the marketplace by supplanting a current sale/promotion with a national coupon offer, especially on items or services that are planned loss-leaders.
Categories: Uncategorized

February 2, 2012

Does Your Site Make A Mobile Phone Fly?

Last week, I was at the mall with my teenage daughter as she searched for a dress for her winter formal. Basically, she and my credit card were in one part of the mall, while I wandered around a different part until she was ready for the dad limo to ferry her back home.  As I passed one popular store, a mobile phone went bouncing down the hall next to me.  It did not take long to identify the phone’s owner; he was sitting outside said store looking…ah…frustrated.  Returning his phone to him, I discovered he threw the phone after making five failed attempts to purchase something from the retailer’s mobile site.

Two questions immediately came to mind:

  • Is the general mobile experience really that bad?
  • How can a company avoid being the mobile site that sends a phone flying by?

We know mobile adoption is off the charts with nine out every 10 people in the U.S. owning a mobile phone and Nielsen pegging early 2012 as the point when smartphones will be the majority.  Not only is everyone now armed with a mobile device, but we cling to them harder than a lifelong NRA member does to their favorite pistol as 83% of Americans never leave home without their mobile phone.

Consumers are clamoring to engage brands on a mobile level and research shows their expectations are rarely being met; most retailers are unprepared for the expanding mobile marketplace.   A study by Harris Interactive reveals 85% of consumers expect their mobile experience to be better than the experience they would have on a desktop website. Roughly 80% of retailers (both online and brick and mortar) do not have dedicated mobile or mobile-enabled sites.  The bulk of these retailers are sending mobile traffic  to desktop-enabled sites.  At the beginning of the mobile push, this was acceptable as the traffic was in the infancy stage.  Today, not having a mobile site is akin to not having a website, circa 2000.

Unfortunately, 84% of mobile users who have conducted mobile transactions have problems. The Harris study also revealed that more adult mobile users are frustrated by a bad mobile experience (58%) than by going to the DMV (50%) or by being stuck in traffic (56%).

How do consumers respond to a bad mobile experience?

  • 43% say they would abandon the transaction and try again later on a computer
  • 16% would be more likely to buy from a competitor
  • 12% would abandon the transaction and try a competitors mobile site
  • 63% would be less likely to buy from the same company via other purchase channels

The last statistic should be a resounding wake-up call to all brands.  By delivering a bad mobile experience, you are risking more than half your potential customer base.  This loss would not be from a site or a particular store, but from an overall loss of brand fans, regardless of location.

So what is a mobile neglectful brand supposed to do?  Here are three key recommendations to help save your brand from being tossed into the mobile consumer trash bin:

  1. Invest immediately in mobile development.  This does not mean convert a few pages of your site o fit in the size of a mobile screen, but to make it a true mobile website.  Make it as easy for a consumer to conduct all of the same operations on your site from their mobile device as they  would on a desktop.
  2. Engage paid mobile search traffic. If you currently engage in PPC advertising and are a retailer with physical locations, you can still capture those paid clicks by activating click- to -call paid search ads.  These ads only show the phone number as clickable, not the URL, so you can capture those clicks with a call to your locations.
  3. Enhance presence on sites with ready mobile presence. Many directory, review and social sites are mobile-ready.  Retailers with large local presences can optimize the traffic of these secondary sources to mobile searchers.  Ensuring business listings are optimized, reviews are addressed and social commentary is replied to will go a long way in driving mobile traffic through the doors.

By the way, the gentlemen in the mall who was teaching his phone to fly did finally make his purchase.  He went to a competitor of the original store, at the other end of the mall.

Categories: Mobile