How local data-driven activity can save the high street

koen_smeetsThere has been a grim inevitability to the recent closure of physical stores from long-standing retail brands. To many, it seems, nothing can be done to stop the inevitable retreat from the high street.
However, this narrative masks the core issue: digital experiences have been built to fit business priorities, not customer expectations. These expectations – which are increasingly local first – are presenting brick-and-mortar businesses with tough new challenges and exciting new opportunities.
Take mobile Internet access as an example. According to the most recent ONS figures for 2017, 73% of adults accessed the Internet “on the go”, using a mobile phone or smartphone, more than double the 2011 rate of 36%. This astonishing uptake has coincided with an explosion in local search, with half of us now using Google to search for local information.
In short, mobile phones have revolutionised a customer’s interaction with a brand. This may seem obvious but it is something many brands are still getting to grips with, as evidenced by the struggles of so many traditional businesses to tailor their offering.
Too many are still clinging to the dated mindset of a consumer entering a conversation with a brand through an “awareness” channel that has inspired them, then moving across multiple channels towards a logical “direct response” endpoint.
However, these days consumers don’t think of an experience with a brand as a separate “local” or “ecommerce” experience. Today, these two experiences are interchangeable, non-linear, and each plays a significant role in a consumer’s journey to purchase.
To a customer, whether their experience takes place in-store or online, the new expectation is that it will be personalised – much like the age-old appeal of the corner shop, where the proprietor knows you and your habits. Modern consumers yearn for the same experience, but now it must be done at scale.
Welcome to the age of local
The merging of organic, paid, and maps results on Google is indicative of the new way customers interact with brands. The integration of technology, information, and connectivity are combining to instill in people a belief that they can have what they want – when, where, and how they want it. Google is simply accommodating the local-first nature of our search behaviour.
Think about it: a smartphone search is the most likely trigger for a visit to a physical location, and the same device is then used as the navigational tool. It is estimated that 76% of people who conduct a local search on their mobile device will visit a physical place within 24 hours. Of those searches, 28% will result in a purchase. It is an astonishing conversion rate that underscores the need to deliver at each stage of the customer journey.
Brands that don’t heed the demand for local relevance are continuing to offer dated customer experiences, which inevitably lead to negative reviews, higher advertising costs, and, perhaps worst of all, diminished Google rankings.
How to achieve true local optimisation
So, what’s a marketer to do? In order to fully focus on a locally optimised strategy, I believe are four factors that need to be considered:
1. Set the brand promise at the company/corporate level. What is the differentiator and how are you going to realise this?
2. Ensure the brand promise is “paid off” by each sub-brand or line of business. Every facet of the brand needs to be optimised to deliver the promise and ensure the customer experience is positive.
3. Deliver the brand promise to customers all the way down to their local store level. It is vital for customers accessing a brand to discover its local iteration.
4. Adapt and personalise each of these experiences for your customers’ needs and intent, including attention to customers’ environments (digital or physical). This is the essence of any customer-centric experience.
It’s not easy to change the mindset of an entire discipline, but the potential pay-off for marketers is compelling. Think local and then optimise the experience for the most local iteration of your brand.
And in doing so, you will deliver better, more valuable experiences for your customers regardless of how, when, or where those marketing experiences take place.

Koen Smeets is strategy director for Europe at local digital performance marketing agency DAC

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