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Top Digital Marketing Predictions for Local Brands

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Since you follow the digital marketing industry, you probably know that industry blogs are saturated with posts about top predictions and trends during December and January every year. During this wave of pontification last year, I remember thinking, “Why is this the only time of the year that anyone does this?”

I’m not questioning the subject, just the timing. When you think about it, winter is an arbitrary time to cover such a fluid topic. Nothing happens around the winter solstice that makes anyone’s digital marketing crystal ball any clearer — and, nothing happens around the summer solstice that makes it any cloudier.

So, for those of you who love predictions but can’t wait for December for a fresh batch of blog posts, keep reading. Below is a collection of significant consumer trends impacting local businesses like multi-location brands and franchise systems. I’ve also offered my predictions on what local marketers will need to do to adapt.

Technology will continue to make it easier for consumers to make purchases.

Major technology companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon are constantly updating their platforms with features to improve consumer experiences online. These companies are increasingly relying on machine learning to automate experiences based on individual consumer’s online behaviors like the websites they visit, the searches they conduct and the purchases they make.

An example of a new feature that impacts local brands is Google’s recently introduced Local campaigns which use machine learning to drive store visits. According to Google, local brands just need to provide a few simple things like business locations and ad creative. Google will then automatically optimize ads across properties to drive more customers to local stores.

Local campaigns streamline the buying journey by providing consumers a direct path to convert. And these campaigns are available for local brands to implement across a variety of channels.

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Consumers will continue to expect more customized information from local brands.

Here, we run into “the-chicken-or-the-egg” paradox. Do major tech companies keep making it easier for consumers to find customized information because consumers expect them to? Or, do consumers expect to find more customized information because tech companies are making it easier? Either way, to connect with consumers, local marketers need to understand how buying habits have evolved.

We can see how this trend is playing out in the way consumers search. More than ever before, searchers expect to find results that are specific, local and immediate. Consider these stats from Google. In recent years there has been a:

  • 150 percent growth in mobile searches for “___ near me now” (e.g., “food near me now”).
  • 900 percent growth in mobile searches for “___ near me today/tonight” (for example, “open houses near me today”).
  • 600 percent growth in mobile searches for dress-related “near me” searches (e.g., “wedding dresses near me”).

I find the last statistic is particularly interesting for local marketers whether your brand sells dresses or not. What it tells me is that there’s been a radical shift in how consumers structure their searches. Rather than searching for places (“dress store near me”), consumers are starting to search for specific products and services (e.g., “wedding dresses near me”).

As this behavior evolves, local brands will need to shift their marketing strategies to provide the information consumers expect. This means creating in-depth and optimized content for various channels (e.g., local listings, webpages, blog posts, etc.) for all the products and services each location offers.

Consumers will expect more consistency from multi-location brands.

Franchise systems and multi-location brands often operate a decentralized business model where direction comes from the top but most of the customer interaction is done at the local level. This has its advantages, like cultivating the personal feel of a local business, but with the support system of a national brand. However, the model also makes certain activities more difficult, like developing a unified view of customers and delivering consistent experiences.

“As a consumer, I don’t care whether you’re marketing to me from a brand, regional or retailer level. I only know and recognize one brand,” Google’s VP of Consumer Goods, Adam Stewart, wrote in a recent blog post. “A poor experience at any point in the journey is a poor experience for your brand.”

For franchise and multi-location brands to deliver outstanding consumer experiences, all levels of the business must work better together. To build a stronger online experience, local brands need to:

  • Organize their infrastructure: Managing local business data to populate profiles on search engines, social media sites and online directories, as well as leveraging CRM and email platforms.
  • Activate their data: Leveraging business data (e.g., images, video and copy) to develop ad creative, engaging social media posts and email content.
  • Improve their measurement: Collecting, organizing and activating campaign performance data at all levels of the business to optimize marketing efforts across channels.

Consumers will have more ways to make purchase decisions.

While every purchase is different, today’s consumer buying journey still follows a similar path as traditional models:

  • Become aware of a need to make a purchase.
  • Research and consider options.
  • Make a purchase.
  • Decide whether to become a loyal customer.

The difference today is that consumers have more paths to complete that journey than ever before and consumers expect a seamless journey no matter what path they choose. For franchise and multi-location brands, delivering seamless journeys means taking the steps to optimize the customer experience and implementing them across marketing channels.

Major Takeaways

Here are a few tips to help local brands to put these trends to use:

  • Stay up to date on advancements from technology companies to make the buying journey more seamless.
  • Leverage new features that help local businesses connect with consumers.
  • Help consumers make purchases by delivering seamless and consistent buying journeys across channels.

Finally, the most important advice I have for digital marketers is to constantly stay up to date on how consumers research and make purchase decisions. To keep up, make sure to follow and subscribe to sites like LSA Insider and Mindstream Media (the agency I work for). The industry is constantly evolving; you can’t afford to wait until December for another update.

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