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Brands, Search and Local

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ClickZ local columnist Phil Stelter wrote a piece this week about brands taking notice of local search. Geotargeting online is something that all brands are waking up to and will need to address. Like all politics, most spending is local; 97% of consumer buying behavior still happens offline, despite the impressive growth of e-commerce. But the Internet's and search's influence over that offline spending increases daily. Tracking that growth and a true picture of consumer behavior is what prompted comScore to launch qSearch Retail this week. (On a related note, ClickZ's Kevin Lee has a nice article on search, multi-channel retailing and some of the practical steps marketers can take now to track offline conversions.)

Beyond the top search engines and a few of ad networks, buying local online right now is very inefficient if you're a large brand marketer or their agency. It's hard to get the reach and exposure you've historically been able to get from traditional media, like print newspapers. But expect it to get substantially easier over the course of the next 12 months. According to comScore, brands and trademarked terms represent only about 20% or 25% of search query volume. But they convert much better than the "generic" queries that comprise the remaining 75% to 80% of search. That's generally because consumers signal they are typically "farther along" the buying cycle when using those terms. There's a much longer discussion of how to market against that behavior that is beyond the scope of this post.

In the near term, manufacturers will need to work with retailers to drive people to local stores where they can buy their brand merchandise. There are a number of tactical ways to do this via paid search and other local vehicles (online newspapers, Internet yellow pages). And shopping engines are a potentially fruitful area for brand marketers and manufacturers, though most aren't yet set up to offer local store options where consumers can buy offline. By contrast, ShopLocal, CNet, Froogle and Yokel are to varying degrees offering product inventory information and where you can buy offline, locally. This is consistent with the dominant consumer use case (shop online, buy offline). And as of last night, Google has integrated enhanced product data and brought it into Maps through a partnership with StepUp.com, which is aggregating local retailers for online distribution.

In the implementation, clicking on a link gives you a way to see images and inventory information about products in local retail outlets. It's not a perfect integration, but it will get better. I write in detail about it on my blog. The larger point is that Google, ShopLocal, CNet and Yokel recognize that after consumers conduct their research online they fundamentally want to know where in their local markets they can buy what they're looking for -- today. Brands need to catch up to that behavior and start marketing accordingly.


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