Turning Local Inside Out

Did you ever have one of those days when you get up in the morning and put your shorts on backward? Nothing seems to go right for the rest of the day, and wandering out into public is perhaps the last thing that should be on your mind.

Take my advice, when you have an early-warning, threat-level indicator like I had, stay in bed. Yesterday, within minutes of getting the dressing part of my day sorted out, I needed a dry cleaner, a shoe repair/shine place, and a pizza ― fast.

Microsoft Office Live and Ask want to make all my problems go away. They want to make it easy for the local plumber, pizza joint, shoe guy, and fly-fishing-equipment sales guy (for all you folks in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania) to be online and buy ads.

This little partnership announcement might have gotten lost in last week’s earnings report barrage, but the significance of adding a search marketing offering to a one-stop Web presence solution is pretty big stuff. Everyone wants to know if the plan will fly. Does it have legs? Will this dog hunt?

Partial Disclaimer

Never mind why I wanted a pizza at 9:00 AM; at some point, everyone has a day like mine. It’s not that my needs were unreasonable; it is the diversity of those needs that becomes a problem.

In other words, I don’t just want to know where I can find a pizza. I want to know where I can find a special kind of pizza. I don’t care how good the shoe guy is, just that he’s fast. And let’s face it; a dry cleaner is a dry cleaner.

One could argue for or against each instance of distinction in expertise, but the argument itself is proof that a more diverse community of needs exists.

A one-stop shop search submission and ad management tool makes the assumption that every business will be served by said tool and has the time and desire to manage it. A one-stop destination for local assumes that all definitions of local are the same.

However, the requirements of life are quite different between East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, and say, lower Manhattan.

Elephants in Hot Pants

Displaying local ads in maps, on convergence mobile devices, and one-stop search results (aka universal) on the main page is nothing new. How and when the information is delivered may be new, but the bigger issue lies in the exploitation of the Web as a commercial device.

Success is measured in a number of ways. If one signs up 500 plumbers and there are 5, 000 plumbers in the target area, is the initiative to reach local businesses successful? Perhaps, but it will be more successful if one would use the tried and true Yellow Pages advertisement sales plan.

Search providers have been trying to figure out local search since the dawn of the Web defined search as an information vehicle. That is, before content went commercial.

The Web has yet failed to develop the trusting relationship consumers have with phone books. There are a multitude of factors at work here ― spam, pop-up ads ― if you want to, you can blame a lack of regulation in the privacy arena. Any way you look at it, a trusted information resource is better than the pretty-in-pink pachyderm we have found in paid placement on its own.

Cops on Segways

Traditionally slow to move, the telephone companies ― the entities formerly known as regional bell operating companies — figured out how to sell Internet ads to plumbers long ago. They know the plumber doesn’t care how many kilobits of data are transferred; he just wants to plumb away and count the money.

In other words, convincing the plumber he needs an ad is irrevocably tied to convincing the public they need to look for the ad in your resource.

Data ownership, a large (and credible) sales force to canvas local businesses, and a burning desire to win the trip to Hawaii at the annual sales meeting have been driving local advertising sales for decades.

The convergences of media, information, and practical technology have yet to reach critical mass. Making it easier for local businesses to manage their advertising presence is yet another solid step forward, but there are still quite a few other considerations to make.

Make Your Own Pizza

When all was said and done, I needed more than one resource to find my shoe guy, pizza resource, and dry cleaner. I called upon friends, Internet search, and my trusty phone book. I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, but I satisfied the needs.

I was pretty happy to find the drug store for a mending kit and some shoe glue. I didn’t mind calling a friend to get instructions for doggy breakfast pizza.

At the end of each day, I have this creeping feeling that I may never find exactly what I am looking for, but maybe I (along with the rest of the world) need to slowly redefine my needs and how they are determined.

Gradually advancing the local marketplace into a trust position is perhaps the biggest advantage the one-stop technology and search providers have over big sales forces and more heavily regulated telephone directory advertising.

So, will it work? Oh yes, I believe so; it just won’t look as one might expect. Then again, changing expectations might not be such a bad thing.