We attended the Local Search Association’s 2019 conference in Dana Point, California. The LSA is an advocacy organization focused on helping local businesses establish visibility with customers and partner businesses, both through marketing and through maximizing data-driven tools. It’s a group that we have a long relationship with, and the conference is a great opportunity to identify trends.
This year’s conference featured a variety of speakers, but we found that two topics dominated the conversation (and not just because we talked about them incessantly). First, businesses want to understand how to communicate their brand message despite the overwhelming amount of white noise in the market. If every web search, app, and connected device can potentially deliver information about goods and services, how does you make sure that customers receive the important information about your business: here’s our product, here’s why we’re best, here’s how you can reach us.
The other primary issue (and yes, fine, this one we did talk about incessantly, onstage and off) is the unsettled state of the law, both in the US and in Europe. Businesses recognize that it isn’t simply GDPR or CCPA that they need to account for anymore, as states like Washington, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Jersey, Vermont, and others racing to enact new legislation to control the use, flow, and disposition of data in the market. The confusion surrounding how to comply with these laws and how they will change marketing and sales operations is a serious concern for businesses, and without clear ideas on next steps, the temptation is there to throw up your arms and say “we’ll deal with privacy next year.”
Why were these the primary issues of note at a conference aimed at promoting local businesses and their marketing strategies? Because, despite triumphalist accounts of the final victory of e-commerce and a few tech giants, the vast majority of all consumer purchasing in this country occurs offline, and most of that happens in stores that are a few minutes’ drive from the consumer’s home. In other words, people still buy goods the way they always have, its the decisions about how and what they want to buy that are increasingly shaped by their online activity.
The idea is to identify what consumers want, help them find where it is, and allow them to get the item as soon as possible, either in-store or through a shipping option (if available). That’s why, for instance, Home Depot’s brand strategy makes the physical location of a searched good in your local store a central component of its sales funnel. (Also, if you haven’t seen Home Depot’s Senior Manager of Media and Business Strategy Erin Everhart give a presentation, make a point of it, because she is one of the best).
This concept ties in neatly with privacy, as well. The purpose of the identify-locate-sell model is an old-fashioned one, but that doesn’t make it less valuable. In fact, making online sales and marketing resemble the traditional sales model is something that most consumers (and many businesses) want, because it cuts down on opportunities for a word we heard repeatedly at the conference: “Creepy.” I talked with more than a dozen attendees from all ranges of companies, and they all agreed that, at one point during conversations about what to do with consumer data, someone had raised an idea that the company rejected because it was “creepy.”
Oddly enough, if your entire privacy regime boils down to “don’t do creepy things,” you’re on the right track. Every business wants to use the data it gleans from its customers to deliver better products and drive sales. And no regulator I know of has ever taken the position that there’s anything wrong with that: on the contrary, the regulators recognize the immense value and consumer-empowering effects of better products delivered more efficiently. It’s that next step toward the creepy that is the problem, the movement from a closed loop (“zero party data“) to inviting an entire ecosystem of unrelated third parties to take (and pay) for customer data.
With that in mind, here are three takeaways from the conference for you to bear in mind as you develop your strategy for maximizing success in reaching local consumers.
- Don’t ignore the local in favor of the global. As mentioned, most consumer activity is offline, and most of it is tied to location. Identify ways to make the most of local consumers and partners to continue driving business. This means thinking about local businesses for data partnerships, as their datasets will often have the most value in your community.
- Don’t be a data glutton. When you make those partnerships, don’t forget that more is not necessarily always better, particularly when it comes to partnerships driven by expanding fields of information on consumers. Time and again we talk with businesses that say “we spent 50K on a new data partnership, and now we have 800 fields of different data categories on customers!” That’s great, but when you only use 7, and you already had 6 of those, are we still talking about a wise investment? Take the time to identify which relationships will actually provide new insights or deeper awareness of trends that matter, and focus on those.
- Trust your instincts about privacy. In Data Leverage, we talk about employing a “humanized approach” to data usage, which largely means remembering that your data typically either comes from or is about an actual human person. That makes it relatively easy to identify what behavior would make an actual human person uncomfortable or upset about a certain practice simply by imagining it being done to yourself. It’s the Golden Rule for the Internet Age: Do unto others’ data as you would have done unto your own. If it would make you uncomfortable to have your own information used in a certain way, reconsider taking that approach to your customers’ data. It’s a point that will matter more and more as privacy laws empower consumers to exercise control over how their data is used.