April 14, 2015

Local Marketing Chart: How do customers search for products and services?

SUMMARY: If asked to guess customers' most popular method for finding a local business, product or service, you could probably easily answer — "Search engines."

However, beyond that popular local marketing channel, customer preferences will likely surprise you.

In this edition of the Chart of the Week, we share discoveries from a comprehensive survey of 2,147 U.S. adults to help you identify effective channels for local marketing.
by Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content

In January 2015, the Local Search Association (a not-for-profit trade association comprised of members that include Google, Yelp, Yahoo and YP), asked more than 2,000 consumers …

Q. When you are searching for a local business, product or service, how likely would you be to consult the following information sources?

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Click here to see a printable version of this chart

Respondents answered on a scale of zero to five, with five meaning "extremely likely." The data above shows people who responded with a five, meaning they would be extremely likely to use that information source.

Search engines are the most popular way for customers to find local businesses

I'm sure no one reading this article will be surprised that when searching for local businesses, products or services, consumers are mostly likely to turn to search engines, with 65% indicating that they did so.

Second and third most popular were company websites (50%) and mobile search (36%).

These three tactics go hand-in-hand. While search engines are providing more and more data on the SERPs (search engines results pages), they are still mostly a listing of relevant websites, often from companies selling a product or service.

It should be noted that while search engines were the most popular information source for consumers, the numbers are not overwhelming. After all, this means that 35% of customers do not consider themselves extremely likely to use a search engine when looking for a local restaurant, contractor or store.

Other channels are likely an important part of your local marketing mix (based, of course, on your unique customers' preferences and behaviors).

Print is more popular than buzzy digital platforms

If you believe some of the marketing buzz, print is as dead as the trees it's on.

About a third of customers, however, say this is not so. As you can see from the above data, print information sources, such as print yellow pages (extremely likely to be used by 35% of U.S. adults) and newspapers (30%), were still more popular than buzzy, up-and-comers such as apps on your phone (22%) and location-based social media sites (18%).

Be where your customers can find you

For me, the biggest lesson from this data is don't believe the hype.

New technologies and platforms can be powerful, and you need to optimize your marketing for these experiences if your ideal customer would like to find you in this manner.

For example, "Marketers with real-world stores or services need to make sure their location data are accurate and syndicated across the Internet and in mobile apps," advised Greg Sterling, VP of Strategy and Insights, Local Search Association.

However, just because emerging technologies are getting all the attention, doesn't mean more traditional tactics can't work for your audience.

"First you need to know your customers and their behaviors. For some brands and companies, traditional media can be very effective. If you're dealing with Baby Boomers nearing or in retirement, the rules could be quite different than for millennials," Sterling suggested.

"Certain verticals such as restaurants are going to also be quite different than higher consideration purchases like kitchen remodeling or cars. These industries, the degree of consideration and value of the purchase and the demographic and behavioral profiles of the would-be customer are going to drive different tactics," he said.

Another challenge is attribution. Digital has the upper hand here because it tends to be easier to track the digital path of the customer than the results of an offline publication (although coupons, custom vanity URLs, sweepstakes and even simply asking customers can help).

At the end of the day, there is likely not one perfect channel to reach your local customers. The most successful strategy should include a combination of digital and print, brand-building and direct response — all focused on channels (and messaging) that are mostly likely to reach your unique customers.

"Consumers today use multiple information sources before making a purchase. It's rare that only one media source would be used. Awareness media (radio, TV, print) typically drive subsequent digital activity like search or review site lookups where people are seeking more information," Sterling concluded.

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