Localized marketing and location-based marketing are pivotal to multi-location brands. In this episode of MarTechCube Podcast, Damian Rollison shares his expertise on locally perfected marketing and how it is a real game-changer for modern marketers.
Suruchi Bhargava [0:00] Hello. Welcome to The Martech Cube Podcast. In each episode, we explore the cutting edge of the Martech landscape and address the seismic shift in marketing. I'm your host, Suruchi, and today we have with us, Damian Rollison, Director of Marketing Insights at SOCi. SOCi is a marketing platform designed specifically for multi-location marketers. Thank you for joining us Damian, I'm so stoked, so ecstatic to be discussing this with you today. We love your approach to data-driven marketing. You've made some great strides in the place and yeah, thank you for your time.
Damian Rollison [0:40] Thank you, Suruchi, I'm happy to be here.
Suruchi Bhargava [0:47] So to start off, would you tell us how SOCi is leveling things up and unlocking the next level of growth for marketers?
Damian Rollison [0:54] Sure. So SOCi has just launched a new tagline for itself. We are saying that we are the marketing platform for multi-location brands, and that's a really important concept for us. We believe that we need to provide a platform for brands to market themselves locally that contains solutions for every aspect of localized marketing. So that relates to listing management to reputation management, social media marketing, advertising, and other complementary services such as chat, bots, and a new survey tool that we've recently launched. So all of those things work kind of seamlessly together and provide a holistic solution to brand marketers so that they don't have to chase and cobble together their own marketing stack based on multiple vendors, which introduces a lot of complexity and even risk to their marketing programs. So we think we've really been successful at establishing ourselves as the platform solution for multi-location marketing.
Suruchi Bhargava [2:02] Wow, that's amazing. So before we dive deeper into the conversation, I think it would help our audience if we could define the differences between location-based marketing and localized marketing, and what would be the power of each for marketers?
Damian Rollison [2:17] Yeah, this is a great question because these two concepts are sometimes used loosely, even a little bit interchangeably, but they really are very different. And I can tell you, too, that in my own career, I've been much more focused in the localized marketing side. Location-based marketing has kind of grown in the periphery, but I can certainly speak to both of them. So when we talk about location-based marketing, it's usually in the context of location awareness. So we are aware of the location of the consumer due to some kind of signal that we've received, such as the GPS coordinates from their phone, for example, or it might be a more anonymous kind of signal, anonymized and aggregated data about users who have visited certain locations, such as a store location, for example, and then that's correlated with other known location information, location of stores that belong to my brand, location of stores that might belong to a competitor, and even other kinds of location type context. There might be an event taking place at a particular location, whatever the information is that's going to feed into marketing campaigns that we might run. And so location-based marketing is really about running marketing campaigns that have location awareness built into them. If I cross the geofence, that indicates that I'm less than a mile away from a store that I want to drive traffic to as a consumer, then as a consumer, I might see a message incentivizing me to go into that store right now and make a purchase. So that would be an example. Localized marketing is really more about the marketing orientation that businesses need to have when they're selling products or providing services at the local level. So if I'm a small business owner, I have a store that I want to drive physical traffic to, or if I'm a multi-location brand that has even hundreds or thousands of locations, each one of those individual locations is not too dissimilar from a small business with a single location. You're still trying to drive physical traffic to the physical store. And in order to accomplish that with localized marketing, you make yourself available and appealing on the channels that consumers use to search for information about local businesses like Google Maps, for example, as well as social channels like Facebook, where consumers discover new needs or find out about businesses that they might want to transact with. So that localized marketing is more about making the local store visible and prominent within those digital channels if that makes sense.
Suruchi Bhargava [5:04] Yeah, it does. That's more of a personalized approach.
Damian Rollison [5:11] That's right. Yeah.
Suruchi Bhargava [5:14] So I think location-based marketing has received great impetus from new technologies such as beacons, Geomaps, GPS sensors, et cetera. And marketers worldwide are picking on this trend in a wild frenzy and even technology developers are perpetuating its uses with great enthusiasm. Do you think hyper localization in the global market has been sort of a revolution, what could have been the driving force for this transformation?
Damian Rollison [5:42] Well, my response to that question, and forgive me if it turns into a sort of a history lesson, but I've been in this space for a long time, and I can remember very vividly what the shift that took place in 2015, which is seven years ago, not that long ago, but it feels like an age since that happened. This was the great mobile shift. This is when Google first announced that the majority of search traffic was coming from smartphones and not from desktop machines anymore. And that switch was momentous. And really, I think we're still in the era that shift created. And basically what it meant was that computing and your sort of life on the Internet were suddenly location-aware. Location services were built into phones and smartphones from the beginning. And so there was an awareness of where that consumer is when they're conducting a search of any kind. And sometimes that context is irrelevant, but a lot of times it matters. A large percentage of searches on mobile devices as much as half of the searches, according to Google, have some kind of local intent behind them. So I'm looking for information about products or services that are nearby or the nearby factor weighs in some fashion. And all these other technologies that you've recited from beacons to sensors, the growth of mapping and navigation technologies, all of them are sort of ancillary developments related to that fact of the location awareness being available at all times. And so, yes, it took us a while to kind of figure out what to do with all of that information. But eventually, platforms built very sophisticated services around location awareness, probably none more sophisticated than Google itself, because Google has amassed so much data about usage patterns that are location specific that it can now tell you how busy a neighborhood is, how busy a store is at different hours during the day-What are the traffic patterns during my commute and so many other things. Because people are opting to share location data and the options, the potential use cases for location data, we certainly haven't exhausted them at this point. There's a long way to go before we run out of ideas for how to use location as an aspect of marketing and generally providing services on the Internet.
Suruchi Bhargava [8:37] Got it. Like many reports have suggested that business owners are seeking higher quality data about their customers and their buying behaviors. How do you think localized marketing and location-based marketing work together to bridge that gap?
Damian Rollison [8:54] Yeah. So it's certainly true that attribution of marketing activities, linking those activities to foot traffic behaviors, for example, is something that's been a kind of a Holy grail for marketing. And so the ideal circumstance might be that when someone sees a marketing message that has been delivered through localized marketing, such as a Facebook post from the Facebook page of an individual store, or perhaps a Google post or an offer that someone sees in a Google business profile, that you would be able somehow to attribute the actual physical traffic through location-based signals to those messages. That's not easily done. It's not as easy as in the sort of native online advertising world when you can track the user all the way through, from seeing an advertising message to completing a transaction, because, of course, they're moving from online to offline in our circumstance, so that Holy grail has been somewhat difficult to accomplish. But there are signals that indicate that a transaction is likely to have occurred, for instance, when foot traffic to a location increases at the time that a marketing campaign is running. So people are able to put together those signals to some degree. The other way to think about this, that's kind of from a different angle, is that you could define the ideal marketing campaign for a multi-location brand, for example, as one that marries together localized marketing and location-based marketing because they really do work alongside each other in a kind of a symbiotic relationship where localized marketing is the effort that you expend to make your locations visible. And as I said, appealing across all the digital channels that people use to search, your success may be greater in some areas than others, and in places where locations might encounter more competition or for whatever reason, might have a harder time being seen in those digital channels, you can kind of shore up that gap with location-based marketing and target your spend to areas where your locations may be performing may need to see some performance improvements. And so those two campaigns, those two efforts can work in tandem with each other and help to support each other, which we think is probably the most powerful combination in marketing for multilocation brands, for sure.
Suruchi Bhargava [11:30] Like, yeah, you need a blend of both to build a strong, trust-based relationship with your customers. Yeah, that kind of makes sense. Privacy is top of mind for consumers, and tech companies are acting upon those privacy concerns by making fundamental shifts in the collection of data. The precise location is going to be greatly impacted with the release of iOS 15.4. So how do you see these changes impacting how marketers attract and retain customers?
Damian Rollison [12:15] Well, the iOS 14.5 release basically made it easier for Apple iPhone users to opt out of location tracking within apps, and we know that that's had a big impact on Facebook's revenue, for example. It's not a small change, it is momentous, and it belongs to a larger theme as well, with Google announcing the retirement of support for third-party cookies in the Chrome browser, which is supposed to happen sometime this year. So Privacy is kind of popping up all over as a major theme that marketers need to accommodate. I mean, we should be supportive of it fundamentally because we don't want to be violating consumer privacy. We have been enjoying a kind of a Wild West era where that was not such a large concern, but consumers have made it clear that they want the option to opt-out of that kind of tracking. That doesn't mean that this kind of data is going to go away entirely, because some users will decide that the value that they receive from an app is worth the trade-off of sharing their location data. And therefore, even if we get that data from a smaller subset of consumers moving forward, I would imagine that it's still going to be available and meaningful as a signal in the future. But we are also going to have to be aware of and moving more and more towards strategies where the consumer's privacy is protected. So I mentioned Google a minute ago. They've recently announced the launch of something called the Topics API, which is going to basically anonymously associate visits of a user to a website with the category that the website is deemed to fall into. So that I know that this is a person who's interested in sporting goods because they visited a sporting goods website, for example. There's no individual user data being stored in that case, but it still allows me to understand the general interests of that person so that they might be able to be shown content that would be relevant for them. And again, as long as the advertising is relevant and not too invasive, consumers will probably be okay with it to a large extent. So we just have to be sensitive to those concerns,
Suruchi Bhargava [14:39] Right. Privacy is going to be a real game-changer in the coming days and years. So in both localized and location-based marketing, we run into areas of increased competition for both visibility and audience share. Examples of this might be in the case of more densely populated areas or where there are overlapping business footprints. How can the operators best run these localized campaigns that align with corporate programming while also considering competition with a franchised or corporate-owned locations or even locations within the same franchise group?
Damian Rollison [15:18] Well, yes. The use case of the franchise is a complicated one that we deal with quite a lot. We have many franchise-oriented clients, and the one key is to make sure that the messaging and education around the marketing campaigns that we are assisting with os very clear and thorough and constantly available to those franchisees. Because a franchisee is like a small business owner. They're running their own business. They have a certain degree of independence, even though they carry the branding of the Corporation that they are aligned with. And so they can do, in some cases, many things independently, which means they can either participate in the program or not. They can do it to varying degrees. The program might require that franchisees respond to all of their online reviews, for example, but they may do a great job or they may neglect that responsibility. So there's a lot of variability in participation, and we try to make sure that again, we provide those educational and informational resources to help franchisees understand the importance of the campaign so that we get the highest possible participation. But it is inevitably true that in these densely populated areas that you're referring to, things get complex. And there may be cases where one franchise location is showing up online, while another one might not be for certain searches. Google even sometimes filters out results that are too similar to each other within the same area, which can be a sensitive topic for franchise businesses. This is, again, a topic of education, though, because search is very, very complex. We're talking about location-based marketing, and one of the realities is that search results depend heavily on the precise GPS location on your phone from which the search is conducted. If you're doing it from your phone, and therefore, if I'm standing on one block in a city, I might see a certain set of results. If I walk three blocks to the West, I'm going to see different results. And so if a franchise owner says, hey, I searched for myself and I can't find my location, I'm finding some other franchise location. Well, that might depend on where you were when you conducted the search. What words did you type into the browser? So many conditions, even time of day, can modify search results. So it's really just best to conduct best practices. Provide compelling information through local channels, and you're just going to have to trust that you will surface for as many relevant searches as Google matches you to. And if you're not always winning out over your franchise competition, then guess what? They're not always winning out over you either.
Suruchi Bhargava [18:45] Yeah. So that’s where SOCI’s locally perfect and marketing comes into the picture.
Damian Rollison [18:52] Yeah, exactly.
Suruchi Bhargava [18:55] How can businesses stand out and be discovered in high competition areas like entertainment, shopping districts, and malls?
Damian Rollison [19:02] Well, the situation is kind of similar there. Right. So this may have more to do with competitors. Let's say there are a lot of clothing stores at the same mall. Then it might not be different instances of the same franchise business, but just a lot of density in general. So there's not a lot you can do to control that sort of thing. The sort of standard best practices obtain that you want, for instance, your Google business profile to be filled out with as many fields as are relevant for your business. You're providing all the needed information to differentiate yourself from the competition that might lead to you surfacing in certain long-tail searches, for example, that your competitors won't surface for. If you specialize in a certain type of clothing or any kind of special retail offering, call that out in your business profile and that will differentiate you from the pack to some extent. Another thing that you can do is see what you can learn from the competition. So competitive analysis is often a good strategy, especially if you can target it toward these high competition areas. For multi-location brands with lots of locations, it becomes a little difficult to scale if you're trying to do it in 500 markets at once. But if there are certain high-priority areas where you're seeing a lot of competition, then, yeah. Take a look at what your competitors are doing and see if you can either match or better their marketing campaigns through strategies like social posting, photo optimization offers, and sales. Anything that seems to be a differentiating factor where you can stand out from that competition.
Suruchi Bhargava [20:54] Right. So how can a company scale its business and still address local audiences?
Damian Rollison [21:03] Well, they can use SOCi.
Suruchi Bhargava [21:09] That's an interesting take on it.
Damian Rollison [21:15] It's not easy, and that's why platforms like ours exist. Businesses in the past. I'm talking about multi-location brands with their own marketing teams and some amount of resources that can be expended on this sort of thing. In the past, they often tried to do this themselves, but the complexity equation operates in a couple of different ways. Not only do you need to spend equal attention on all of your local audiences, and again, for a brand with 500 locations, that's 500 individual audiences that you need to somehow appeal to, but you also need to do it across channels. Right? So if you're too lopsided toward Google or let's say Google and Facebook are your top priorities, well, you may be neglecting some pretty significant audience share. That's going to Yelp and Instagram, for example. And yet, if you're trying to market yourself with equal attention to all four of those platforms, and by the way, what about Apple Maps? What about Bing? What about other places where there may be a little less traffic, but there's still quite a bit. All of a sudden those 500 local audiences are multiplied by five or ten, or however many different channels are relevant for you, and your problem becomes even more complex. And so, again, the reason platforms like ours exist is to make that localized marketing effort much, much more efficient. For example, by giving you the ability to push an update. Let's say you're changing your website structure, you're launching local store pages for the first time, and you need to make sure that those URLs are properly listed on your Google profile, Yelp profile, Facebook profile, and all these others that I've just mentioned. Well, in a tool like ours, you can push that update once to all of your locations and have it be automatically syndicated out to all those channels. In one step, rather than in the past, brands would have to log into their Google account and make a change. Log into their Yelp account, and make a change. That's not efficient. And not only that, but it ends up over time, causing brands to neglect certain channels because the effort is too great or because they just forgot to push an update somewhere, causing consumer confusion. Consumers who encounter incorrect information often will go to a competitor and never come back to your brand, even down to if your hours of operation indicate that you're open until 08:00 p.m. On Sunday, but you actually close at six, so they end up at your store when it's closed. All of that is a terrible consumer experience, and you need to be able to handle those updates efficiently at scale, through some kind of process that's built to handle it. And again, that's why platforms like ours exist.
Suruchi Bhargava [24:22] That's a great point. I'm definitely going to write that one down. So coming on to products, there are lots of products and offerings that are ubiquitous or quite similar from retailer to retailer. This can pose challenges for both suppliers and retailers, especially when trying to achieve scale and compete for local customers. What can you do to optimize your location's digital presence to ensure the customer buys from you?
Damian Rollison [24:54] Well, the lucky part here. The good news for multi-location marketers is that there are so many opportunities to do a better job at localized marketing than most of your competition is probably doing. It's just a matter of prioritizing what you can do first and creating a strategy that accomplishes those goals progressively over time. But we produce an annual report called the Localized Marketing Benchmark Report. The 2022 edition is going to come out in April. And we find, for example, that only about 12% of all multi-location businesses pay any kind of attention to the questions people ask on their Google profiles. This is just one example of many. But Google allows consumers to ask a question of the business, and the business can answer it. But any Google user can also answer those questions. And low and behold, businesses are really not paying attention to these questions. And it's actually a big problem in terms of meeting consumer expectations at the local level because the questions tend to be the kind of thing that only the business can really answer. So I was mentioning sporting goods as a vertical for a sporting goods retailer. We've seen questions like, do you accept returns of golf equipment at this store? Well, how would a consumer answer that question? That's really a question directed toward the business that the consumer expects the business is going to answer. And yet when you look at those questions, you see answers from Google users that say things like, Well, I think so, but you'd better call them to make sure, well, that's not creating a very good consumer experience. If brands are aware of that, you would think that they would be falling all over themselves to devote resources to answer those questions. But they need to understand that it's important. This is a conversion signal within your digital presence, right within your profile for that location. You need to be paying attention to those questions. You need to answer those questions as the business and build that trust with your local audience. And believe me, that's just one example. Brands are only responding to around 36% of their Google reviews overall, and the numbers are worse on Yelp and Facebook. And yet when consumers review the business, they see other businesses respond. There's an expectation now that the brand is going to pay attention to the feedback they receive from consumers and take it seriously. And if they had a bad experience, apologize and learn from that. And if they had a good experience, reward them and help to build loyalty. And if you're neglecting that opportunity, believe me, many of your competitors are neglecting it as well. But it's something that you can do to differentiate yourself. And one more example would be I mentioned photo optimization. Only about three and a half percent of the photos in Google profiles today are uploaded by the business. All of the rest of them are uploaded by Google users. And so users like to take pictures, and they like to share their experiences through that visual means. It's very appealing. And yet when people take pictures of your store, your services, the meals at your restaurant, whatever the case might be, they may be flattering, they may not be, they may depict a good experience, they may depict a bad one, and you're not in control as the business of how you're perceived. Especially nowadays, Google showcases these photos very prominently in search. So if you search for handmade jewelry near me, Google is going to find photos within a Google profile that match that search intent and show them right in the listing, pull them out of the Gallery and show them prominently in the listing. And if those are just random Google user photos, then you kind of take your chances about how well-represented your brand might be. But if you take control and upload strategic photo content, that's appealing and that matches the keywords that you want to be surfacing for. Again, this is a huge opportunity for brands to differentiate themselves, and so many brands are not doing it that it's really kind of blue sky in terms of the amount of optimization you can do to stand out from the competition.
Suruchi Bhargava [29:35] Right. So this would put things into perspective for many brands globally. And as much as I'd like to keep hammering you with questions, we need to wrap this up. So here's my last question. Of late, SOCi announced a record revenue growth of 149% YoY for 2021. What do you think has made it possible? What's new to the SOCi community?
Damian Rollison [30:04] Well, I think that we have really doubled down on our commitment to providing the highest quality and most thorough and efficient, and effective platform, specifically for multi-location brands to market themselves locally. We're committed to that goal. We're not pivoting away toward other kinds of services or a different kind of customer anytime soon or ever. We know that we need to stay laser-focused on the requirements, and complex requirements of multi-location brands in order to promote their success. We take that very seriously. We know that a lot of problems in our industry can be solved through technology, and we certainly do have every kind of API integration that exists within our space. We've got that integrated. We're partnered with all of the most important platforms and publishers, from Google and Facebook to Yelp and Four Square and Apple, and several others. But we also know that those edge case problems that technology can't solve. We can't leave brands to figure it out on their own. We need to provide expertise and a level of consultative service where we know how to work the angles. We know how to ask the right people at Google to look into a problem. That might be a problem we've encountered before, and it might not. We encounter new things on a regular basis that we need to solve on behalf of our brand clients. And that level of expertise is actually as big of a differentiator for us as the technology is. So we really believe that the most effective service is a combination of technology and that sort of deep level of knowledge about what works in local and how to solve problems when they do occur. It's also worth noting that the record revenue growth last year is partially attributed to a big acquisition that we accomplished, which was the acquisition of another company in our space called Brandify and so it's the combined forces of both companies that we are able to utilize moving forward and it was a very complementary acquisition in the sense that whereas SOCi had built a very strong platform starting with Social as the first problem that it solved. Brandify did the same thing starting with search and so those two strengths combined together, it's been amazing how smooth that combination has been. As we've kind of merged the two companies, it makes us even stronger than we were before and that's really why we're able to claim now that we are the marketing platform for multi-location brands.
Suruchi Bhargava [33:21] Wow. That's amazing. So, thank you so much for translating your expertise into insights, Damian. Thank you again for taking the time out. It's always fun to interact with the SOCi team. You were spot on throughout the interview and we really look forward to having more discussions like this in the future.
Damian Rollison [33:40] Thank you so much Suruchi. I enjoyed the discussion and I'm happy to talk to you anytime.
Suruchi Bhargava [33:50] Yes, see you soon. Bye.
“In one step, rather than in the past, brands would have to log into their Google account and make a change. Log into their Yelp account, and make a change. That's not efficient.”
“Google allows consumers to ask a question of the business, and the business can answer it. But any Google user can also answer those questions. And low and behold, businesses are really not paying attention to these questions.”
“We need to provide expertise and a level of consultative service where we know how to work the angles. We know how to ask the right people at Google to look into a problem. That might be a problem we've encountered before, and it might not.”
The good news for multi-location marketers is that there are so many opportunities to do a better job at localized marketing than most of your competition is probably doing. It’s just a matter of prioritizing what you can do first and creating a strategy that accomplishes those goals progressively over time.
With over a decade of local search experience, Damian Rollison, SOCI's Director of Market Insights, has focused his career on discovering innovative ways to help businesses large and small get noticed online. Damian's columns appear frequently at Street Fight, Search Engine Land, and other publications, and he is a frequent speaker at industry conferences such as Localogy, Brand Innovators, State of Search, SMX, and more.
Skilled in marketing communications, GTM, demand gen, integrated marketing, and media strategy, Suruchi translates the value of creative expertise to revenue generation. She is an articulate marketer with a passion for human-centric storytelling and intuitive marketing that doesn't bank on persuasion but on connection.