MarTech Interview with Damian Rollison, Director of Market Insights at SOCi

MarTech Interview

In this exclusive interview, Damian Rollison, Director of Market Insights at SOCi, discusses the latest trends and challenges in local search marketing.

Before Damian Rollison became the Director of Market Insights at SOCi, he was already an accomplished digital marketing expert with a passion for local search optimization. He has been a speaker at several industry events, including Local Search Association and Street Fight Summit. With over a decade of experience in the industry, Damian is highly respected for his insights on the latest trends and developments in the field of local search.

Since joining SOCi, Damian has continued to make significant contributions to the company’s success. He has helped to shape SOCi’’s platform with his expertise in local search, and his insights have been invaluable in driving the company’s growth. In this interview, we will delve deeper into Damian’s experiences and expertise, and learn more about his vision for the future of local search.

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Damian, please give us a brief overview of your career so far.
I have an academic background, with degrees in English from U.C. Berkeley and the University of Virginia. For a few years, I taught college English, before getting interested in emerging technology. My first job in the tech sector happened to be related to local search and SEO which is the field I still work in nearly 20 years later.

I’ve played a role in the development of localized marketing for small businesses and enterprise brands, including services like listing management, reputation management, and social listening. I have served as research and product leads at Moon Valley Software, Universal Business Listing, and Brandify, and currently, I’m the Director of Market Insights at SOCi. I have contributed to numerous publications including Search Engine Land, Street Fight, Venture Beat, Localogy, Franchise Times, and MarTech Cube.

Tell us about your educational background and the expertise that you hold in the space.
As I mentioned, I have undergrad and graduate degrees in English. During grad school, I focused on the application of new technologies like digital reproduction and text markup to literary studies. This got me interested in other applications of similar technologies. Throughout my career in local marketing, I’ve specialized in product development, technical research, and analysis of industry trends related to mapping and navigation, search engine optimization, and social media marketing. Overall, my focus has been finding better ways for businesses large and small to showcase their offerings to consumers digitally.

What part of your job do you enjoy the most as the director of market insights at SOCi?
I’m in an unusual position as a marketer in that most of my work has to do with producing original research. Among other projects, my team creates SOCi’s annual Localized Marketing Benchmark Report (LMBR), which establishes and maintains industry benchmarks for the performance of multi-location brands in search marketing, reputation management, and social media management. I like playing a semi-academic role – in that sense, my career has come full circle. My job is to produce objectively verifiable research that helps people understand the opportunities that companies like SOCi can help businesses capitalize on.

Tell us more about SOCi and how it empowers businesses.
SOCi is a comprehensive marketing platform for multi-location brands that want to improve their performance in local markets. We have partnerships with Google, Apple, Facebook, Yelp, Bing, and all other major providers of local mapping and navigation apps and services. Our clients are large national brands that market themselves locally, like Ford, Ace Hardware, Jersey Mike’s, and Stanley Steemer. Our job is to ensure that our client locations have prominent, accurate, and engaging profiles in every search and social platform. We’ve recently announced a partnership with OpenAI that will bring ChatGPT capabilities to our reputation management tools, part of our ongoing effort to build a marketing platform that provides automated recommendations and task management tools.

Please share with us some insights on the latest integration of SOCi with Apple. How is it going to benefit multi-location marketers?
Consumers regularly use mapping and navigation tools to seek location information and discover new businesses. About half of all smartphone users have an Apple device, all of which come with Apple Maps, making it one of the most used and highest-rated mapping applications in the market.

As a result, it’s increasingly important for multi-location businesses to have a presence for all of their locations on Apple Maps, maintaining updated and accurate local listings. SOCi integrated with Apple to enable multi-location marketers to do just that. Through the integration, marketers can update and localize their business information, special offers, and promotions.

SOCi users now have a direct API connection to Apple Business Connect, where marketers can update all of their locations’ business information in their Apple Maps place cards. They also have access to a Showcase feature within Business Connect to highlight special promotions, events, and updates. Finally, SOCi customers receive data and insights on how users are engaging with their content.
With this integration, businesses can more directly connect with customers on Apple Maps and will have added control over their local presence and customer experience on this widely-used platform.

How does SOCi set itself apart from the cut-throat competition?
SOCi is the only marketing platform that equips multi-location marketers to manage local search, social, reputation, and messaging for each of their locations. As a result, marketers are able to deploy a localized digital experience across limitless locations — all through a single login.

With an integrated localized marketing strategy, multi-location brands can establish a local presence, and increase local activation and adoption while driving business growth at every location.

With the world increasingly moving toward a more digital approach, what can retail stores do in order to stay competitive in this market with online giants like Amazon?
A majority (84%) of commerce still occurs in person. However, before heading to stores, consumers are looking for as much information as they can get online. To bring customers into stores, brands must first create a digital presence that provides a sense of availability and responsiveness. A brand’s digital presence needs to span the channels customers use, including search, social, and mapping applications.

Best practices go beyond the basics of establishing a presence on Apple Maps and maintaining accurate local listings and content. For store retailers to be competitive with e-commerce giants, I recommend the following:

  • Promote availability and price: use tools such as social media posts, Google Posts, and Apple Showcases.
  • Appeal to local audiences: promote real-time, store-level inventory with Google Merchant Center and Local Inventory Ads; make Apple Maps place cards actionable with deep links to ordering and booking apps.
  • Leverage untapped opportunities: engage with consumers’ shopping questions in Google’s question-and-answer feature — only 9% of brands do.
  • Responsiveness is key: respond to social posts and reviews in a timely and helpful way. Most (88%) consumers will overlook negative reviews if a brand responds to and addresses them.

What are your thoughts on corporate social responsibility? In what ways is SOCi adhering to it?
I’m happy to say that no company I’ve worked for has been as committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion as SOCi. We have a great training program as well as monthly open forums on topics like microaggressions, mental awareness, and cultural competence.

This type of program is, thankfully, more common now than when I began the industry many years ago. SOCi also has a commitment to supporting social causes in ways where we can make a meaningful contribution, such as holding group volunteering events in local communities. I think it’s especially important that companies make meaningful and relevant statements and actions in support of social causes, rather than just paying lip service.

As an industry expert, what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who wish to venture into the Martech sector?
It’s far too easy to drown in a sea of insufficiently differentiated offerings, all competing for the same market. On the other hand, promoting a completely new solution that people haven’t seen before carries a lot of risks, because no one knows how to categorize what you’re doing and you may die trying to build a market for it. The best case scenario is a happy medium between these two poles – introduce meaningful innovation in a subject area that already has a proven and well-defined market. Put a new spin on the familiar, in other words. Within the search and social sectors, there’s a ton of opportunity for this – especially now that we’ve entered the era of AI, where the possible applications for disruptive innovation are basically endless.

How do you plan on scaling the growth of SOCi in the coming years?
There are a lot of people besides myself who are more involved in the strategy for scaling SOCi, first and foremost our very talented C-suite executives such as CEO Afif Khoury, CMO Monica Ho, and CTO Alo Sarv. But I think it’s fair to say that growth will happen through a combination of three things – being the best-in-class solution for multi-location marketing at the local level; increasing market awareness of our capabilities; and introducing innovation such as our integration of Apple’s new API as well as our recently announced partnership with OpenAI to integrate ChatGPT into our platform.

Personally, I think the power of AI, combined with our expertise, technology, and strong partnerships, will transform SOCi into a platform that increasingly automates the tasks that drive improved performance for brands.

Being a person of great influence, who or what would you say has influenced you greatly in life?
One of the things that have stuck with me the most is the Japanese concept of ikigai, which is a kind of formula for satisfaction in life. According to ikigai, you should dedicate your life to pursuits that fulfill four different criteria: what you love, what you are good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs. In other words, it isn’t enough to do what you love if you can’t get paid for it or to do what you’re good at if you don’t love it. It’s about finding a balance between all four of these goals. Probably the most important, and the most challenging, is doing what the world needs, but if you can encompass all four principles of ikigai you’ve found happiness and purpose in life.

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Damian Rollison, Director of Market Insights at SOCi

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. LinkedIn.
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