This could be the beginning of many other states passing similar laws to protect their local business community. This is a big win for local businesses, which are investing in their communities through real estate, employment opportunities and local taxes and quite frankly, deserve first dibs on the local customer. From major national chains to the florist on Main Street, all businesses with a local geographic footprint will find an easier time winning in the online and print battlefield when it comes to engaging customers in the neighborhood, in Minnesota at least.
The timing of this new law has come at a pivotal point in the maturation of the local online marketplace. From Google on your iPhone to "checking in" via Foursquare, localized online advertising presents a real opportunity to gain neighborhood traction for local businesses. Local businesses are now augmenting their traditional marketing efforts by leveraging the opportunities online; now streaming into paid and non-paid directory services such as Google Places and Yellowpages.com.
Working with major national player represented locally, I have been repeatedly called to the challenge of making a national brand become locally relevant. Most advertisers have realized the importance of securing local information placement at the top of the search results next to the map (called Google 7-Pack) and I often hear gripes about affiliate marketers or non-local brands taking advantage of this local listing information.
Dealing with this specific issue has given birth to a new product in the marketplace, often times referred to as Business Listings Management. This product allows a company to provide their local information once (name, address, phone number, business summary) and have it pushed across the myriad of local sites that offer up these types of results, sites such as YP.com, Yelp, CitySearch, or Google Places. Since companies only need to submit this detailed information once, it becomes a cost effective option to locating each site and updating local business information for even thousands of locations across the nation.
Now that Minnesota is legislating against those listing "deceptive" geographic practices, this should help the truly local brands with a community footprint, but it will also hurt those businesses who may be just outside the desired location (say a big city) and service surrounding areas. This is obviously a concern to brands looking to capture a larger market by being physically outside a major city, and update phone number and address information to encompass that major market. If this law is adopted by other states, these kinds of businesses will need to think about their current local online advertising programs a little differently and take a few strategic steps to ensure they don't get locked-out of the local online marketplace:
- Evaluate your current programs to find out exactly why you choose to market your brand to a different area (larger audience, work out of your home)
- If you are a service provider, look at ways to accurately reflect your area. Google Places offers this ability with a radius and local directories are quickly adding this functionality, ask your rep.
- Consider your paid advertising opportunities. Most of the paid advertising programs once designed for the national advertiser have been redesigned for the local market, including paid search and display advertising
- Reviews, Reviews, Reviews. Local business can live and die by their customer's feedback. In today's growing social sphere one of the best ways to capture new customers is by word of mouth and reviews. Find yourself on Yelp, Citysearch and other local sites to see what your customers are saying. Promote feedback on your services by asking your clients to find you on social sites.
The law is a step in the right direction and a win for the local business and customers. The local directories both online and offline were created to help find businesses around the corner, not add another middleman. It is concerning that government has begun to get involved and I'm sure it will change the conversation for local marketers. Now that our local government is of age to accept and understand the web we can surely expect them to step in on several other issues that were once considered hands off. For now, I applaud Minnesota for enabling a more accurate and refined local search experience for Minnesota customers and businesses.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Casey Squier is managing director at Interpublic's Wahlstrom, which powers the largest hyper-local marketing network, investing $2 billion in location-based advertising annually.