Top 10 Digital Marketing and Advertising Trends for Local Brands

Even by digital media’s standards, 2017 was an eventful year. Buzzwords like “artificial intelligence,” “machine learning,” internet of things” and “predictive analytics” were further cemented into the lexicon of digital advertising. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) voted to repeal net neutrality regulations. Google and Facebook weathered a string of controversies while still retaining their duopoly status in the industry. And, up-and-coming players like Amazon and Snapchat further diversified the media landscape.

Now that 2017 is behind us, we wanted to look back at the hectic year that was. You might be thinking “great, another obligatory recap of annual trends.” Which is fair. This time of the year there’s no shortage of these articles. But, we also wanted to do something more than just swap out a few bullet points from last year’s list (which is definitely worth the read if you have a few minutes).

For this year’s edition, we decided to look at the trends that have had the most impact on local advertisers like you – those working with SMBs and multi-location brands. Along with an overview of each trend, we’ve also provided some tips on how you can use the information to improve your marketing efforts in 2018. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the list.

Consumers expect search results to be customized for their location

Consumers used to rely on geo-modifiers when searching for local businesses (e.g., “restaurants in [city]” or “restaurants near me”). However, this practice has fallen out of favor over the past couple of years. 


local searches without "near me" are increasing as users expect Google to know when a search has local intent

While some searchers still add modifiers, the declining use of qualifiers like ZIP codes, neighborhoods and “near me” indicates that users now expect Google to understand when a search has local intent and automatically deliver localized results. 

Related: “Near me” Searches on Google are Declining

What this means for local advertisers:

If consumers are expecting local information, brands need to deliver. This means your brand should focus on distributing location-specific information with a holistic marketing strategy that includes local listings, paid search campaigns, display ads, social media campaigns (paid and organic), content marketing and other localized efforts.

Consumers prefer nearby businesses 

A recent study from Access found that the proximity of a business is a significant factor for consumers. More than 90 percent of consumers typically travel less than 20 minutes for everyday purchases. For certain purchases, the distance consumers are willing to travel is even less.

What this means for local advertisers:

Leverage targeting methods that prioritize nearby consumers and deliver customized messaging. For example, Google AdWords allows you to set location bid adjustments to show ads more or less frequently depending on the searcher’s location.

Proximity is becoming more important for Google

In a related shift, Google is prioritizing businesses closest to the searcher when determining rankings in search results. The 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey from Moz found that the proximity of a business’ address to the point of the search was the most important ranking signal for Google’s local pack results.

ranking factors for Google's map results

But, proximity isn’t necessarily a good thing for brands or search results. As Darren Shaw, the founder of Whitespark and author of the Moz study, noted, “this leads to poor results in most categories. I’m looking for the best lawyer in town, not the closest one. Hopefully, we see the dial get turned down on this in the near future.”

What this means for local advertisers:

The bad news: it’s tough to control how close your business is to a searcher. The good news: there are plenty of other ranking factors your brand can influence. According to Shaw, “businesses with higher relevancy and prominence will rank in a wider radius around their business and take a larger percentage of the local search pie. There’s still plenty to be gained from investing in local search strategies.”

There’s more customer data available than ever before

Data is the fuel that powers marketing campaigns and local advertisers have traditionally been at a disadvantage compared to larger brands in terms of collecting and using it. But, thanks to the ever-increasing number of connected devices, there’s more data available than ever before and it’s becoming easier for any brand to collect it.

Source: Cisco

What this means for local advertisers:

This could be huge for local advertisers. “Better data resulting in better targeting means that local businesses experience lower costs, higher conversion rates and greater ROI. And while targeting is not a new strategy, what’s new is the access to and quality of data,” Wesley Young of the Local Search Association said in a recent article for Search Engine Land.

Advertisers are taking online-to-offline attribution models to the next level

Beyond targeting, data plays a critical role in connecting consumers’ online and offline actions. Here’s what eMarketer had to say about the evolution of how local advertisers have used online-to-offline data:

In its early days, location data was used to target ads in real time for people in a specific place – for instance, in a competitor’s store. More sophisticated mobile advertisers soon discovered that the real gold in location data was in patterns of movement over time, which could help them better understand their customers. Better behavioral data enriched with location data led to richer audience segmentation. That is, if you go to a golf course every Saturday, odds are you’re someone who might be interested in golf clubs.

What this means for local advertisers:

If you’re not already, go beyond targeting and tracking offline actions by using data to help you understand your target consumers’ behavior, predict their needs/wants and deliver customized ads at the right times.

Voice search is here to stay

Voice-enabled assistants like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home have experienced a rapid ascent over the past few years. eMarketer estimates the number of voice-enabled digital assistant users will reach 69 million next year (a 14 percent increase), while the number of voice-enabled speaker users will hit 45 million (a 28 percent increase). These devices, along with smartphones, have been a major driver in the overall popularity of voice search.

This transition from text to voice search has had a significant impact on local businesses. A poll from the J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group and Mindshare Futures looked at how smartphone owners used voice-enabled technology. The study found that 58 percent used the technology to find local businesses and 52 percent used it to find information on local businesses.

What this means for local advertisers:

According to eMarketer:

With more internet users relying on voice to search – and often not relying on a screen to view results – marketers will have to adjust their search engine optimization (SEO) and content strategies to match. That will mean content that fits in with the conversational language used in voice queries. It may also mean that for many search users, only the first result will matter as search engines and e-commerce sites look to serve voice searchers with “the” answer rather than a set of options.

Facebook is becoming a major player in local search

Search engines still dominate the local search game, but consumers use a variety of other resources too. The Local Search Association (LSA) released a study looking at how consumers find local business information online. The study found that nearly half the respondents used social networks to find local business information.

Facebook seems set to improve that number and has taken major steps to compete with Google in local search. Check out this piece from Search Engine Land for more coverage on these changes. 

What this means for local advertisers:

There are a variety of actions local advertisers can take right away to optimize their presence on Facebook:

  • Make sure to claim and optimize local profiles for each one of your locations
  • Stay active and post regular content to help you connect and engage with your followers
  • Test out Facebook ads to help grow your presence and drive conversions

There’s likely to be more changes in the future as well. Here’s some advice from the Search Engine Land article mentioned above:

Facebook is making significant strides in local search, particularly in melding social media data with local search results. This may be enough to start turning the tide toward making it a major local search player as users discover and enjoy the search experience. Keep an eye out for even more developments, as Facebook’s unique data set will continue to allow it to provide more targeted and customized results. Will we see Facebook AdWords or Facebook SEO any time soon? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Amazon is becoming a digital advertising powerhouse

Amazon was the second-fastest-growing major digital ad firm in 2017. eMarketer expects Amazon’s U.S. digital ad revenues to increase even more in 2018 – experiencing a 42 percent bump to reach $2.35 billion. Currently, Amazon is the fifth-largest digital ad firm in the country and owns 2.5 percent of the U.S. digital ad market.

According to eMarketer:

Amazon’s rising importance as an ad platform is a function of its strength in both search and display. On the search side, marketplace sellers and brands with an Amazon presence are pouring more money than ever into what they consider highly effective cost-per-click (CPC) placements that ensure products on the retail platform get consumers’ attention. On the display side, the Amazon Advertising Platform has quickly emerged as one of the top demand-side platforms (DSPs) in the US, thanks to targeting capabilities that allow marketers to zero in on internet users based on their Amazon searching, browsing and buying histories.

What this means for local advertisers:

Amazon’s wealth of data can help local advertisers hone in on the most relevant consumers. If you haven’t already, it may be time to consider adding Amazon’s ad platform to your marketing mix.

The popularity of digital video continued to rise… and rise… and rise some more

Digital video has been on the rise for years and it just kept on going in 2017. According to eMarketer, time spent with mobile video (which excludes time spent with video on social networks) has steadily increased year-over-year, while time spent with video on a desktop or laptop has remained consistent despite drops in other activities on those devices.

Average time spent per day with major media by U.S. adults

Another force behind the rise in digital video is over-the-top (OTT) services and connected TVs. These platforms already have substantial user bases and eMarketer expects both to continue growing.

U.S. OTT video service users and connected TV users

What this means for local advertisers:

Digital video campaigns are a powerful tool that any local advertiser can (and should) use to connect with nearby consumers. For multi-location advertisers, you can maximize digital video campaigns by running creative that’s customized for each location and drives viewers to specific landing pages.

Local assets matter more than brand assets 

To extend on the last point about localized video creative, it’s becoming increasingly important for multi-location brands to develop customized advertising and marketing assets for each location. A recent study from LSA found that the majority of consumer engagement comes from local assets (e.g., local listings on Google, Facebook Local Pages, local landing pages, etc.) when both brand and location specific-assets exist.

What this means for local advertisers:

It’s important that local businesses and multi-location brands build out location-specific assets and launch scalable advertising campaigns customized for each branch. This type of scale isn’t always easy, but it provides consumers with the most direct path to conversion.

Need help building scalable local marketing campaigns, contact Mindstream Media.

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