We are entering a remarkably fragmented world. Or, rather, we have now entered a fragmented world. How did it get to this point? First, dial back the clock 40 years to 1969, where Woodstock, Vietnam, and civil unrest were topping the headlines on the four media sources then available to consumers: broadcast TV, newspapers, magazines, and radio.
Fast-forward 20 years and consumers are utilizing 12 media sources, on average. The most notable addition is the printed Yellow Pages, allowing consumers an easier method for obtaining local information and giving local businesses an efficient and effective channel to reach current and future customers. Another 20 years brings us to today. Consumers have over 30 media sources — a staggering array of information hubs that results not only in the fragmentation of media consumption but also the fragmentation of audience mindshare.
Undoubtedly the Internet is most important new media source of the past 10, If a business wants to reach prospects in the local marketplace today, it has to have a web presence. Recent data from Sterling Marketing Intelligence (“2008 Perspectives on Local Online Advertising and Content”) indicates that:
- 86% of Internet users search for local products and services online, and
- 90% of those searchers make their purchases offline.
While consumers are clearly using various sources for their decision-making, the Internet plays a critical role in that process. In essence, the Internet has become a virtual yellow pages in addition to its role as a place where e-commerce transactions take place, but the two roles take very different paths.
E-Commerce Action Path
A traditional e-commerce action path looks something like this:
The path has a clear beginning and a clear ending – all of which is on the web. Search through Checkout takes place in one location, on one website. An important asset of the e-commerce action path is its trackability — since it doesn’t leave the web, it is relatively simple to know which marketing efforts are most effective.
Online-To-Offline Action Path
The action paths of an online-to-offline transaction and an e-commerce transaction begin the same — with search. However, as various offline calls-to-action come into play, the paths change significantly, as the online-to-offline action path becomes more divergent than the more linear e-commerce path.
Tracking clearly becomes more difficult as web processes and activities become intertwined with in-store or offline purchases. That’s the bad news. The good news is that these processes are still much easier to track than the old standards of local advertising, namely print and/or television advertising.
Once a potential customer has visited a site’s landing page, it is crucial to have relevant calls-to-action for the offline action to track accurately from the web environment. The landing page content is key to driving a sale — you have to know how a potential local customer will act when confronted with various ways to obtain the goods or services and what the easiest course of action is for that potential customer. As the web has evolved into a one-stop process for much research done on local service/product providers, pushing a prospect into the physical location is easier. But you have to push gently – in a way that is relevant to the potential customer’s needs. In essence, you need to transfer the offline experience a local consumer has become accustomed to into the online world.
This means putting the most common points of contact that local businesses use front and center on the landing page. Generally, the typical offline action path will follow one of the following calls-to-action:
- User-Initiated Call — A user contacts a local business to obtain information such as cost, service, and other specific details about the offered products and/or services. This is the most direct route to a sale from the web into the local arena, and the entire process is trackable. This route also plays directly to the consumer comfort zone. They are able to call and make voice contact with someone local who can tell them exactly what they want to know about a product. It is direct and personal. It brings the web to the local level in a nearly immediate timeframe.
- Online Form — A form is completed by the user to obtain information. This is generally a less direct point of contact and requires a bit more vigor on the part of office staff to maintain contact and move toward a sale. However, by virtue of giving the local consumer power and access to localized information, it brings the web to the local level. The online form is a less intrusive version of the twentieth century car windshield flyer, but with significantly more information and, of course, better trackability.
- Coupon Form — A coupon is issued directly to a mobile phone or printed out by the user from an ad or the company’s site. These forms are easily tracked through the full action path via built-in tracking information on each coupon. Historically speaking, in times of particularly severe economic upheaval, coupon use always goes through the roof, making this route particularly relevant at this point in time. Placing a coupon form high up on a landing page can be a major driver for store traffic by bargain hunters in a down economy.
Once the prospect enters the close phase, he or she becomes more like a traditional local lead. At this point, converting the lead into a sale becomes a question of workforce training, your Customer Relations Management (CRM) system, and the product and/or service you’re selling.
The last few action steps of the closing include:
- Follow Up — Ensure that your salesforce is actively following up with all qualified leads.
- Additional Questions — Anticipate the questions a prospect will ask. Having a ready answer can significantly decrease the time to close of sale.
- Deal Closing — The exchange of money for a product and/or service.
Why Track? A Mini Case Study
The experience of a client in the self-storage industry is a great example of why it is so important to track. This Oakland-based company has multiple locations. They began tracking action paths across every platform, giving them the capability to measure cost-per-lead sources. What did they discover? Online lead sources (Google SEO, Google PPC, Yahoo! PPC, MSN PPC, and CitySearch) accounted for 30 sales. The total monthly cost for the five online sources was at parity with a single Yellow Pages ad, but online outperformed by a factor of ten. Yellow Pages delivered only 3 sales versus online’s 30 sales.
Local Is Different
In a local market, you want prospects to leave the online environment and come into your store. This is the exact opposite of the initial online model of e-commerce. While this change is a natural evolution in the process, it continues to be the biggest hurdle in finding and tracking successful online efforts. With consumers changing their day-to-day tactics for finding local products and services, a new model of tracking and different ways to portion out marketing efforts are necessary. The fragmentation of media consumption requires local marketers to make tough choices about where to allocate their marketing budgets. Integrating this type of online-to-offline method effectively measures and reaches local consumers precisely where they are increasingly finding their most valuable information — the Internet.