the zip ep 7
As a leader in the local marketing space, Greg Sterling has more than 15 years of experience advocating for the “offline” benefits of digital marketing. Our conversation covers clearly defining “local,” offline implications of local marketing, and the difference between marketing for franchise local, as opposed to truly local, businesses.
For biography nerds: Greg Sterling is VP of Strategy & Insights for the Local Search Association (LSA). He is also a contributing editor at leading tech blogs Search Engine Land and Marketing Land. Sterling has been conducting research and writing about location-based media and marketing since 1999. Previously Sterling was as a senior analyst for Opus Research and The Kelsey Group (now BIA/Kelsey). He was also founding editor at Allbusiness.com and a producer for TechTV. Sterling has a law degree and was a practicing attorney in LA and SF for roughly 10 years.
Megan: Well, Greg Sterling. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today. I really appreciate your time and I will launch right into questions.
Megan: You work, in particular, with marketing for business that have a local focus. How does the brain of a local marketer work? Like what do you see in marketing and in your customers’ opportunities or clients’ opportunities that others don’t see?
Greg: Well, let me quickly explain what is meant by local because I think that’s a source of a lot of confusion. So, historically people have thought about local almost exclusively in terms of small business marketers, independent, stand alone businesses, mom and pops but I think that local is a much bigger category than that. It really pertains to anybody who’s ultimately selling something in a store or a physical location so that includes Home Depot, you know, franchises, multi-location brands of all sorts as well as the 5 million or 20 plus million of small business. So, just with that, context in mind, what perspective would you like me to bring to that question? A small business or just anybody in that position?
Megan: That’s a good question add-on to my question because that was actually one of my follow-up questions because I think for me when I do a lot of research into local marketing, I feel like in some ways there a both small and medium size businesses and enterprising organizations, like you mentioned Home Depot, are treated one in the same or treated like both are spoken of as local marketing. Even I guess- my follow up question to that would be do you see those two areas as different and what do you think some challenges that each of them face? And how do you kind of look at them from a perspective of a marketer?
Greg: So I think the challenges are are kind of similar and different. So from a small business perspective, first, their challenge it to really understand the market and everything that’s going on. Consumer behaviors change very rapidly and even though it’s been almost a decade since the introduction of the iPhone, it just seems like all the different channels, all the different platforms have really radically changed marketing even beyond the advent of the internet. And so small businesses really have trouble keeping up with that. Having the necessary knowledge, depth of knowledge, to say nothing of expertise, to do that well. Most small businesses are doing some sort of self-service digital marketing and they’re confronted with limited time, limited expertise and funds. So those are their main challenges is they just don’t really have enough time to become experts on social media, search marketing, SEO, mobile marketing and on and on and on. And it’s just overwhelming and we do- The Local Search Association does these bootcamps for small businesses and we see first hand, they’re really eager. They want to know, they have to know but it’s just really challenging for them to do this in practice and so they need help for the most part. And, then, in terms of an enterprise, you know a big retail brand. A Macy’s or a Home Deport or a Pinkberry or a Taco Bell, those guys have different challenges- or a manufacturer that may sell through local dealers like an appliance manufacturer that sells through independent retailers. Their challenges are different. They have more sophistication and they have in most cases agencies to help them and more financial resources but the unwieldy sort of world, the hydra of local marketing is still very difficult for them to kind of get their arms around to mix metaphors there. They often don’t have control of their data. That’s a surprising thing that you learn about enterprises. Just basic stuff like presence management, location data, that may be housed in multiple departments within an organization and there may be no central repository or person or team that knows exactly what’s going on with that. So something as “simple” as getting correct hours and location information into google my business or into Apple maps or all the different places that it needs to be is not a simple matter for many enterprises and not withstanding the brand reach and kind of visibility. There still may be very small teams that are charged with managing local SEO or local campaigns, so they face resource constraints as well. And I’m constantly sort of amazed- I was just at an event that had a lot of brands present that was involved in local marketing discussion and I am constantly amazed by how- in some was small businesses and teams within brands that are dealing with local marketing are more similar than different. They’re sort of overwhelmed, they can’t keep track of everything, it’s hard for them to do everything well even though they have outside help. I mean we can pick a channel and talk about the challenges for enterprises but I think they vary a little bit. Like social media is a little different than search and you know, a lot of brands for example- it’s interesting, we did a webinar-this is the long winded part that I alluded to- go ahead, ask another question.
Megan: Yeah. So on top of that, and even speaking of channels- yeah, I actually have like five questions coming out of what you just said. But one of them is a recent white paper that Street Fight mag did actually showed that a lot of local marketing decision makers see offline tactics to be more effective, according to the study. With the exception of email marketing, they saw that offline tactics were more effective for their local marketing such as mailers or tv ads. But then there have been other studies that went in the opposite direction like in Search Engine Land a few months ago you wrote about a study of small and medium sized business entrepreneurs who said they preferred digital marketing even though they weren’t measuring ROI which is kind of funny. But, I guess the big question on that is, as a digital marketer, what do you think could be the missing link? Why might executives rank digital as less effective than traditional- like the executives over these smaller franchises when local employees who aren’t even to track ROI like digital better?
Greg: Well, I think at the executive level in some of these larger organizations, there’s just a ton of data and there’s a lot of channels and figuring out what is working is very hard for many of them. So, you know, there’s also the fraud and viewability issue so bots and viewability stuff that have been widely reported. So there’s just a lot of complexity and opacity in the digital world. You know the irony is that digital was supposed to make everything more accountable and more transparent and then almost the opposite has happened for people. Traditional media is simpler. A print ad, a TV ad, a radio ad, those are just simpler conceptually and in terms of execution. It’s hard to measure their ROI, although ironically mobile devices make it possible to measure traditional media ROI now in ways that it wasn’t possible before. With small businesses, I think they’re very close to their customers in ways that some enterprise executives may not be, right? So those folks may be insulated to some degree form their end customer whereas a small business is literally in front of their customer in most cases.
Megan: So they might know even if they don’t see the data they just might see someone new come in like “oh yeah I saw your Facebook page” or something and they’ll be like “oh wow Facebook’s working!” so they’ll kind of- they might not have numbers of their return on investment but they might just kind of see anecdotal evidence that maybe an executive can’t.
Greg: Precisely. I mean, I think executives can too but I think they often don’t trust those anecdotal examples whereas small business owners have sort of relied on those for a long time. I mean, the most common way that people find out about ROI, still, is asking the question: “How did you learn about us?” which may or may not yield an accurate answer because people use many different media sources to approach decisions but I think it’s that day to day customer contact which is maybe delivering more direct information about the market versus someone who’s sitting in an office on the 47th floor of a tall building in San Francisco or Manhattan.
Megan: Yeah. It’s just so interesting again, I just think for both of these- you were talking about how at conferences you see the small business people and the local teams for larger businesses, they end up having more in common than you would think. But I still find it really interesting as I learn about local marketing in general how someone like you, you focus on local marketing but really you focus on both of these types of people. Do you feel like there should be more of a- do you think the marketing, the local marketing market in general serves entities well or do you think that it’s kind of skewed towards one group or the other?
Greg: Well, there are a lot of tools for brands. I think the tools and the platforms do a better job of serving the brands than they do serving the small businesses. I think the market in general has been addressed to small businesses historically more than brands. I mean, brands have not seen themselves in this whole local marketing arena really until mobile devices came along and mobile marketing came along. And then that whole notion of local marketing started to mean more to them even though historically they bought newspapers and local tv and yellow pages and so on and so forth. One thing that might be helpful, is just in your mind, whenever you say local to also sort of think of offline because that’s really what’s at stake here for all of these guys is really the offline consumer purchase. What is influencing that purchase? It’s really internet research extended to mobile devices now driving in-store transactions or offline purchases and it’s many many order of magnitude larger than- if I’m using that term correctly. Some math person will probably spank me- but it’s at least 10 x larger in store, offline than e-commerce. E-commerce is a tiny slice of the overall pie that is driven by digital media and marketing.
Megan: That’s really interesting and I also think that the idea of mobile changed the game for the companies like Home Depot or Pinkberry or whatever. What is it about the advent of mobile? It is just because they can track things better? Is it because now they can do local ads? That Pinkberry can now appear on local Google search results. What are some of the things that mobile is doing to make national brands feel more local?
Greg: A couple of things. So, people have always used the internet for research and then bought stuff in stores. If you just think about your own example, cars, appliances, vacations, whatever. People will do that online research and then buy stuff, spend money offline or locally and what mobile devices did is they made some of this behavior more transparent to brands where suddenly people had the internet in their pocket,as the cliche goes, and they were doing google searches, they were doing certain kinds of look ups all the time, everywhere and that behavior became visible. And there was a lot of research and a lot of writing about that. “Oh people are in stores. 70 plus percent of people in stores are looking for product information or coupons or reviews and people are using net maps or navigation to go from point A to point B” and that kind of behavior just became visible and suddenly this online to offline dynamic that had always been there from the very beginning became more evident to people and now you can also track it. You may be familiar with some of the stuff that’s going on, you know, mobile devices and the ability to track location history and figure out what stores people are visiting and factoring that into your marketing. That’s one of the most profound things that’s happening in digital marketing in general but local marketing in particular now is the ability to tie a digital media or digital ad exposure to a store visit or even to a purchase at the point of sale.
Megan: On top of that, what- do you think that there might be things that these national brands are missing? Obviously they still have a lot of challenges and they’re probably- they’re doing a lot to face those, but do you think there might be upcoming areas, tactics or ways to measure that people aren’t really working on yet?
Greg: Oh, undoubtedly. I had to think about that for a second. I think, you know, it’s funny because we assimilate these new technologies so quickly we think that they’re mature- I just read an article- the Geo-marketing blog- that was talking about how location has become commoditized. The sort of location tactics, but that’s not true. The perception may be in certain quarters that are true, but there aren’t enough people that have adopted it that are using it for it to be commoditized thing. But, there’s all kinds of activity going on to try and connect the dots between a sale in a physical location, in a store, in an offline environment to marketing and then to connect the dots cross platform. And so, the short answer is yes. There’s stuff that’s starting to emerge or not happening that will happen that’s going to give us almost complete visibility on consumer behaviors in ways that are just not at all possible. Forget about the last click discussion that Microsoft used to talk about with Google, Google’s getting all this credit when it’s all this other stuff that’s happening. We’re really starting to see this person went to social media, then they got the email, then they looked at a YouTube video and then they showed up at the store and the ability to target them and get them to go into a store and to re-target them after they’ve been there is becoming more common. You walk into a retail store, they know you’ve been there, they can re-target you later. And the level- the stuff that’s going to be new is the level of customization and personalization that’ll be possible.
Megan: Yeah and it’s so interesting because I feel like that- like you said, which I love, in a way local means offline. It’s so true. With a lot of these tools it feels like national local businesses. National businesses have local stores will have almost more of an advantage because they have an infrastructure and the money to put a lot of these tools into place whereas maybe-I feel like my actual local stores when I walk around downtown Durham and I see the local pet shop that’s just owned by one person, obviously they can’t necessarily afford to do that and I feel like a lot of their traffic really comes from just local word of mouth or I’m walking by and I see them. So do you think that will kind of change the way that people- do you think that is changing the way that people shop or do you think that- are local businesses concerned about that? Like, “oh my gosh, how can we compete with these big brands that have already obviously outspent us on advertising but now can outspend us on tools for bringing people in in this way that a local business really can’t?
Greg: Sure. I think it is definitely a concern for those that are aware of the consumer behavior. Mobile in particular is a difficult area for them to compete it. They don’t have the resources to make really great mobile experiences let alone apps and market those apps and so on and so forth. But I do think that-consumers in general- there’s enough data that suggests or argues that consumers in general would prefer to shop in most cases at independent stores, support their local business, shop small and all that. And so, I think that there is a general bias toward the local business but there is this sort of daunting challenge of competing with the enterprise or the larger marketer or the brand that has now more capabilities and resources. Local inventory is a great example, a great metaphor for this discussion. For well over a decade, people have been trying to bring real-time inventory online and you can sort of do that with Google now with their product listing ads and their inventory data feeds and you know there are a couple other- there’s a company called Last Mile Retail which is trying to do this on behalf of brands and key location enterprises. Small businesses don’t have any effort, no ability to do this, right? So if you’re looking for a crate for your dog, you’re either going to know that the local pet store, the independent pet store exists and they probably have that or you’re going to think PetCo or PetSmart is probably going to have that and you’re making a bunch of assumptions, but if somebody was actually able to tell you that such and such a brand at such and such a price was available in your immediate area, here’s the store, here’s the hours and here’s the specific item that’s in store, you know that might change your behavior. You might go to the big brand or you might go to the local store if you knew for a fact that your time was going to be better spent in that place. How many times have people just sort of show up and discover “it’s not here” or call and they can’t figure out if something’s in stock. That’s one example of technology sort of preempting consumer behavior. Like “Oh, it’s over there. I’m going to go over there.”
Megan: Right. That kind of makes people- in some ways, that kind of technology- it’s obviously helpful for the business to put their inventory on that sort of listing but in a way it shows that in a lot of cases people, in at least that case, people would be brand agnostic. It’s not like “Oh I’ll go to Petco over PetSmart” because if you see that PetCo is charging five dollars more for the dog crate then you’ll probably just got to PetSmart. Kind of putting the consumer, in a way, in more control because we would have the ability to make smart decisions. It’s almost like what we can do now with shopping online but in the real world. This is cheaper and it’s closer, I’ll go here. Which is really cool actually.
Greg: Precisely. I think- you know, there’s a lot of data that argue brand loyalty is going down. I mean, I think most consumers are- there are different consumer segments, some people shop price, some people shop for convenience and so on and so forth. I think there’s a tendency to be more loyal to the local florist, retail store, whatever than there is to Petco PetSmart or Office Depot or Staples, right? You just want the thing and you want it at the best price. I think there are other considerations involved when you shop at a local store. You might like the service, you might like the sort of unique selection. You might have a relationship with the store owner.
Megan: Right. It feels good. Like “oh hey, they’re just down the street.” Yeah. Well, also, on top of a lot of this data technology you’ve been talking about, you’ve written a lot about Yext, which for those listening who don’t know is a local data syndication product that makes local businesses or local franchises that makes sure they’re listed across sites like Yelp, MapQuest and City Search and so on. But, Greg, do you think that there should be a bigger focus for local marketers even than local SEO? You know because it’s basically instead of trying to get your actual website on Google, you’re trying to get your website’s listing on City Search to rank on Google. Do you think that if businesses had to choose that they should try to rank well using Yext on some of these third party sites as opposed to Google?
Greg: So, I don’t want to pick winners and losers here. I think Yext has done a really good job of exposing the need to do presence management or listing management across a range of sites. There are some competitors but Yext is really one of the leaders in the market. But if you could do both, you should do both. Citations which are sort of- listing and citations- and I’m not an SEO expert even though I play one on TV sometimes- but the syndication of data and having consistent data is part of SEO. It’s a best practice that rolls up into a larger SEO strategy. I would say that, you know, everybody wants to be on the first page of Google, but increasingly consumer behavior is fragmented especially on mobile devices and apps you have to really have your data in multiple places. So, really, local SEO is evolving into a thing like local data syndication. A large piece of what used to be local SEO is really about sort of data and all the nooks and crannies it needs to be and making sure it’s consistent. I would say. So presence management, listings management is very, very important. If you’re nowhere to be found, you’re in trouble. Picking- that’s like- in a way you’re asking me pick Google versus picking Yelp and all these others. You have to do both. You wouldn’t want to just focus on Google exclusively I think at this point. You want to focus on Facebook, you want to be on Yelp, you want to be in all these places and if you’re a doctor or a pet store or a hotel or whatever you’ve got your vertical sites that are important.
Megan: So what if, let’s say that you’re opening- like randomly you decided to leave your business and open a local pet store tomorrow. Is there a certain area- there just seems to be so many ways to do local marketing- what would you choose first? What would you do first to get yourself off the ground?
Greg: We’re using the pet store as an example? I want to open a pet store?
Greg: Or florist is another good one.
Megan: Okay, you can do florist if you like that one.
Greg: Well, no. I just recently got a dog. My kids have been begging for a dog for years and we finally broke down so we’re dealing with a- it’s not a puppy, but it’s puppy-like. So I would say you’ve gotta being Google business and you’ve got to put your data in all the major places including Yelp and Apple maps and a number of others where consumer behavior is constant. You don’t necessarily need to worry about the long tail. If you’re a florist or pet store there may be some selected vertical sites that focus on those that are important to be present on, but Yelp is really critical for most businesses now in the U.S. So Google and Yelp and Apple Maps and Bing are really the big places and they’re are a couple others. There are some publishers out there that would probably say “us too, us too, us too.”
Megan: Like citations?
Greg: Yeah. Yeah. Go ahead. I mean it’s an 80/20 proposition. If you’re doing this yourself, you really need to concentrate on where the traffic is. If you’re using a service or if you’re using an agency then they can do sort of more long tail stuff.
Megan: Okay, same situation but what if you’re- same situation- but what if you’re in charge of doing marketing for a newly open branch of Petco in your city- would you also start with making sure all of your citations are in place or are there other places you would start as well if you were coming at it from a more national brand perspective?
Greg: This is one of the dilemmas that we really didn’t talk about at the beginning. Who’s controlling the local marketing? Is it a team at the store? Does the local store have any discretion or is it all handled at the national level? So that’s one fundamental issue that’s unresolved for a lot of brands and there are different ways to do it. Some brands for example will handle listings management and presence management at the national level, claiming your listing, etc. and delicate social media to the local store because the local store has the authentic sort of voice of the community and real people and so on and so forth. So that’s a big issue. If I were Petco, I would have some corporate policy that I’d have to adhere to, but let’s say I have discretion at the local level. I’d make sure that my store was claimed in Yelp and Google My Business and on Facebook and then you’d want to build out your social media pretty quickly. You’d want to have your enhanced listings there and then, putting aside advertising, you’d want to build out Instagram and Facebook and maybe Snapchat and maybe Pinterest. Get your local color and local flavor and those cute pictures of pets and your customers with their pets out there on social media and create a sense of community and sense of why this store is special because you’re going to be seeking to overcome this sort of generic cooperate behemoth image. You want to be a friendly neighborhood business even if you’re part of a national brand. Social media is a better way to do that than listings which are just kind of cold versus the social stuff.
Megan: What about blogging on your own site? Like if you could, the local Petco’s blog or the local pet store’s blog, do you think it’s better when you’re just starting to put things on Facebook and Twitter and make sure you have a presence out there? I mean I guess that gets back into more of an SEO kind of a thing which is somewhat the background of ZipSprout so that’s the world I see.
Greg: Yeah, no, no. For sure. I think that- people sort of- you know, on the checklist, blogs are always there. Content marketing and there’s blog and this that and the other. Get citations from the local church and the little league and this one and that one and all of these sort of standard recommendations. I think it’s not worth it to do a blog unless the blog is going to be really good. There’s some perfunctory treatment of a blog or perfunctory content marketing is almost not worth doing because it takes time and it’s not gonna do anything for you. I mean, maybe your rankings will improve a little. Blog is great. If you’ve got people who want to blog, if you’ve got someone who really wants to talk about pet care and the best-or you know, seasonal flowers, whatever you industry is. If you really want to demonstrate knowledge and be an expert and share your passion, of course. That’s a great thing to do. I mean, I was a consultant for eight years. I was at an analyst firm called BIA Kelsey which people in the local space know and then I left in 2006. I didn’t intend for this to happen but I wound up just consulting and being an independent basically for almost eight years and I did some work for some third parties. But the way that I got a lot of my business was just through blogging. People saw me and they thought “oh this is an intelligent person and maybe he knows something, let me work with him.” And that was really all about demonstrating my knowledge through blogs and so it was very successful for me. And I wasn’t calculated in that way, it was just “I have stuff to say, I’m interested, let me share my opinions” so I think blogging has to be considered carefully, but it’s definitely a great strategy if there’s enthusiasm behind it.
Megan: Yeah, no. It’s interesting- because I think- obviously what we’re talking about is more B to B marketing and blogging, which is what ZipSprout does as well, but you know, the B to C world, if you are going to do blogging you have to have, it seems like you have to have more of a viral component- and I say viral with sort of the air quotes because you’re not necessarily going to go viral but it has to have- I think there are different sorts of needs to be met depending on who your audience is for blogging.
Greg: For sure, but I think sometimes what marketers miss in the world of marketing recommendations is people have a kind of a cold approach. You know, check the boxes as I was just saying and really, you know, there so much, dare I say it, crap content out there and just insincere BS. You know, all the influencers on social media pimping all these products that they don’t care about. You know, there’s just so much inauthenticity that when there is real information, helpful information, an authentic voice, ultimately, maybe not on day 1 or day 2, but ultimately that’s going to find an audience and go viral. I mean, if you’re- you know, that has to be sustained by genuine interest or love or passion or it just- ultimately, cynical approaches especially to blogging and content just don’t really work in my opinion and I mean maybe there are contrary examples but I don’t believe in them.
Megan: Well I like yours because it’s kind of very optimistic. Sometimes I see the- I think someone even coined a term for it that I can’t remember right now-that overwhelming amount of content that we’re like drowning in and it seems kind of like “oh, man” but I like that thought that people are more discerning than that is hopeful.
Greg: I mean, I hope so. And this is what Google also prides itself on. Google and it’s page ranks and page rank successors and rank brain and artificial intelligence is trying to be discerning. It’s trying to put itself in the position of the average user who would find value in content. Now, it’s not an individual obviously. It’s doing this all via machines, but that is essentially what Google is trying to do. It’s trying to separate the wheat from the chaff. Whether it does a good job is another discussion.
Megan: That’s what we’re learning. Yeah and I think- yeah- It’s interesting too, just to kind of on a tangent here about this- but the recent- what happened with Facebook where I think they kind of too soon asked their machines to find what was good news content versus what wasn’t. Kind of I feel like in some ways it can be hard to do that with some machines. So.
Greg: Yeah, absolutely. And then they had humans involved and they got accused of bias which is the other side of it. I mean, the world of content marketing is completely out of control. I mean, in my opinion and there’s so many- I mean, I’m on the receiving end. One of my roles is, you know- people think I’m a tech journalist. I’m really not. I’m really sort of like a columnist person, but I write every day and so they’re pitching me stories all the time which is kind of interesting to be on the receiving end.
Megan: Yeah because you’re very prolific so they’re like “well he must be. He must be a journalist.”
Greg: Yeah. And so, I get 50, 60, 70 pitches a day either directly or indirectly as part of a larger group. You know, survey after survey, infographics, white papers, reports. Download this, here let me share this with you. And it’s just blah, blah, blah, blah, noise, noise, noise, blah, blah. And some of the stuff is genuinely interesting, but it’s just a machine. It’s just being churned out. Remember the content farms that got sort of destroyed when Google changed its algorithm. You had all these crowd content. All this garbage content. EHow: How do I change a diaper? How do I put on a sock? Step 1: Take the sock out of the draw Step 2:
Megan: What if it’s the kind of sock that has the toes in it? That needs like a whole other article.
Greg: Exactly. And those were all cynical pieces designed to generate page views for display ads or all the slideshows. It’s just- run the other way. This is partly why I think you see these enterprise marketers feeling like digital is not effective because they’re so much noise. It’s such a cacophony for them and ironically there’s much less noise in the offline world now, in some respects.
Megan: Because it’s- I think it has more gatekeepers obviously. If you’re going to do TV advertisings you have to, you know, call up the TV station whereas if you’re going to do an email newsletter or if you’re going to do Facebook, really anybody can kind of do that. But as far as journalism, that actually kind of dove tails into my next question, so for the last couple of questions I’m going a little tangental. These aren’t really areas that you writers speak about a lot but as a local marketer, I’m very curious to hear you perspective. So, on the Zip, this podcast, we talk to marketers like you, but we also talk to a lot of journalists and leaders of organizations. You know, in particular, I’m finding that journalists and storytellers are the common thread between businesses in organizations but obviously the journalism industry is going through some huge changes right now. So, what would be your advice for marketer who would want to work with local journalists and has that advice changed in the past 10 or 15 years? And I guess you may even have a double perspective on that since people see you as a journalist as well.
Greg: So when you say local journalists are you talking about a local newspaper reporter?
Megan: So kind of both. So, yeah a local newspaper, but also some of the people that I’ve talked to are, you know, used to be part of local newspapers but aren’t anymore and they’re freelancers or they’re running their own online magazines that focus on a particular area. So yeah, kind of both.
Greg: So how should I, as a marketer, if I am in the position of somebody who is trying to sell a story or pitch a story or pitch a piece of content to that journalist, how should I approach them or work with them?
Megan: Yeah. And do you see that that’s changed in the past the decade or so? The way people do local PR.
Greg: Yes. I was just having a conversation with somebody about this, a PR person, last week. So. I think that there used to be more relationship building than there seems to be today. This is all anecdotal, I don’t have any data on this. So it seems like people did establish relationships and then would talk to the journalist, the marketer or the PR person would talk to the journalist. “Hey, I got this study” or “Do you want to my client about this announcement?” and now what I find more often is happening, and this is not a change for the better, is just a sort of a spray and pray machine assisted approach where people are categorized- it’s very much like marketing itself- people are categorized into segments. These guys write about retail, this woman is writing about privacy. People are put into groups and then you have a machine, “Hi, name comma, generic pitch, closing, attached document or press release or whatever” and you know for some people that may work, but I think that journalists in general are kind of overwhelmed by the volume that they are receiving of- inundated- you know this is what I alluded to 50, 60, 70 pitches a day. It’s very hard to pay attention to anything at any degree of depth and the absence of any relationship makes it hard to sort through and kind of establish credibility. And nobody has- You know there’s so much pressure on PR people to get mentions, to get coverage that there is this sort of shotgun, scatter shot approach and that’s being pushed down to younger people who may not have the experience and journalists are just not in a position- you know, I see PR people wanting to make me into the extension of their PR rather than working with me to figure out what interesting story to tell to the marketer. What’s interesting about the data? And I also push back on that. I am not going to be simply a, you know, an extension of your point of view. I have an independent role to play.
Megan: But it- What do you think the solution to that is? Because I fee like the problem- I mean it could go back even jut email because it’s so much easier to send out bunch of emails than it is to make a bunch of phone calls- but what do you think will fix that?
Greg: I think people have to do their homework and I think people have to address, as painful and difficult as this may be, they have to really understand who they’re talking to. The PR people that take the time to address me as an individual get more courtesy from me and get more serious attention from me. I mean, of course there’s scatter- you know, shot gun stuff that I’ll look and if it’s interesting I’ll pursue it. Big brands get attention. Facebook, Google get attention simply because of who they are so if you’re a little company it’s harder. But for PR people, I would advise them to do their homework. Address me or journalists as an individual and figure out whether the pitch or the story is matched to the area of coverage. Figure out what the genuinely interesting angle is. You know, it may not always translate into the story but what’s really interesting here? So much of the stuff is just done for SEO purposes or just done to get coverage. Just done in this kind of wrote way. Nobody is really thinking deeply about these things, let alone doing the kind of direct outreach that, you know, I’m recommending. It’s analogous- and this is the final thing I’ll say about it. It’s analogous to looking for a job. It’s very easy to send your resume out to hundreds of sites, you know, syndicate it out, use an online service. But really a much more effective strategy is actually meeting with people, creating relationships. Understanding through direct communication and research what the role that’s up- that you’re looking for is or building relationships to network. You know, networking into a job, that’s much much more effective rather this kind of like “push the button and thousands of sites will get my resume and I’ll apply to hundreds of jobs simultaneously.” That’s not gonna work. That’s the black box, it’s just not gonna work in 9 out of 10 cases.
Megan: That’s true. I think what I’ve learned also from speaking with local journalists is that they’re- because the journalism industry is becoming less profitable at least in traditional methods- I think there’s a way to work with journalists even with, you know, with a sponsored content or other cools ways too that maybe wasn’t available awhile ago that you can actually- you know, it’s more of an advertisement I suppose but there are but, there are some journalists I’ve talked to that will actually help a company craft their story even if it is a more advertising way of doing it which is kind of neat.
Greg: Or it can be. I mean, I tend to scowl at that kind of stuff because that used to be frowned upon ethically but now it’s just part of doing business. If done well, those kinds of things can be effective. But if it’s just thinly veiled advertising masquerading as content I don’t think that works for anybody.
Megan: Yeah, obviously it would have to be- it does have to be explained as advertising, but, no. Yeah. It’s interesting. Because I think just for journalists in general, they’re trying to figure out different ways to make money. So, it’s interesting to see that as a way if it can be done ethically.
Greg: Well this is a larger conversation, right? The future of journalism and what to do about it. Who’s doing it well and who’s struggling and we don’t have time for that but it’s a fascinating and very important topic. I mean, because you know. If independent journalism isn’t allowed to continue or it doesn’t find a financial model that helps support it then what we get effectively becomes a form of PR. You know, that masquerades as journalism.
Megan: That’s true. It’s less independent. So, I’ve mentioned that I also recently interviewed the development director of a non profit who focuses on bi-local movement. We actually talked about a bit earlier. I feel like even just the term bi-local is kind of just a trend that is prevalent in many industries. Is this a trend, something that local businesses should do more to benefit from? But also, do you see it as something that national brands can work to consider in their marketing? Like think about AmEx and how they have AmEx support small business Saturday that kind of thing. Do you think that this was a purposeful move on their part? That there’s way in thinking about local can help even national businesses in a way?
Greg: I do. I mean, I’m a little bit cynical about the AmEx shop small business Saturday stuff.
Greg: Well, I mean I like the goal. I support the objective. I think there’s some opportunism there. You know, it’s a philosophical discussion. But to go back to your question, I think that enterprises in large brands can definitely kind of make themselves into local businesses and that can be part of their marketing. You know, what is telling the story of the employees or the community around them. Being- carrying special- carrying different inventory for that community. Being really responsive and being really service oriented depending upon the business. Not simply being- participating in the community through charity, through involvement in different ways. There’s lot of ways for enterprises to be effectively local businesses and all enterprises should be local business. They should be invested in the community and they should be trying to be responsive to the needs of people and not simply be some cookie-cutter regardless of where we are kind of template. So I definitely agree that there’s ways to do that and that will ultimately benefit them in consumer attitudes.
Megan: Yeah, no, I think so. Kind of like when you go into Starbucks and you see their community board and you go “oh hey.” It just- even little things like that I think can help.
Greg: I mean, I think that people really do – you know, the line that I say is that if- in helping to try to educate small businesses through some of the workshops that we do about digital marketing, I really feel there’s a lot at stake. These business, local businesses, need to figure out how to market themselves effectively in digital media because if they don’t it’s going to be all Walmart and Subway or Walmart and McDonalds. It’ll be franchises and it’ll be these giant corporations. Nobody wants that. I mean, those businesses have a place in the community but they shouldn’t define the community because then everything becomes generic. It’s really about having a mix and diversity and- so it’s great when you see how much money- Whole Foods has signage where they talk about giving money back to the community or produce that’s from local farms and this, on one level is marketing, but on another level it’s real meaningful stuff behind it. So all of that stuff needs to increase and it will only benefit these enterprises that do those kinds of initiatives.
Megan: Obviously, being from ZipSprout, I totally agree. So, final question. Why- So you know, I read- So your bio mentions that you used to practice law so you kind of made a pivot. Why did you decide to focus on local marketing in particular? What about local marketing, whether it be philosophically, business-wise, kind of just whatever, what about this area interests you the most and do you really love waking up and talking about it everyday?
Greg: Now, this podcasts turns into a therapy session. Well, I sort of stumbled into it. I’ll give you the very short version. I was- I did civil litigation for almost twelve years and for the most part I didn’t like it. I was very unhappy. Then I wound up working for- years ago in 2000, ’99 or 2000, ’98- for a site called All Business.com which was a small business resource portal and I learned a lot about small businesses and their predicament. Then I went to what was then called ZDTV which became Tech TV and now is no longer in existence and I was part of a show called Working the Web which was about small business and e-commerce and websites. So, kind of defacto through those experiences I learned a lot about small business and then I got hired by this firm, the Kelsey Group at the time, and became essentially an analyst writing about digital marketing and small business and doing a lot of research and it was really fascinating. Some of the issues we’ve been talking about were kind of behind my interest in it and now I’ve been doing it for like 15 years or 16 years now and there are certain things that are really still interesting to me. The technology’s changing, consumer behavior’s changing, the challenges of marketers that we’ve talked about are still interesting, but there’s also stuff that’s really boring that I’ve been talking about forever and ever. What’s ironic to me is I’ve been sort of preaching the gospel of local marketing, local search and online to offline literally for 15 years or more maybe depending on how you count it and it’s only since the iPhone and mobile marketing in the last five or six years that people are starting to get it. That people are really seeing “oh this internet thing impacts offline purchase behavior, wow”
Greg: Yeah. Yeah. No. I mean local is now one of the hottest areas in digital marketing as a consequence. Both for brands and small businesses. It’s always been for small businesses. So I find- the thing that I find the most interesting is doing things like this. Talking to people like you and business owners at events about the challenges. There are just layers and layers of nuance here and that stuff is really interesting. I’d love to keep talking but we’re closing in on the end here.
Megan: Well, thank you. Greg, thank you so much. And I agree, the more I dig into local the more I’m like oh my gosh, there is so much and it is very interesting and I totally agree with what you said a bit earlier about the diversity of local. I think that- having- the fact that every local area has its own thumbprint is pretty awesome.
Megan: Thank you so much for talking with me today. I really appreciate your time. And real quick if people want to check out some of your writing, if they want to follow you, where can they find you online?
Greg: Well the place where everything comes together is Twitter, @gsterling. I also write for Search Engine Land and Marketing Land. I have my own blog ScreenWerk.com, with an E. S-C-R-E-E-N-W-E-R-K. I’m not writing so much on that anymore and the local insider blog which is the LSA official blog which is on localinsider.com. So I’m on all of those and do my best to sort of write about all this stuff and it’s very challenging to keep up with.
Megan: I’m sure, yeah. Thank you again and I hope you have a great afternoon and rest of your Wednesday.
Greg: You too. Thank you for having me.