By Paul O'Donoghue, VP solution engineering, Uberall
One of the most noteworthy consumer trends to come out of Covid has been the shift in focus to community-based shopping. Of course, e-commerce has experienced a major surge, but many consumers are now searching online for shops and services in the local area to find what they need, especially as daily commutes are no longer the norm and people are avoiding unnecessary travel.
In addition to convenience, consumers want to support local businesses, as well as the communities in which they live. Shopping local isn't just about frequenting small businesses, though. Big brands such as Marks & Spencer, Halfords, and Currys PC World are also thriving at the local level because they have a neighbourhood presence and are well-known, trusted brands that have, at least historically, conducted business predominantly offline.
But in the race to win the attention, and business, of these bricks-and-mortar shoppers, businesses must ensure their 'Near Me' Brand Experience (NMBX) – consisting of all the touchpoints along the customer journey from online 'Near Me' search to offline purchase – is meaningful and positive across multiple channels. Not only that, for global brands and multi-location businesses, this also means engaging with consumers at all levels, whether country, regional, or local.
While many companies manage these communications well at the global level, they often fall down when it comes to building positive relationships with customers at the local level.
Connect the global and local brand experience
Current research shows that around half of Google searches have a local intent, with consumers searching for products and services 'Near Me'. But consumers aren't just searching for local store options. They are turning online to plan their journeys, evaluate local store reviews, and engage with brands directly through social media.
It appears that global brands have started to become aware of the 'Near Me' Brand Experience (NMBX) and its importance in their brand strategies, with Gartner's recent 2020 Spend Survey of CMOs revealing that the most important brand metric for 2020 is brand health – namely, what consumers know and think about a brand.
The challenge for brands has always been that the bigger the brand – and the more locations there are to manage – the more difficult it is to maintain the quality and consistency of the customer experience. To create a memorable NMBX, brands must implement the right multilateral communications strategy that ensures the online to offline customer experience is uniform at the global, regional and local levels.
Create an outstanding NMBX
Global brands tend to have their business information and reputation management under control at the global, and sometimes even at the regional level, but this is often not the case at the local level.
This can be the result of organisational silos, where different levels of the organisation don't share plans, goals, and processes with each other, or due to a simple lack of strategy and resources applied to actively manage the brand experience from top to tail.
The first step for brands to create a successful NMBX is to identify key stakeholders at the global and regional levels to lead the initiative. This project can then be owned at the global level by a single senior marketing lead – CMO or Head of Digital. Limiting key participants tends to generate better outcomes and more efficient project implementation, while still allowing for cross-departmental cooperation.
Develop brand trust through data accuracy
One of the most overlooked, yet vital, aspects of brand trust comes from consistent data quality. Especially now, consumers are searching online for the most accurate and up-to-date information on location, opening hours, and more.
However, as local information is constantly changing depending on an outlet's location, brands need to be able to manage all changes promptly and centrally. This means updating local level data directly via a master data system, or single source of truth, so it can be kept up-to-date across a brand's entire directory ecosystem. If done right, this will increase visibility in search engines, increase trust and positively impact customer reviews.
When it comes to data accuracy, brands are facing a particularly difficult challenge, as operating restrictions during Covid vary not only country to country, but between regions and even neighbouring cities. Just like the UK, changing government guidelines meant McDonald's Germany needed to update their opening hours on an almost daily basis. Because local store managers are always the first to know when key business information changes, they empowered them to log in to their in-house master data management system, powered by Uberall, and update the information quickly. This meant that McDonald's could quickly and efficiently manage data for their almost 1,500 locations in Germany. As everybody was working from a centralised data management system, they were able to stay agile and consistently provide online store information that customers could trust.
For global organisations, ensuring data accuracy across each and every location is no easy feat. But doing so is essential to build and maintain global brand trust amongst local consumers and drive foot traffic.
Strengthen brand health through reputation management and social media
Another key aspect of brand experience is consumer engagement via online reviews and social media. Managing local reviews and engaging on social media effectively can pose unique challenges, as it can be difficult to know who should be engaging with local customers and how to do so at scale, whilst still maintaining brand ethos and identity.
However, online reviews and social media are golden opportunities for brands to interact with consumers the most directly, and, if well-executed, are a crucial way to turn those interested consumers into customers and advocates.
Depending on their aims and goals, brands can manage brand reputation and social media entirely at the global level, or choose to empower local owners/operators with more independent control. Regardless of the strategy, given the breadth and sheer volume of online reviews and social media interactions, a manual approach simply isn't feasible.
Instead, brands can use digital solutions to manage and shape their online reputation and customer engagement, allowing corporate control but providing local teams with access to online interactions as needed. By utilising a platform that makes it easy and simple to respond, backed by clear guidance and communication about core messaging, brands can make certain that their brand experience is consistent and compelling from global to local.
Today's commercial landscape calls for a modernised approach to brand experience. Brands that are able to utilise the right technology tools, processes and feedback loops will be able to achieve an outstanding NMBX for consumers at hundreds, and even thousands, of locations.
While global brand reputation will always be important, when it comes to fostering growth, brands must also focus on improving the brand experience at the individual store level. After all, no matter how good a brand is at creating an image of quality, consistency, and trust, if a customer's experience doesn't match that promise, they won't be a customer for long.