Time to Retire the Term ‘HyperLocal’

map pinIt’s quite possible that I coined the term “hyperlocal.” (Updated: It turns out I did not, per Laura Rich) Yes, that sounds grandiose but I believe I may have been the first to use it in a panel description for a Kelsey Group conference I planned back in maybe 2005. There was panel featuring “hyperlocal” publishers.

It’s also possible I had seen the term somewhere and incorporated it into the panel description. Regardless of whether I merely adopted it or actually coined it it’s time to retire the term.

It was originally used to articulate a value proposition suggesting the content of the particular news or directory site was truly or genuinely local. Specifically “hyperlocal” publications were more local than newspaper metro daily websites.

Now it’s a term that confuses people and its overuse has made the term somewhat opaque and even empty.

Most brands and national agencies don’t know what do with the idea of “hyperlocal marketing.” As I wrote earlier this week it seems the opposite of what they’re looking for: scale. And most small businesses don’t know or understand the term, if they’ve heard it.

In short the idea, which had a certain descriptive utility at one time, has run its course. Local, localized marketing, geofencing or location-based marketing still have some value. However in a mobile context what we really mean now when we say “hyperlocal” is something more like highly customized or personalized (based on location). But location is both literal and “metaphorical.” If you’re in the mall you’re shopping, which is potentially more important than your specific geographic location.

I’ve argued that location, at least for national marketers and brands, will become one of a larger list of targeting variables or part of a larger discussion of “context” for marketers. Beyond geofencing, location will chiefly be utilized by brands, retailers and franchisors as a way to find audiences. In that scenario hyperlocal doesn’t mean much or add anything to the conversation.

Who disagrees with me and thinks the term still has merit?

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21 Responses to “Time to Retire the Term ‘HyperLocal’”

  1. Dave Elchoness says at

    I think I agree. Increasingly we talk about filtering data in a variety of ways: by friend or extended friend relationships, by location, by interests.  I suspect this will only become more important as mobile becomes more sophisticated, cars adopt infotainment, and wearables become the norm.  The point is that big data or the ‘web’ on a macro level is largely inaccessible in the context to what, where, when, etc. Surfing the web isn’t going to happen on a mobile or wearable to the same extent as on the desktop, largely for lack of time – who wants to research on the street? So, “hyperlocal” is really just one of many potential filters which may or may not be the most appropriate depending on the service.  Hyperlocal alone doesn’t do the trick.

  2. stuart o'neill says at

    While geolocaltion has taken a path that is more specific than hyperlocal there are valid uses IMHO. A good example is the hyperlocal journalism site. A larger, but single subject like SyriaDeep.org is localized in a larger sense.

    But the site that specializes on gang violence in a small specific area of East Los Angeles is truly hyperlocal.

    So in a sense the term is obsolete but in another context is valid.
    (Please excuse any spelling or format errors. I swear I’m getting a netbook. This older very small smartphone keyboard is killing me. )

  3. Greg Sterling says at

    Stuart: valid points. But I think the term is now empty of meaning for most people.

  4. Laura Rich says at

    Hi Greg,

    Interesting intellectual discussion. But btw, “Hyperlocal” pre-2005:
    https://www.google.com/search?q=hyperlocal+2004&num=30&hl=en&sa=X&ei=22AJUZuGM-iEygHghIHQDg&ved=0CCAQpwUoBg&source=lnt&tbs=cdr%3A1%2Ccd_min%3A1%2F1%2F2000%2Ccd_max%3A12%2F31%2F2004&tbm=

    Great to see you at our hyperlocal conference this month, thank you for moderating!

    Laura
    CEO & co-founder
    Street Fight

  5. Greg Sterling says at

    Clearly I didn’t coin the term then :). My first published article using the term (that I could find) is May, 2005 about Backfence. I allude to another earlier discussion, which I can’t find.

    And here was the 2005 conference session I was referring to:

    Hyper-Local Content Sites
    Through various strategies and methods there are a number of sites generating what might be called “hyper-local content.” These sites contend that the content they offer is not available anywhere else online and especially not on the big Internet brands, directories or even newspaper sites. What is the outlook for these hyper-local sites and where do they fit in the overall local ecosystem?
    Donna Bogatin, President & CEO, VIPOffers.com
    Susan Williams DeFife, President & CEO, Backfence
    Lorren Elkins, CEO, The American Town Network
    Howell Jones, VP, Marketing, DiscoverOurTown

  6. ‘Hyperlocal’: What Does It Mean? | Street Fight says at

    [...] Greg Sterling, one of the smartest people in the hyperlocal space, asserted that the term “hyperlocal” should be retired. Tongue in cheek, he claimed he coined the term, [...]

  7. Laura Rich says at

    Thought to write a response:
    http://streetfightmag.com/2013/01/30/hyperlocal-what-does-it-mean/

  8. Greg Sterling says at

    Will take a look . . . Thanks

  9. Pankaj Mathur says at

    Greg,
    it makes sense and I can draw a comparison with a similar phenomenon. Back in early days of Internet, we used to “surf” the net a lot!

    But now it seems silly as focus is on productivity and meaningful use of your time. Similarly we may be getting past the debate of whether it is local, hyper local, social-local and probably getting closer to focusing on a need – information, news, finding a person, a business etc.

    My two cents, good blog though!

    Pankaj

  10. Greg Sterling says at

    Thanks Pankaj . . .

  11. Robert Thompson says at

    Just when we’re beginning to get organizations to recognize how to do hyperlocal properly, it’s become passé.

  12. Street Fight Daily: LivingSocial Records Massive Loss, Facebook Offers Jump | Street Fight says at

    [...] to Retire the Term ‘HyperLocal’ (Screenwerk) Greg Sterling: The term ‘Hyperlocal’ was originally used to articulate a value [...]

  13. Greg Sterling says at

    @Robert: Not everyone agrees; see Laura Rich above. But I think the term has become something of an obstacle now. 

  14. Julie Brooks says at

    I agree, “hyperlocal” is meaningless. It’s like saying “super-duper” instead of just “super.” For those of us who sell advertising to very local mom-and-pop businesses, the only kind of advertising they have ever bought is local. So what does hyper local mean? Hyper local as opposed to local as opposed to regional or national? Or are we talking about branding/relational versus transactional/direct response? Or are we talking about local businesses reaching local customers, or national brands reaching customers in a specific area?

    If we define “local marketing” as marketing which connects either local or national businesses with customers in a specific geographic area, then that would encompass virtually all media, since TV stations have local affiliates, the WSJ has regional editions, and so forth. If you you are going to define hyper local as being smaller than local, you can’t, because you haven’t defined local yet. So we are back to DMA’s. Except that the DMA’s don’t drill down enough. Sigh,

  15. Greg Sterling says at

    @Julie: Thanks for your comments. I’m wondering what sort of things your SMBs are asking for: better websites, SEO, social media management?

  16. Julie Brooks says at

    Greg: I call my customers VSB’s (very small businesses.) I have had hundreds of such customers for 15 years. Most have fewer than than 15 employees. As far as Internet marketing goes, they want and are willing to pay for: websites, mobile websites, SEO (“I want to come up on Google”), listings/minipages on local targeted niche websites such as CapeCodTravel.com, WeddingsonCapeCod.com.

    What they used to pay for and won’t any more, (not enough ROI): social media management. What they can’t do themselves and sometimes are willing to pay an employee or agency to do: email marketing, PPC. What they have been increasingly willing to do in greater numbers: pay for display ads or listings on local news sites, especially short-term visibility for an event. The growth in local news web advertising I have experienced would be dandy except for the pesky need for profitability and news sites cost a lot more to run than my niche sites. Luckily I have my niche sites to subsidize the news site (kind of like how the special supplements subsidize the rest of the newspaper), so I do have a profitable business model, 100% dependent on niche sites and strong, face-to-face relationships with the advertisers.

  17. Greg Sterling says at

    Most SMBs fall into your VSB category. Most have fewer than 4 employees. So you say they’re no longer willing to pay for socail media management. Are they managing FB pages and TW accts themselves?

  18. Julie Brooks says at

    More like not managing them. The owners of these businesses wear a lot of hats and many aren’t so tech savvy. If they don’t provide us with basic info, promotions or content (and 90% of them do not) to manage their social media, we have to come up with it, and we have to charge them about $250 – 500 month for this. Is a plumber going to see the ROI on this? Probably not. A restaurant/bar with live entertainment? Probably. About 90% of the businesses in my market shouldn’t invest in social media marketing IMO, they should invest in getting a website which converts visitors, SEO, and local advertising.

  19. Greg Sterling says at

    So most of them are just either not seeing value in social media or not participating at all?

  20. Julie Brooks says at

    Both. Many of them have set up FB pages for their businesses (or their kids did it for them.) Maybe one of their 20 something employees can be corralled into updating it and this last for about 4 posts. Then no one does it. Then they pay my company or someone else to do it. This lasts about 3 – 6 months. They can’t see any measurable effect on their business. How do FB likers make the cash register ring? For most VSB’s, the bloom is off the social media rose. They don’t have the time or money to manage it. Unless it’s a business clearly targeted at younger customers, like wedding vendors, entertainment, it is not worth the time, they feel. Probably some chiropractor somewhere has landed significant new customers through a fabulous FB presence, but that’s the exception to the rule. In Reality Land, VSB’s just don’t have the resources for so little perceived ROI. When did they ever?

  21. Greg Sterling says at

    @Julie: What sort of ROI metric or other “event” would give them confidence in social media — if they could see it was driving offline sales? Have any of your clients tried coupons or offers in social media? 

  22. Nicole Lyons says at

    I think that whether you go with hyperlocal or ‘super duper’ local, there needs to be a delineation between what has been broadly accepted by media buyers and planners as “local” coverage, i.e. DMA-level reach, and content that is truly specific to a small town or city neighborhood.  The improvement in targeting efficiency and contextual relevance is too significant to risk having there be any ambiguity. Fortunately for mobile, since it is so directly connected to an individual, the super duper locality of it is inherent.  But trusted, community-level websites deserve a distinction. “Local” as in the “Local” section of the New York Times is not nearly as targeted or contextually relevant to residents of the Upper West Side as MyUpperWest.com is for a business trying to them, specifically.

  23. Greg Sterling says at

    I think that we should not speak of “local” but of “location targeting” with greater precision, as you suggest: Country, province/state, DMA, city, zip/post code, neighborhood, lat-long.

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