Have ‘Local’ and ‘Location’ Lost Their Luster?

Mapn my view the term “local” has aways been misunderstood. Many agencies, investors and brands have historically seen it as a surrogate for “small business,” which is equated in some circles with “small time.”

I have frequently joked in the past about living and working in the “local ghetto.” This, despite the fact that well over 90% of all US businesses are SMBs and that there are trillions of dollars in consumer spending and billions in advertising flowing through the local market.

Regardless, for whatever combination of reasons, the term “local” has not done a great job of carrying or conveying what I and others have been trying to express – essentially the “online-to-offline” consumer buying pattern.  

The concept of online-to-offline (or “O2O”) has also been around for a long time, beside the now unused “ROBO” (research online, buy offline). Online-to-offline however may be gaining new currency; I heard it used at Facebook the other day.

The most immediate and obvious alternative to “local” is “location” (“geo” may be a bit clinical). The term “location” is used by the IAB and MMA pretty extensively. Location is more descriptive and not as burdened by a small business association.

xAd collateral

Now “location” may also be falling out of favor. In a different way than “local” that term may also have grown tired.

An anecdotal case-in-point: xAd did a slight rebranding and repositioning earlier this year. The company now says that it delivers “the intersection of places and people.” If you dig deeper into the company’s collateral the word “location” repeatedly appears but the new positioning elevates audience targeting (“people”) as much as emphasizes location (“places”).

Mobile networks, in an effort to appeal to brands and national marketers, have translated location/geo into audience profiling and targeting in a many instances (see, xAd, Verve, JiWire, Factual, Skyhook, Sense Networks/YP, Thinknear). Indeed, a speaker from YP’s Sense Networks said on a webinar recently that audience targeting was more effective than geofencing.

We can debate what’s more effective but it shows how audience has stolen location’s thunder to a degree. The xAd tag line “people and places” attempts to balance the two.

Behind the scenes of course location is a critical variable to derive audience data. But from a marketing and branding perspective “location” appears to have lost some of its luster.

Accordingly, the language of “places” and “place based marketing” is starting to creep into use. As another example, I organized indoor location conference “Place 2013” last October (Place 2014 is happening in July in New York). Part of the reason for the “place” terminology is its relative freshness and the absence of some of the earlier associations.

What do you think about whether “local” and “location” have grown tired and whether there are better terms out there?

Update: I was reminded this evening of the term “SoLoMo.” It was popularized by Mary Meeker in 2011 and has arguably, already run its course.


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6 Responses to “Have ‘Local’ and ‘Location’ Lost Their Luster?”

  1. Street Fight Daily: Just Eat Orders IPO, Lyft Raises $250M | Street Fight says at

    […] ‘Local’ and ‘Location’ Lost Their Luster? (Screenwerk) Many agencies, investors and brands have historically seen the term local as a surrogate for […]

  2. ben says at

    Hey Greg, I never liked the term local. Its kinda like being a vintner and saying you’re in the liquids business. yes, maybe it’s technically accurate, but not particularly helpful, nor reflective of what you actually do, or beneficial to making a sale… and also comes with so much existing baggage.  

    I use the term “place based” quite a bit, but generally still get blank stares from 90% of the people with the other 10% saying ” oh like yelp?” I’ll occasionally throw in a ‘spatial’ reference… also blank stares…so those aren’t ideal either. IMO “Geo” is insidery lingo… and SoLoMo was even worse, as a buzz word for a super specific and overdone combo of things.

    I suspect that we may see a comeback of the term  ‘presence’ before long.  As it kinda encapsulates the ideas of people combined with a place, and conceptually mixes nicely with a broad set of things from IOT and beacons to presence in front of your tv, etc.  The term location conjures up a certain degree of specificity that presence may not, and that’s not always a good thing.  

    In terms of the audience targeting companies, I don’t think it’s audience stealing thunder from location, as much as the reality that while there are many ways that a digital record of peoples’ presence will be useful for marketers… right here and now mass national marketers are already accustomed to talking about and spending money by targeting audiences… so combining location with other data to create “audiences” is just going after the lowest and most obvious fruit (and not trying to change buyer behavior too much), squishing location into the familiar mold that big ad buyers are already quite comfortable with. 

    I’d agree that location as a single piece of stand alone info, frankly is not all that exciting and people that view it that way are probably going to get over the novelty of geo-fencing pretty quickly. But add location and a lot of the worlds virtual information suddenly has new context. So adding location to simple spatial data may help place someone in a certain “mobile audience” bucket today, but tomorrow perhaps a novel pairing of  location with some other data will better divine customer ‘intent’,  create a valuable ROI metric or maybe a greater situational intelligence signal that will indicate ones disposition toward taking action… and more than likely none of those things are likely to be labeled as a ‘location’ solution.  

    I kinda view it as simply “location” growing up from a novelty to something more useful, as it sits behind the scenes powering more and more useful capabilities… maybe to the point where we wouldn’t expect to even talk about location explicitly like ‘powered by location’ any more than we’d now say ‘powered by databases’… it’d just be assumed.    

  3. Greg Sterling says at

    Thanks. Generally agree. Location+ is becoming the norm or location is a layer in a larger stack of targeting parameters and methodologies. Agree with the point about the familiar language and approach of audience targeting. That’s what’s motivated the shift among these networks.

  4. Brian Ostrovsky says at

    Our culture loves catch-phrases and hyperbole and within the tech/startup realm it’s even worse. Web 2.0, Native Advertising, all the variations you listed above etc. You hear investors wanting to invest in “innovative and revolutionary” companies but looking for a one-liner that references predecessors – “we’re like Google Maps for pet stores”.

    At Locable, we’re in the Local business but we prefer to say we serve Communities – for us this encapsulates both the location and the relationship aspect of what we do but we use it because it’s part of our ethos. When talking to publishers we speak of helping them serve their community and advertisers by cultivating an engaged audience, to advertisers we speak of helping them engage with their target audience, and for the audience (the locals) we talk about improving quality of life – since where we are affects us in countless ways.

    Local is hard to describe because it’s hard to effectively serve and that doesn’t sit well with people who want to build a piece of technology that can be all things to all people. Which, I would argue, is why “Local” is still a massively underserved space with incredible potential.

  5. Steve says at

    It’s more than just the acronyms that need updating. Local now isn’t where you live, it’s where you’re at; and where you’re at isn’t the street corner it’s the supermarket, the shoe shop, the bar, the concert hall, the baseball stadium or any of the dozens of physical locations we may visit during the course of a day to where we permit ourselves to be tracked and where we can buy stuff. It’s not O2O or ROBO but MPOP–“Mobile Point of Purchase”. Kellogg’s knows you’re in the cereal aisle at Walmart and since you’ve already shared your age, gender, marital status and liked some brand or other somewhere (info they’ve purchased from the network that respects your privacy) it lets them also know to ping you with either an offer for Cocoa Krispies, All Bran or both. Heineken recently partnered with Foursquare to push promos to a demographic of soccer loving Caucasian/Hispanic males precisely at the moment they were considering which brew to quaff.
    (Foursquare already knows who and where they are) With wearable tech, Aquafina will know if you’re dehydrated and the nearest location at which to replenish your fluids; Starbucks will suggest a grande double shot espresso if your BP or pulse fall below an optimal range. No matter what we call it the ultimate objective is to know what you need before you do and be available to satisfy the need the moment you realize it too. In this context, “Local” no longer matters.

  6. Manish says at

    The old adage still applies…Location. Location. Location. Having sold “location” -based services for 16 years. I am interested in what resonates most with our customers. While SoLoMo may be going out of favor in our circles. Brands are wrapping their heads around this concept.

    The key difference is the Hype Cycle vs. Sales Cycle. You see as marketers we love the Hype Cycle. Case in point foursquare was hyped heavily in 2010…wasn’t until 2011/2012 when brands starting asking about FSQ. Brands can’t react fast enough or at least as fast as we are hyping some new shiny widget.

    There is a high seduction value in of trying something new. The Intersection of People and Places. That’s cool. What about the intersection of price/product/place/promotion. Oh wait that’s already taken.

    Happiness may not be a destination(location) but for brands connecting a consumer to their location is pure bliss 😉

  7. Service Central says at

    I think So Lo Mo was popularised by the introduction of smartphones, and the new features they brought with them. Now that smartphones have been around for a while we can now see that Companies based around just the “feature” of location (like Foursquare) are just treading water, or even going backwards. Given this, at least from a startup perspective “Local” and “So Lo Mo” have definitely lost their touch.

  8. Will Mobile Ad Tech Consolidate? Not Yet, Says Verve CEO | Street Fight says at

    […] a blog post published last week, marketing analyst Greg Sterling asked whether the terms “local” and […]

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