Turning to our smartphones when we need something — a forgotten word, a better price, a movie time — has become a reflex, according to Matt Lawson, director of search ads marketing at Google.
In a new article on Think with Google, Lawson says, "We want things right, and we want things right away. As a result, the consumer journey looks markedly different than it did just five years ago. Instead of a few moments of truth, it’s a series of 'micro-moments' when we turn to mobile to act on a need." [Source: SearchEngineWatch.com]
To see how widespread these micro-moments are, Lawson analyzed Google data and conducted online surveys, exploring the behavior from a number of angles. He focused on I-want-to-go moments — searches specific to location when users are trying to find something nearby.
"Near Me" Searches Are on the Rise
Finding a product or service nearby used to require a combination of the Yellow Pages, a paper map, and a telephone — not the most convenient solution. Thanks to the powerful devices in their pockets, users can now quickly and easily find things around them. And they are, in massive numbers.
Words like "near me," "closest," and "nearby" are increasingly common across the billions of queries on Google every month. More and more, people are looking for things in their vicinity — be it a gym or a mall, a plumber, or a cup of coffee. Google search interest in "near me" has increased 34 times since 2011 and nearly doubled since last year. The vast majority come from mobile — 80 percent in Q4 2014.
"The consumer has never been more informed because that information lies in the phone in their pocket, in their purse, or on their body," says Annie Zipfel, senior vice president of marketing at REI, in Lawson’s article.
Moments of Truth
In these moments, consumers aren’t just getting information, they’re making decisions, often heading straight to stores. "We love when someone comes into the store holding their phone and saying 'I want this tent,' 'I want this bike,' 'Help me find this, I’ve read about this, I’ve researched it,'" says Zipfel.
In fact, 50 percent of consumers who conduct a local search on their smartphone visit a store within a day, and 18 percent of those searches lead to a purchase within a day. If they’re not sure where to eat, nearly half of people won’t search for a restaurant until within an hour of going (that number jumps to almost 60 percent for Millennials). And it doesn’t stop there. Once at their destination, they’re searching to help make good choices. Another survey showed that 40 percent of Millennials looked up information about their food while in a restaurant in the last month. Similarly, "coffee near me" is a popular search on mobile, but so is "macchiato calories."
With a world of information at their fingertips, consumers have heightened expectations for immediacy and relevance. They want what they want, when they want it. They’re confident they can make well-informed choices whenever needs arise. It's essential that brands be there in these moments that matter — when people are actively looking to learn, discover, find, or buy.
"The consumer today, especially with the technology they have available, they expect immediacy," says Serena Potter, group vice president of marketing strategy at Macys.com. "I think search is really one of those tools that allows her to quickly find exactly what she's looking for and better understand where it's available."
I-Want-to-Go to YOUR Store
These micro-moments might happen quickly, but that doesn’t mean brands can’t plan for them. Winning in these moments means thinking through the situations when people will look for your store and making sure you are there. To figure out when these situations are likely to arise, digital marketers use a combination of hypotheses, observations, and data to validate your hunches and dig deeper.
For example, Lawson suspected that "near me" searches are more common when people travel, which is true — they spike 55 percent during both Christmas and New Year’s. They’re also more common on weekends, when people step outside their usual workday routines. And on any given weekend, there are many moments, as new contexts spark new needs. Taking a closer look at location-based searches over the course of a recent weekend, we see that, on Saturday, people were more likely to look for movie theaters and nail salons (treat yourself!). Saturday night was all about finding drinks and late-night pizza. Come Sunday, they were ready for church.
Digital marketers will notice that, while there are a few brands that pop up, many of the top searches for "near me" are generic – "restaurants near me," "breakfast near me," "coffee near me." It seems that convenience often trumps brand loyalty in the moment. So, simply being there isn’t enough, brands also need to provide useful, relevant, frictionless experiences.
Brands like Macy’s, REI, and PetSmart are using new ad types and innovations to do just that. For example, local inventory ads show availability nearby — right in the search ad.
Zipfel explained, "If a consumer were to type in 'road bike,' it’s highly likely that REI will pop up, and they’ll see a visual of the product itself, but they will also find out that the exact bike is in stock at a local store and how far away that REI store is." So, rather than buy online and wait for delivery, consumers can get instant gratification.
"With Google local inventory ads, we're able to expose local in-store inventory to the customer when she's on the go," says Macys.com’s Potter. "We know that what's really going to drive her action is to see that there are eight [items] right now in the store that's five blocks away, in her size, in the color that she wants."
Lawson adds, "The intent-rich moments when people seek location information are incredibly valuable. Based on the insight that 10 to 18 percent of clicks on search ads lead to a store visit, PetSmart is investing more in ads that drive customers to retail stores, like location extensions and directions. Businesses are also fine-tuning their location bid adjustments to show search and display ads to people who are within a certain distance from their stores."
Big Decisions in Small Moments
Today's consumers are increasingly looking for things that are specific to where they are. While the most popular "near me" searches are for things you might expect — gyms, tailors, jewelers, shoe stores, furniture stores, appliances — there are some you may not. People have started to search for "dermatologists near me," "plumbers near me," "jobs near me," and other things that are typically in a high consideration set. Today, this in-depth research doesn’t require a desktop — it’s happening in stolen moments throughout the day.
If you’re a digital marketer, the clear implication here is that you need to deliver on needs in these moments, whether you’re a small business or a global brand. That means committing to be there comprehensively and consistently, delivering relevant, useful messages, and building frictionless experiences, inclusive of apps, site user experience, and beyond. Those who stay centered on the consumer’s context and intent in the moment will not only deliver on needs, they’ll also seamlessly advance the consumer journey and build brand preference along the way.