Why Local is ‘The Last Mile’ for National Restaurant Brands

Local search has had a big moment during the pandemic, and now as inflation surges and inventory challenges mark the latest hurdle, I think that moment is here to stay. Industry advertisers have needed to remain nimble as economic conditions have turned on a dime, reevaluating their campaigns to reflect changing restrictions, consumer behaviors and more, sometimes at a mere moment’s notice. Despite these challenges, on-premise dining continues to return, with 13 million diners seated via Yelp in Q1 2022, up 48 percent compared to Q1 2021.

As we look at the impact of the last two years, the importance of prioritizing local advertising and creating campaigns that spoke to individual, local communities became clear, especially for national brands.

In fact, according to a 2022 survey from BrightLocal, 78 percent of U.S. consumers have used the internet to find information about local businesses more than once a week. At Yelp, we call this local search piece of a campaign “the last mile,” an opportunity for brands to own the moment a consumer says, “I’m hungry, where should I go?” 

'The Last Mile'

This concept of “the last mile” was popularized by the transportation industry as they looked to bridge the gap between public transportation and a consumer’s final destination. Micromobility solutions like scooters and ridesharing became a staple of the industry, not to mention an important mechanism to extend profits.

Last mile similarly applies when looking at the advertising industry. National brands do an incredible job of bringing their branding and messaging to the masses, but local search—the last mile of the consumer journey that will ultimately bring the customer into your restaurant or retail location—remains an often overlooked yet critically important element of the media mix. 

National brands doing local search best are those that will thrive, especially in a cloudy economy. Let’s look at some key tenets that national brands must consider when first entering or expanding their campaigns into local.

Local Search Done Right

When considering extending your campaign to local search, there are a few things that set the most successful campaigns apart. 

Engage on platforms where your target consumer is making decisions. The platform is key to connect your brand to the consumer at the right point in the consumer journey. Do you want your advertising to drive consumers to visit your restaurant,  make online orders, or deepen their relationship with your brand? Or all of those? Work with a platform that has a track record of driving consumers to take actions that reflect your personal brand goals.

A local campaign isn’t local if you don’t localize it.

Ensure you have a good content partner in place. The right partner should be able to employ all the local search-specific tools and content management solutions that exist today. This starts with the basics—are your hours up to date, menus and address correct, and website driving to the correct URL? These are all of the little things that together allow the user to discover you and transact with your business. 

Amplify your content with the right ad product. When undecided consumers are making decisions about which restaurant to eat at in their local community, it’s critical that content and ads work together effectively to capture them. The best platforms create cross-functional solutions that seamlessly and successfully merge content and ads to turn “where should I eat?” into “I should eat here.” Look for platforms that can fully leverage your brand’s full slate of seasonal moments and limited-time items or offers to create a halo effect across content and advertising.  

Establish an attribution tech suite that allows you to allocate spend according to performance. As with any campaign, go in with a clear focus on your goals and how you’re measuring them: For example, are you looking to increase incremental foot traffic or generate  transactions? Local search can be particularly effective in driving store visits, an important metric for many national restaurants and retailers. Put in the work up front so you know how to keep your campaign fresh and determine what incremental investments are needed to really deliver. Look for platforms that can provide a strong mix of first and third-party attribution tools that show the full picture of your campaign’s performance. 

A local campaign isn’t local if you don’t localize it. Bring your national campaign to the local level utilizing the aforementioned marketing levers. Embrace the feedback you receive from local communities, as well as the results you see. Is your campaign driving orders but not store visits? Adjust your campaign so that the right elements are firing at the right times to draw consumers into the funnel. What works in San Francisco may not work in Tulsa. Pay close attention to individual market results and adjust your campaign to each market.