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Think BR: Are big agencies failing to engage in local?

With their increasing importance and complexity, brands need trusted advisors to capitalise on 'local' sales channels, writes Duncan Ogle-Skan, digital director at EMO.

Duncan Ogle-Skan is digital director at EMO

Duncan Ogle-Skan is digital director at EMO

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The Local Social Summit, hosted for the second year last week by co-founders Dylan Fuller (Ebay's UK head of adcommerce) and Simon Baptist (group head of syndication and social media at European Directories), was billed as "an independent platform for knowledge sharing and networking for global thought leaders driving local social innovation and success".

An international audience from local search, local social, vouchering, business directories, tech start-ups, trend analysts and entrepreneurs gathered to discuss the intersection between local, social and mobile.

Or to put it another way, to understand how local sales outlets can make use of the increasingly available location-aware, social and mobile platforms to enhance their sales and deepen their relationships with customers.

That the event is happening, the content insightful, speakers passionate and tweet count high (#lss10) is no surprise - the mounting movement behind the convergence of the elements explained above is clear and unavoidable.

I read around this subject daily but still learnt a great deal. What did surprise me, though, was the lack of mainstream representation at a conference discussing an increasingly important and effective space. 

No big marcomms agencies, no big media agencies, no big brand advertisers. Come to think of it, no small or medium sized ones either.

I’m troubled by this. It feels like a ’head in the sand’ approach to a complex yet effective route to building closer ties and real relationships with customers, as well as more effective sales in the channel.

Due to their absence, there was little opportunity for counter points or arguments from the brands and their trusted advisors as to the application and intricacies of the technologies and techniques discussed and their real world applications. Which is a shame, but in no way the fault of the organisers.

What do I take from this? In part, I think there is some inevitability about it. This is an area of hard graft and, although transformational results are possible, it currently requires big companies and their sales networks to think and act like small, agile, passionate SMEs (we heard from three such case studies during the day).

Scaling local is hard, measurements come in micro-integrations and small incremental engagements, and empowerment of local staff is often required.

These are all challenging things for large organisations, whose natural tendency is to centralise not devolve, and to those whose metrics are share of voice and volume of page impressions.

What was clear from the Summit was that success in the local space (where big brands’ customers actually live) will be driven by the passionate, driven and authentic actions of empowered employees working in the sales channels, acting like owners of their own businesses.

Sales networks that currently shun empowerment will need to embrace it. Staff that currently might not even have a marketing budget may soon need to have a voice and some control over their own promotional, tactical destiny.

They need training, guidance, help and content support, but they are the ones that will create a personality for otherwise faceless, voiceless corporations. And they will make a difference, locally.

The pace of change in this area is such that predictions are almost impossible, and brands need trusted advisors to be investing time to help them understand and execute within their sales channels.

One prediction I can be certain of however is that, as these devices, tools and techniques become more recognised and understood, the mainstream will be well represented at Local Social Summit ’11.

Duncan Ogle-Skan is digital director at local marketing agency EMO 

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