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Do rural and mobile play well together?

I have been watching the changes that have been coming down the pike for quite some time now with regard to local search. I am not some kind of an expert but I am certainly aware of the trends and changes. Google has been innovating at breakneck speed and most of their innovations have been related to mobile devices, mobile search, and ways for end users to find what they want, when they want it, when they are on the go.

Now my question is, “While all of these whiz bang gadgets and thingies are cool, who are best served by them?” The search industry’s answer is, “everyone,” but I am not convinced that that is the case, or even will be the case for a long time, if ever. Why? Because having a nifty smart phone device is for a certain kind of person. They skew younger (certainly younger than me) and they are people that are generally more associated with attention deficit disorder than anything else.

So where I am I going with this? Here’s my hypothesis. This type of “find it now” technology actually will not affect a larger portion of the people in the US because of where they live and more importantly “how” they live. Sure, it might be cool if you are in New York City visiting and looking for somewhere to have a good cup of coffee, but that works only in an urban setting. Folks in rural settings already know where they get the best cup of coffee because they are likely to have fewer choices, and their friends have pointed them there anyway, not Google.

I live in Wake Forest, NC, which is nice little town of about 25,000 people. When I found out about the “Near You Now” feature of Google’s mobile search, I tried it in town and it worked. It told me about the coffee shop (the only one on the main street of downtown”). After the cool factor wore off, though, I realized that in my limited geography, Google had simply told me what I already knew. Sure, if I am a visitor to any area, this could be helpful, but the volume of “visitors” to Wake Forest that are completely clueless about the services available are few relative to the overall population.

Oh, and most people in the US? They don’t travel much. If it’s a week a year it’s a lot, and many like to shut down their gadgets during that time. So how does that help the local business who is looking to tap into the mobile crowd?

So, on a local level these kinds of services really don’t do much, unless local to you means Boston, New York, Chicago, Dallas, LA, etc. What means something to the rural citizen is where their friends are. Knowing that maybe people like Foursquare (the location-based game that tells people where you are and gives rewards for participation) are on to something bigger. It’s not the place, it’s the people. How about that? People in much of the world value relationships over things. Who woulda thunk?

So what I am going to be keeping my eye on is which people are using the types of cool urban-centric services that are associated with the mobile Web. As a marketer, it will be important to not fall into the trap that everyone uses their mobile device in the same way. Honestly, there would be little that Google could tell me about Wake Forest, NC that I don’t already know by virtue of living here.

So for the rural crowd, what happens when the “neat-o!” factor wears off on these services? Probably the same as always–they will look to find their friends and talk about how they get out of the town that they know so much about.

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  1. Avatar karen ross

    Great post. The mobile technology target isn’t that different from many services in America aimed at pop culture – youthful and centered in high density, urban populations. I live in a small retirement/resort town but I do visit a major urban area monthly. And I take a lot of back road trips -for fun and family. I get great value from my iphone and google search on the go. I use google search for local bus phone numbers and menus every week. Even if I know the best place to go, I call and see if they’re open. In really small towns, hours may not be regular. Shops around here regularly ignore their posted hours. Must always call first! And in many rural areas (and definitely in this retirement/resort area), there are lots of elderly who must travel for medical services. Again iphone is very helpful for those doctor trips. I miss the big city. Mobile technology brings it to me.

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    Great post. I recently was traveling in rural Wisconsin, and when I actually had service, I tried using the near you app. I learned fast that it is still best to ask a local. Luckily, in small town America people are still happy to help and have a conversation.

  3. Avatar Bruce Marler

    As the founder of a company that focuses specifically on rural areas and helping small businesses start their shift to online advertising (slowly in most cases) I can tell you that local search does matter.
    We have enough case studies at this point to show that people are looking for these businesses online and it does convert to new business or keeps current customers from finding a competitor.
    The other thing that may be surprising is the amount of social media questions I get daily as well. With the rise of Facebook and the move of the rural and older generations to use it there is a certain comfort level that was not there before when it comes to services like this.
    Most of my professional life was spent traveling around the country and world in urban areas and then traveling back to my home in rural Missouri. After seeing a gap in people serving these communities (and not understanding how they tick) I founded a company this year focused on specifically that.
    Mobile (combined with local) search matters even in rural areas.

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    The culture in Europe however is very different, frequently Europeans will go to another country for the weekend. Americans tend to travel far less, but I believe that is changing.

  5. Avatar Rullegardiner

    I travel a lot and found google as a technology blast. I find it really useful to travel rural areas as I’m a Nomad.

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