Though they may not have the marketing budget the big chains have, small businesses are in a unique position to take advantage of their location and size in order to succeed.
If your assets are in presentable shape, and you make your business visible by offer something special with a local twist and fitted to your local market, and track your marketing efforts and adapt accordingly, your local customer will root for you.
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Customers Love Local Business
As Shama Hyder, contributing writer who covers business, technology, and marketing in the digital age, wrote in her February 2015 article for Forbes, there has been a considerable resurgence in customers supporting local businesses, and "shopping local" to support the community.
Hyder quotes the numbers reported by a market research company eMarketer, supporting the notion that customers prefer a personalized experience with a small business, also liking the fact that they too are supporting the local community.
Per eMarketer: "According to April 2014 data from AYTM Market Research, personal service was the No. 2 reason U.S. Internet users preferred small businesses vs. large companies, cited by 52.7 percent.
This trailed supporting the local economy (56.2 percent), but it led all other options by at least 23 percentage points. Lower prices did not play a huge role in choosing small businesses. In fact, 61.2 percent of respondents said they would pay higher prices to support small businesses."
Technology Empowers Local Shopping
Consumers are using mobile media more than ever, to search online. Dave Chaffey at Smart Insights reported last July on mobile marketing analytics, writing, "Tablet and smartphone use has doubled from 2012 to 2013 and there are predicted to be more than two billion smartphone users by 2015."
At that point, U.S. consumers spent more time using mobile digital media than desktop; 51 percent vs. 42 percent. While the laptop remained the most popular device at 91 percent, smartphones came in second at 80 percent. Moreover, smart TV came into the mix as one of the emerging devices to search the Internet (34 percent), along with the smartwatch (9 percent).
A Major Shift in Consumer Buying to Mobile Devices
Users of mobile technology are now making purchasing decisions while they're out and about, all the while relying on localized search results. Chances are, you yourself have searched "Restaurants in your area" on your smartphone, or maybe for a local auto shop when your car started acting up on that road trip.
A recent Marketing Exchange article featuring a how-to guide to local SEO for small businesses cites the following: "68 percent of smartphone users have used mobile search to look for a product or service" (Google). You can bet a lot of these results are affected by the location of the person who is searching.
When it comes to local search, however, studies revealed that consumer habits are all over the place, and consumer preferences, whether it's apps, newspapers, or websites, indicated there is no fixed pattern discernable from consumer behavior.
Columnist Wesley Young reported for Search Engine Land: "The Local Search Association (LSA) conducted its annual Local Media Tracking Study of more than 8,000 consumers in 2015 and found that consumers started their search for local information most commonly with search engines but only by a plurality, 40 percent.
The rest of consumers turned to a variety of other media as their first source, including company websites, directories, review sites, newspapers and mobile apps..."
So, what can you do, short of sending someone out in an animal costume to hand out fliers curbside, or spend a ton with Google on banner ads? You could turn this no-pattern pattern in consumer behavior to your advantage and mix and match your strategies.
Some are free and could be DYI (like getting listed in the directories); others, like paid advertising, creating a mobile website that would draw traffic, or tracking analytics, may be worth the money to outsource to the pros.
Below are suggestions of what you can try to market your small business locally.
Build and Optimize Your Website for Local
To market your business, you need online presence, and that includes having a website that would draw traffic and is mobile-friendly. Ideally the website should be up and running about a month before you open or re-open (if you're restructuring and rebranding your business).
Your website could include:
- Contact info (physical address, phone number, etc.)
- Title tags
- Image tags
- Web copy (pages, blog, resources, etc.)
- Audio, video, visuals
- Meta description
- Enabled comment feature
- Ties to your social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.
There are numerous ways to optimize your website, and if you are not familiar with SEO it may be best to hire someone who is. However, one simple way to optimize is choosing the right keywords (search terms): They should be relevant to your business, not too obscure, and should include local info like your city, county, metro area, etc.
Use Video, and More Video to Attract Local Business
Sites with images and other appealing visuals are more likely to be opened in search results, and sites with video are also more likely to make it to the first page of Google search results than the text-based ones. It's even better if your videos are high-quality and optimized for your keywords.
According to data from Syndacast, 74 percent of all Internet traffic in 2017 will be video: "From Vine to Twitter... to YouTube to Facebook, online videos get more views, more plays, and more engagement than any other medium. If you aren't engaging in actively creating and sharing videos, you are missing a very easy ROI boat."
A couple of other findings published by Syndacast include:
- "93 percent of marketers use video for online marketing, sales or communication. Video content is very diverse and can be used in multiple ways. They can be embedded on websites, shared in email campaigns, used to communicate internally, train sales team and used for customers and more."
- "Using the word 'Video' in an email subject line boosts open rates by 19 percent, click-through rates by 65 percent and reduces unsubscribes by 26 percent."
- "Video is such a powerful communication medium that simply using it in an email subject line gains more positive results."
Educate Your Local Consumer
What fits that particular customer's budget? Which options are available locally? What fits his or her specific family needs and unique situation? If you curate your content, and customize solutions, you will become sought after, and customers will consider you a local expert.
- Curate and filter information. Customers are well informed these days, but you, with your expertise, can provide the actionable filters to wade through that information and make a purchasing decision. "That's where a local business becomes indispensable," writes Hyder in Forbes. "You can provide relevancy and support and wisdom to your customers. This is why even though there are tons of real estate websites, people still prefer to work with an actual realtor."
- Write a blog. Write regularly on a blog on your website, or hire someone to do it. Offer tips, resources, and images of your business in action. Feed it into your social media accounts automatically, or promote every post yourself by posting on Facebook, Twitter, etc. This may result in reposts, comments (monitor those and respond promptly), followers, and other ways your customers would engage with your business.
- Send out an e-newsletter. Create a sign-up for an e-newsletter on your site, to build and maintain an email list of your customers. Engage them regularly by sending a newsletter that may contain news, tips, promotions, etc.
Track Your Local Marketing Progress
Set Google Alerts for your business and leading local business, to track your success, and to see what and how your competitors are doing. You can also track your traffic using online tools like Google Analytics. Use it often to see who visited your site, how long they spent there, and what device they've used, among other things.
For instance, if a large percentage of your visitors used a smartphone to access your site, and your site isn't mobile-friendly, you should rethink your setup.
You can track offline, too, by even just asking your customers how they've heard about your business when they come to your store, or asking them to fill out a survey.
Give Back to the Community
By supporting your community you are letting your customers know that you care, and they would choose to do business with you over, say, a chain. It shouldn't be limited by giving to charity. It could just mean providing free resources on your website for your customers, or sponsoring local events, or donating products or services for it.
Even if you just consider speaking or attending an event, it may have a positive impact on the visibility and reputation of your business.
Register on Local Websites and Directories
Increase your visibility and boost your SEO ranking by registering on local directories and sites. Verify profiles where applicable, and update your info if necessary.
- Yellow Pages
- Business section on websites of local newspapers and other media, like TV and radio stations (paid or free)
- Your local City Council
- Your local Chamber of Commerce
- Search engine listings: Google Maps, Bing Local, Yahoo Local
Create Pages and Social Media Profiles for Your Business
Take advantage of free online marketing tools and create presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yelp, Angie's Place, etc., and ask your friends and customers to "Like" your pages or to follow you.
Include contact and location information where possible, including using Google My Business to list your hours, show location in Google Maps, reviews, links to your website, etc. Update those regularly (or hire someone to manage them for you), cross-promote, and post a lot of news, usable content like tips, images and videos.
Using Facebook for Business, you can select advertising objectives, such as "Reach people near your business" or "Raise attendance at your event". You can then target your audience within the radius you set up, run a "local awareness" ad, and promote your event with updates and reminders, while tracking the responses to the event invite.
Get Local Customer Reviews
Getting your customers to review your business could be tricky, because you can't force it without potentially annoying or alienating someone, but that's what makes those positive reviews so precious. They are also great for SEO.
You can at least make it easy for customers to review you, so get listed on Google and major review sites like Trip Advisor, OpenTable, Amazon, Yelp, etc. As Yatin Khulbe points out on HuffingtonPost.com, "According to a BrightLocal study, 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations."
Khulbe also suggest putting a "Review us" link on your site. Sometimes the good old word-of-mouth works just as effectively, and some businesses offer discounts for referrals.
Advertise Offline Locally
Paying for targeted advertising can complement the free options nicely, and doesn't have to be conducted online exclusively. You can:
- Buy an ad in a local newspaper/radio/TV station/billboard
- Bulk-mail a promo card, with a coupon
- Offer a Groupon or a gift certificate
Monika Jansen, writing for GrouponWorks.com, also suggests that you share promotions. She writes: "Instead of just sharing Groupon vouchers, discounts, and promotions in email, share them online and via text.
Seventy-three percent of consumers look for Groupons and other discounts online, 59 percent of customers visit a business specifically to use a Groupon or other coupon, and 90 percent of consumers read texts from businesses within three minutes of receiving the text on their phone."
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Paid Search Listings and One-to-One Targeting
Last but not least, targeted online advertising can do wonders for your business. "If an advertiser knows exactly whom they want to target, they can deliver display and search ads only to that audience, presumably to reduce media delivered to an audience that is less receptive," says Jeremy Yuslum, a New Orleans-based media analyst.
The main goal is not to drive traffic to your website but to your physical store. You can target locally, or hyper locally (referred to as one-to-one targeting), so you can target a list of customers that could be spread out all over the country but are still targeted individually, a "custom audience."
The Google version of one-to-one targeting, Yuslum points out, is linked to email. Other platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, and AdRoll, also target through email (including secondary email addresses).
When you focus on local traffic through paid ads, Yuslum says, the "main characteristic is geo-targeting," meaning that you can set the radius or target audience around your store(s). Geo targeting works on many levels: by country, state, metro area, city, ZIP code, radius targeting (1 km is smallest you can go with Google), and custom geo targeting (use a specific address and draw the boundaries of the target area).
Google can even target airports as separate entities. A lot of display platforms only let you target city or metro area, according to Yuslum.
"It can get really granular, especially with Google," he notes. "The Holy Grail is to come up with tools to link offline results, as in, how much traffic was brought to the physical store and being able to attribute digital media to foot traffic and in-store sales."
One way to track, he says, is to offer locally targeted coupons on the website or via email or ad, which could be scanned and thus connect the in-store sale to the online channel.