Five Digital Options for Local Store Marketing

Local merchants aiming to promote their businesses are presented with almost too many options. Several small business owners jump at offline tactics like direct mailers, advertising in neighborhood circulars, door-to-door flier distribution, inclusion in coupon “value packs”, etc. While these offline tactics can be effective in driving eyeballs and awareness, measurement of their ability to generate long-term customers can sometimes be a chore.

For the local store marketer looking to mix a little digital flavor into her playbook, here are five options to consider.

Brief Caveats:

  • Local businesses are encouraged to create a marketing plan, not just a list of tactics.
  • Consider how your company is different than others in your area, and identify your unique message.
  • Incorporate analytics & measurement into everything you do. Rely on numbers as a guide when crafting and modifying your local marketing strategy.

1. Search
Search engine optimization is not just a viable tactic for behemoth, corporate juggernauts with staffs larger than your hometown. People are searching for your shop too. Use the keyword research tools to determine the exact terms for which people are searching. Focus on your niche and your small patch on the globe. Be smart about targeting and budget allocation and use search to your advantage.

Some Tips:

  • Remember that search engine optimization equates to the art and science of getting your site ranked well in natural search. This is determined in part by your site design, the number of links coming to your site and the degree to which your site incorporates relevant keyword terms. To clarify further, check out this SEO analogy.
  • Every page on your site is a possible entry point. Conduct research and match keyword terms with pages on your site. Incorporate those terms artfully into titles, meta descriptions, headlines and text without stuffing.
  • Think locally, act … well, locally. If you own a barber shop in Casper, Wyoming, utilize keywords like “casper wyoming barber shop” as opposed to “barber shop” that has relevance for every business dedicated to cutting hair in the English-speaking world.
  • Experiment with search engine marketing or pay per click campaigns. Your business can create geo-targeted campaigns that show text ads just to those searching in your area. Ads are sold and displayed in an auction-like environment so you can control how much you are willing to spend per click and per day. Start small and have a specific consumer end-goal in mind with your pay per click campaigns (e.g. “get directions”, “download this coupon”, “sign up for our newsletter”). Don’t spend money for eyeballs; encourage visitors to take action.

2. Local Listings
Natural and paid search take up only a piece of the search results page. Other real estate is dedicated to local listings. Google allows small business owners to create an account to manage their place online. Fittingly, this program is called Google Places. Other opportunities exist to list your business on several popular websites where potential customers are likely to find you.

Some Tips:

  • Securing your listing in Google Places is half the battle. Much like search engine optimization, your ranking against other local listings is dependent upon a few factors: 1) how well your company description is optimized with relevant keywords, image and video, 2) how many times your business has been reviewed by customers, and 3) the quality of your business reviews.
  • Once you have secured your listing in Google Places at no charge, consider Tags. For $25 per month, you can add a Tag to your Google Places listing. This essentially helps you stand out from the crowd visually and allows you to provide just a bit more information for customers (i.e. coupons, menus, reservations tips, etc.)
  • There are dozens of other local listing entities to which you can submit your business. To simplify matters, check out Yext. This is a new service with which business owners can secure and manage listings on sites like Yellowbook, Yahoo, Superpages, CitySearch, MapQuest, Topix, Yelp and others. Instead of managing and paying for all those listings in desperate locations, Yext gives you one interface at the price of $99 per month. It’s brand new so proceed with caution, but this offering looks pretty darn solid.

3. Social Media
One of the best opportunities any business can enjoy is to spend quality time with its customers. Asking important questions, welcoming honest feedback, encouraging open-ended sharing, building relationships. All of these kinds of interactions are vital to the survival of the small business. Social media can allow for this kind of dialogue in most cases. It seems you can’t throw a rock in any direction without hitting two or three social media gurus, ninjas, cowboys or consultants that swear by the “epic awesomeness FTW” power of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others. For some it works, but it’s not right for every business. To find your voice, you must find your customers’ first.

Some Tips:

  • Gauge the level and context of conversation before partaking in it. Several tools will help you find out what people are saying about your people, your business, your brand and your industry. Take a look at Twitter Search, Social Mention, Sysomos and Radian6 (ordered by depth of offering and price from least to greatest).
  • Before opting for a social media lifestyle, create a social media experiment. Once you have found that your customers are engaged in social media, you may attempt to build a campaign. Take baby steps. Creating a social media presence is not something you can half bake. Develop a short term campaign with a beginning and an end to determine whether a long-lasting social media campaign is in your best interest.
  • If your social media experiment shows promise, commit to an extended campaign. Create editorial calendars chock full of valuable content to make life easier on those actually pushing the buttons. Give consistent effort to show a behind-the-scenes view of the business. Reward attention with special incentives and/or “insider” information.
  • Meanwhile, watch your time. Last time I checked, time is still money, and social media requires a lot of it. Balance effort with output.
  • Consider advertising on social media venues. Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube and Twitter all have ad programs. Learn more about Facebook Advertising.

4. Location Based Services
Location based services or mobile “check-in” programs allow visitors at your location to share their whereabouts and their experience with others. Tools like Foursquare and GoWalla are gaining in popularity. At the time of this post, Foursquare has over 6 million users and that number is climbing. Currently, the location based service experience is primarily centered around game play as customers can earn certain badges and status (e.g. mayorship) by accruing check-ins. However, businesses can claim their venues, provide loyalty incentives and garner some limited analytics. Still in its infancy, this mobile marketing tactic has some promise for both consumers and merchants.

Some Tips:

  • Whether or not you plan to offer incentives to visitors via location based services, you should claim your business with the two most formidable entities in the space, Foursquare and Gowalla. This will allow you to monitor traffic and keep your business details up to date.
  • Promote your presence on location based services with window clings and other promotional signage.
  • Be on the lookout for how big players like Facebook and Google integrate their own versions of location based services, Facebook Places and Google Latitudes, into other programs.
  • Keep an eye out for other up and coming services like Loopt, Whrrl and Shopkick.

5. Email Marketing
Not the best tactic for acquiring new customers, email marketing can be extremely cost effective for encouraging return visits. Due to high rates of SPAM and the previous transgressions of irresponsible marketers over the past decade, email marketing as a practice often shoulders the blame owed to those who misuse it. Use email effectively by following three simple rules: 1) get permission to send first, 2) send something valuable always, 3) measure continuously to improve upon the timing, frequency, content and overall quality of your email marketing messages.

Some Tips:

  • Utilize a program that suits your needs and won’t break the bank. Emma, MailChimp, and Campaign Monitor are fine tools that work within the small business budget. Each has its key benefits, but find the one that is right for you.
  • Adhere to CAN-SPAM rules: include your physical mailing address in all messages, provide an unsubscribe option, and don’t deceive with tricky or misleading subject lines.
  • Integrate your email program with other tactics. If you find searches are increasing for a particular topic, address it with your email recipients. If you are active in social media, encourage those on your list to share each email message. If you are wondering if location based services are right for your business, ask your loyal recipients if they would take advantage.

Admittedly, the list above just dips a toe into all the detail available to local business marketing teams. Pick and choose the tactics that are right for your business and align with your overarching message and strategy. Let me know if you have questions or if you would add a #6 to the list.

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