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Small Business Tips

The complete startup guide to local marketing

MileIQ Team
Portrait of female bakery owner standing in front of counter in shop

If you own a small, brick-and-mortar business, chances are a substantial percentage of your clientele come to you from your region. And no matter what kind of business you run, marketing your products or services to a regional audience can go a long way to boosting sales and patronage.

What is local marketing?

Local marketing, also known as neighborhood marketing, location-based marketing, local store marketing (LSM) or regional marketing, is an advertising strategy that’s aimed at consumers in a specific place. That can mean old-school techniques like running local print ads, sending residents coupons in the mail or tabling at a community event. Still, it can also mean using the latest digital marketing tools with a local focus.

The digital aspect is becoming more and more critical. According to a 2019 survey, 86 percent of consumers rely on the Internet to find local businesses. Also, nearly half of all Google searches in the world are related to local information.

A local marketing strategy is a compelling way to grow your business if you depend on consumers who live or travel in your area. It’s also an effective way to grow your business if you’re trying to expand into a new market or retain your place in an existing one.

For example, Tyler’s, a clothing company that got its start as a T-shirt shop in Austin, Texas, is now a successful national brand. But, it continues to profit from catering to a Texas audience on its website and in marketing materials. And Brooklyn-based ice cream brand Van Leeuwen has used PayPal’s mobile phone location data to issue push notifications to its customers, enticing them to stop by a nearby store.

Who should use local marketing?

Small businesses and early entrepreneurs often depend on local marketing campaigns to make strides in their communities. Restaurants and local retailers are key examples.

National companies and franchises can also benefit from these techniques. Whole Foods, for instance, whose stores span the country, and Wegmans, an eastern U.S. grocery chain, both use local marketing tools to promote specific stores.

A national business can benefit from gaining ground on a local niche market. But small businesses are more likely than large ones to rely on local marketing tools to meet their bottom line.

Why is local marketing effective?

No matter what kind of business you run, focusing on local audiences means creating loyal followers. Local customers have the potential to be repeat patrons, so they are the ones you want to build a strong relationship with. And shaping a trusting relationship with repeat customers is the golden ticket for small-business success.

Loyal customers are also more likely to offer word-of-mouth referrals to their friends and neighbors. This type of grassroots marketing is one of the best ways to generate new customers, according to 85 percent of small business owners in a recent survey. And that makes sense: it’s easier to trust a friend than a brand.

How to develop a local marketing strategy

Getting started with local marketing isn’t too different from other kinds of marketing. First off, you need to think strategically.

Understand your brand

  • Define your values. What do you stand for? What message do you want to communicate to your potential clients?
  • Figure out your unique personality and tone. Are you a home security company, for instance, that wants to communicate that you’re solid, serious, and reliable? Or a hip, funky salon with a sense of humor?
  • Decide how you want your brand to look. The colors, fonts and styles on your website, logo and other materials can make you stand out. They also help people connect with the personality and tone you’d like to convey.

Get to know your target audience

  • Who are you trying to reach? Elements to consider might include your customers’ age, gender, level of education, lifestyle and daily schedule.
  • Where do they spend time? Consider, for example, where these people live, work, shop, eat, recreate or go to school. Find out where they get their news, what local events they attend and where they spend time communicating online.

Pick the best local marketing approaches for you

  • Depending on who you are and who you’re trying to reach, specific strategies are going to work better for you than others.
  • You’ll also want to meet your customers where they are. If they’re young and connected, they might be on Instagram or listening to podcasts. If they’re older and homeowners, they might be more likely to respond to an ad in a local publication.

Take advantage of digital tools

  • There are tons of excellent apps out there that help small businesses develop sound marketing strategies and promote themselves.
  • To gain local recognition, you’ll also want to start by creating a Facebook page that you post to often and use the Yelp app to keep your listing up-to-date and respond to customer reviews.

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How to promote your business locally

Here are some specific ways to make your business well-known and well-loved in your region.

1. Traditional marketing

  • Advertise in local spaces. These kinds of ad spots tend to be effective (and cost-effective) if they’re local. Options include:
  • Local newspapers, in print or online
  • Local TV stations
  • Local radio stations
  • Community bulletin boards, bus stops and other public spaces (you can easily design an eye-catching flyer with software like Microsoft Publisher, for instance, then post in the local gathering spots that get the most foot traffic)
  • Get involved with local events. This is one of the best ways to grow authentic, face-to-face relationships.
  • Host an event, such as a discussion panel or local food fair
  • Volunteer locally; this helps create brand awareness as well as build the right tone for your business
  • Sponsor or table at local events such as school, local media or charity events
  • Try a variety of promotional strategies. You want to make it as enticing as possible for your customers to be repeat customers.
  • Loyalty programs, such as a 10-punch card with a free offer or an annual membership model that offers perks and rewards
  • Referral programs, such as discounts for social media mentions or sending a friend your way
  • Free consultations or other freebies for first-time clients
  • Build local relationships in as many ways as possible.
  • Partner with other local businesses on events, promotions or deals
  • Add a personal touch to everything you do; you want to remain front of mind and encourage word-of-mouth referrals

2. Digital marketing

Use email as a marketing tool

  • Newsletters that refer to timely local events or information offer time-pegged deals and promotions or help readers solve problems in their daily lives are more likely to be opened.
  • A regular nudge via email also encourages brand awareness.

Run online coupons

  • People respond to discounts and often search for them online. They also are more likely to use social media to promote your business if they are impressed with a deal.
  • Run them from your website, Facebook page or a discount site such as Groupon.

Get active on social media

  • People use social media constantly to find local recommendations. Your business should be on there, too.
  • Interaction is key. Having a social media presence is important, but using it to communicate with your customers is the only way it’s truly effective.
  • Instagram: Try establishing a unique identity and focus for the images or videos you post, search for the hottest and most relevant hashtags and encourage users to engage with what you post.
  • Twitter: Try posting relevant local news articles, high-quality photos of your products and funny or pithy retweets if they’re on-brand for you. Follow local businesses or public figures who align with your brand and values.
  • Facebook: Try posting local events or information, highlighting customer reviews or creating a Facebook group for users to discuss issues that relate to your business.

Go heavy on search engine optimization (SEO)

  • Research keywords in your industry and local area. Try organizing and analyzing that data using Microsoft Excel, which makes it easy to combine data from multiple sources and generate visualizations, reports and more.
  • Use keywords in everything you do, from website content to social media posts to online coupons.
  • Localize your ads. You want every piece of advertising you pay for to contain local keywords, mention local events or make localized cultural references.
  • Set up your Google My Business listing. A profile with relevant local keywords increases your chances of appearing in the Google Map shortlist (the set that shows up underneath a map image when people Google “groceries Atlanta,” say).
  • Set up your Bing places for business profile, too. It functions in a similar way to Google My Business and can attract anyone searching for the same things on Bing.
  • Gather as many customer reviews as possible on Yelp, Google and sites specific to your industry. You want your business to show up when someone searches for “reviews” and your other keywords. According to a recent survey, 86 percent of customers read reviews for local businesses (and 95 percent of customers aged 18 to 34).
  • Seek out backlinks from local publications or bloggers. The bigger the number of relevant websites that link directly to yours, the better your search engine ranking will be.

Try pay-per-pay-per-click marketing

  • Running ads on search engines can be as effective as showing up in the top-ranked spot. Try using AdWords for Google or Bing Ads (these are usually cheaper per click).
  • Run PPC ads on social media networks, too. Facebook, for instance, allows you to advertise affordably and is one of the best networks for targeted advertising, including location.

Of course, there are a thousand ways to promote your business. But using its location as a focal point of advertising efforts makes it that much more likely to become a fixture in whatever area it’s in.

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