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Local Marketing Tactics to Gain and Keep Customers

As a business owner, you want your company to succeed. Investing in marketing is vital to that success, but many small businesses can’t splurge on — or spare the time for — high-priced advertising campaigns.

A report by Brandmuscle, local marketing software company, found that nearly half of the 860 small businesses surveyed spend $5,000 or less on marketing each year, and one-third spend less than 10 percent of their time on marketing activities.

To make the most of your time and money, here are five effective local marketing tactics that are easy and affordable for your small business.

Business owners know that customers are searching for companies online, and yet many local businesses are reluctant to adopt digital methods, like social media, SEO and even a basic business website. The Brandmuscle survey found that business owners still find digital media to be complicated: While Facebook may be a successful platform, with an increased usage by businesses of 21 percent over the past few years, LinkedIn is primarily employed for personal, not business accounts, and Twitter is too confusing for business owners, survey results showed.

“Many small businesses are so overwhelmed by the number of choices and the level of effort required to maintain [digital marketing] programs that they do nothing,” said Clarke Smith, chief strategy officer of Brandmuscle. “We advise starting small. Talk to customers [and ask] how do they find you today? What types of information would be helpful to them? Are they price-driven? What social channels do they use?”

Aaron Boggs, president of RevLocal, a digital marketing agency, called for the use of search marketing, a type of online marketing that expands a company’s digital presence in search engines.

“Local businesses need to do more with less, and search marketing is no exception,” he said.

For businesses that are looking to generate new leads, offering potential customers a free product or service for their first visit is a surefire way to bring people into the store. Brian Mattingly, founder and CEO of marketing services and technology franchise Welcomemat Services, said that a no-strings-attached gift to kick off a customer relationship will create a sense of loyalty, but only when it’s with the right audience.

“Loyalty starts with targeting a consumer group that is not just looking for a deal but has a need for your business or service, and of course, they must live near the business,” Mattingly said. “The perfect example of the ‘right’ customer includes someone who recently moved into a new neighborhood or a couple that just became parents.”

Brick-and-mortar businesses have a unique opportunity to host special promotional events for their local communities. Chris Elliott, CEO of Beef ‘O’ Brady’s sports pub franchise, said that on the 20th of each month, his restaurants host a “customer appreciation day,” when guests can come in and redeem a scratch-off card for a chance to win free food.

Elliot said foot traffic increases 11 percent during customer appreciation days. He said he believes customers keep coming back because the owner of each restaurant personally hands them their scratch-off cards and thanks them for their patronage, thereby establishing a personal connection.

“The emotional engagement is the key,” Elliot said. “If you know the customers — if you know their families and their kids’ names, and engage with them on a personal level — you’re going to form a connection that is going to give you an edge and lead to a lifelong customer. That makes a huge difference. You have to have the same loyalty to your customers as you expect from them when you put a customer loyalty program in place. It has to work both ways, or else you’re going to miss the mark and won’t see the same level of return on the investment.”

Like the promotions described above, local events and sponsorships allow companies to give back while building personal relationships with their communities and customers. Of the integrated marketing campaigns that Brandmuscle looked at, 46 percent included community sponsorship and 44 percent included a local event. According to the survey, these sponsorships and events were among the most frequently used marketing tactics, with three of four respondents using these methods for their businesses.

The survey suggested that companies invest more of their marketing dollars in sponsorships and events to build up their brand presence.

When most people think of rebranding, they think of a big, time-consuming overhaul that requires a huge investment. But rebranding can be as simple as modernizing your logo, switching your slogan or even just updating your company website. Doing something just slightly different from your status quo will pique customers’ interest and make them want to learn more.

“The effects of a comprehensive, well-executed rebranding have shown tremendous benefit across the board,” said Dan Antonelli, CEO and creative director of advertising agency Graphic D-Signs. “Whether it’s creating a great experience with an intuitive and responsive website design or crafting a logo that makes customers crack a smile each time they see it, marketing needs to have emotion.”

Regardless of the tactics you choose, you should schedule a set time devoted to marketing activities, even if it’s only an hour a week, said Brandmuscle’s Smith.


Ways to Grow Your Business

Much like a plant, a business requires care, attention and the proper conditions in order to grow and flourish. You might think you have your growth formula all figured out, but if you’ve tried it and aren’t achieving the results you want, it might be time to take a different approach.

Entrepreneurs and business leaders shared their experiences with some overlooked, unconventional methods for growth, and offered advice for taking your business to the next level.

It seems counterintuitive, but sometimes the best way to make a sale is by not actually selling anything. Playing the long game — that is, offering no-strings-attached help and advice for the sake of building up a relationship — earns a potential client’s trust and makes that person more likely to come to you in the future, said Bart Mroz, founder and CEO of digital commerce consultancy.

“Become a trusted resource within your industry and community,” Mroz said. “A great way to do this is by actively engaging on relevant social media groups, blogs, forums, etc. During my free time, I like to participate in any conversation where I can provide insight and tips for the curious, but I make sure not to directly promote and sell my services. These aren’t your traditional customer acquisition channels, so they shouldn’t be approached as such.”

Mroz also noted that this approach lets you position yourself as an expert, and keeps you up-to-date with the latest industry trends, so you’ll know what your customers are looking for.

Most startups dream of huge growth in their early days. But taking it from 0 to 100 right away isn’t always the best way to grow. John Shapiro, director of product management in the small business group at Intuit, advised you to limit your growth at first, and hone in on a very small segment of your target market.

“Focus on a small microcosm, whether that’s a geography, industry vertical or something else,” Shapiro said. “You want to get to critical density, which is a lot easier to do if you reduce the ground you’re trying to cover. Think of Facebook’s growth strategy — they focused on one, then two, then four college campuses. They added campus by campus over time, and it was years before they opened up to all consumers.”

Highly focused and personalized service to your early customers will generate positive word-of-mouth branding very quickly, Shapiro said. This will help you build that solid base you need for greater growth in the future.

Retail today is all about omnichannel customer service and marketing: You have to be where your customers are and reach them through their preferred channels. The omnichannel mentality can even be applied to the locations in which you sell your products.

Many retailers who operate out of a physical store have expanded their operations to the web and sell products both online and in the store. Online-only businesses can benefit from this approach by expanding to a brick-and-mortar location, if they have the resources for it.

For example, online mattress retailer Leesa recently opened up a flagship store in New York City to showcase its products in a new and different way than they had been doing.

“It may seem unconventional and even counterintuitive, but often for e-commerce businesses, establishing a physical brick-and-mortar presence is one of the most cost-efficient ways to drive online leads and generate brand awareness,” said Matt Hayes, Leesa’s director of marketing. “Opening our Leesa Dream Gallery retail concept … allowed customers to try the Leesa mattress for themselves in a pressure-free environment.”

Similarly, Rahul Mewawalla, CEO of social and mobile referral platform Everfave, advised brick-and-mortar businesses to borrow tech-savvy digital methods from their e-commerce counterparts to increase growth.

“Businesses have to look ahead of the curve,” Mewawalla said. “We went from traditional advertising like TV [and] radio to internet-based marketing in the last 15 years, and the next 15 years will be focused on mobile and social-based approaches. To stand out and be more effective, businesses have to continuously look at new and novel ways to grow.”

Entrepreneurship is all about stepping outside your comfort zone, so the act of taking a risk may not seem all that unconventional. But the specific risk you take — whatever it is that seems like it’s too wild and “out there” for your business — could prove to be the spark that serves as a catalyst for growth.

Kerrie Hileman, owner of The White Magnolia bridal boutiques, said a reality TV star recently shopped in one of their stores for an upcoming segment of her show, complete with a camera crew. Hileman admitted that she was wary of being filmed and nervous about how the business might be portrayed on the show, but ended up having a very positive experience. As a result, the reality star featured The White Magnolia on her Instagram page and gave a huge boost for Hileman’s business.

“The group was absolutely amazing to work with,” she told Business News Daily. “We have noticed a huge jump in our Instagram following and have even had brides who came in to shop because they knew the reality star found her gown here. We are so happy we took the risk, and it’s paid off tenfold already.”

“Don’t be afraid,” Intuit’s Shapiro added. “If you want to grow your company unconventionally and successfully, you need to be comfortable taking the appropriate risks.”


Smart Marketing Strategies for Handmade

If you regularly make handmade crafts, you have probably thought (or been told by friends) that you should start an Etsy shop. It’s not a bad idea, especially because it’s so simple to create a seller account on the popular site. But success as a handmade e-commerce business requires a lot more than signing up for a third-party marketplace.

“If [craft entrepreneurs] are new to the world of online selling, they may think that all they need to do is list their items, and then they will be found in a search or someone will seek them out to buy their product,” said Craig Weiss, CEO of marketplace platform ArtYah.

Like any other business owner, you’re going to have to invest some time and effort in marketing your brand to keep it growing. Here are a few things you can do to get your name out there and stand out from the crowd.

Selling your crafts on a marketplace site can be a quick and easy way to set up shop, but with so many other sellers out there, it can be difficult for you to compete. Jonathan Peacock, founder and CEO of Zibbet, said a seller’s individual brand can easily get diluted by the marketplace’s branding — for instance, most people will tell their friends they bought an item “on Etsy” as opposed to saying they bought it from a specific Etsy seller.

The other issue is that marketplaces are built for discovery, Peacock said. People who land at your shop page are encouraged to click around and discover what your competition is selling, which can ultimately end up losing you the sale. That’s why Peacock said it’s so important to have your own stand-alone website in addition to a marketplace shop.

“Marketplaces are great and you should use them for distribution, in order to get in front of as many eyeballs as possible,” Peacock told Business News Daily. “[But] use [your website] as your primary channel that you send your buyers to. That way, your brand will be the one they remember and you’ll completely own the traffic you send there.”

Peacock noted that Zibbet’s platform allows sellers to create their own customizable website in addition to listing their products in the site’s marketplace.

If you’ve already established your store on a particular marketplace platform, you may not think you need to look elsewhere for new customers, Weiss said. However, strategically choosing another avenue or selling tool could expose you to a wider audience and generate more interest, traffic, brand recognition — and ultimately — more sales.

On top of opening up a version of your shop on an additional marketplace, you can also look into social commerce tools on sites like Facebook and Pinterest to help you sell directly to your social media followers.

As Peacock noted above, third-party marketplace branding efforts can sometimes overshadow the individual brands of sellers. But this brand power can also work to your advantage. For example, in addition to its Editor’s Picks and Community Tastemakers roundups, Etsy hosts an annual Small Business Saturday trunk show to help its wholesale sellers get their products in front of retail customers.

Most third-party marketplaces also have a built-in community element, such as a seller forum. While this shouldn’t be your primary customer acquisition strategy, you should make a point to participate in these discussions to pick up new ideas and selling techniques from your peers, Peacock said.

“Use the forums to build connections with great, like-minded people [and] learn,” he said.

One of the biggest trends in modern marketing tactics is storytelling. This technique is especially effective for smaller businesses, and your handmade e-commerce shop can benefit from it, too.

Richard Stevenson, head of corporate communications for cloud-based e-commerce software provider advised using storytelling to communicate your mission and values.

“American shoppers love small retailers because it feels highly satisfying to buy goods that are a little special or niche,” Stevenson said. “Storytelling is the big differentiator in e-commerce. It’s the reason why buying from or supporting a small business can provide a more powerful experience than from a larger retailer.”

For handmade businesses, storytelling is also a highly effective way to build connections and trust with consumers in order to increase sales conversions, Stevenson said.

“Online consumers want to buy from experts, passionate and attentive, and will pay more for the experience,” he added. “Social selling and ethical shopping is not just fads — data shows they are growing in the retail landscape.”

There’s no single formula for success when it comes to marketing. Peacock reminded entrepreneurs that there are many different methods out there, but they need to find the ones that work best for their business.

“Everyone is selling different products [in] different parts of the world,” Peacock said. “This means the strategies and channels you’ll use may be different, too. You need to try a bunch of things, find what works and double down on that. Constantly tweak and optimize to get the best results.”