This article originally appeared in the July 2011 edition of the Marketing GPS Newsletter.
If you don’t think the marketing game has changed for local businesses, imagine this scenario:
On the one night this month that they can afford a sitter, John and Jane arrive at one of their favorite restaurants to find that there is a 45 minute wait for a table. Unwilling to pay for a sitter just to stand in line, John loads the Google map app on his smartphone to look for other restaurants nearby, while Jane checks the Facebook page of her favorite restaurant to see if they have posted specials or wait times. In the middle of all this, John receives a text from the Mexican restaurant they enjoyed last month: “Buy one entrée get one half-price tonight at Pepito’s.”
Despite the ongoing decline of traditional advertising media such as Yellow Page directories, newspapers, TV and telemarketing, many local businesspersons remain unaware of the advantages of using online and mobile media to replace—or to complement—traditional marketing channels. Traditional ad media face three big obstacles today: shrinking audiences, higher ad costs (vs. their online competitors) and difficulties in quantifying returns on investment. So what’s a local marketer to do?
The Advantages of Online Media
With nearly 75% of U.S. households on the Internet, online ad media are experiencing major growth. Costs are lower than traditional media, and numerous online tools make it easier to quantify consumer interest and calculate ROI.
Search remains the single biggest advantage that online ads have over traditional media, and is a primary source of traffic for many small businesses. Google estimates that 20%—over 17 billion searches per month—have what it calls “local intent.”
Additionally, the online environment makes it easy to segment and target your audience, and to build and maintain online relationships with prospects, customers and so-called “brand evangelists”. There’s also the “viral” potential of online ads (especially videos, like the recent Old Spice series), which can spread quickly to thousands or even millions of interested people at little to no cost.
Mobile: The Crashing Wave
The explosion of the mobile online platform—from web-capable cell phones to smartphones and tablets—is only accelerating. Even before the huge spike in smartphone sales, Morgan Stanley estimated in 2009 that the number of mobile-Internet users would exceed desktop Internet users by 2014. Their prediction is given additional credence by a newly released Pew Internet research paper which notes that 25% of smartphone owners typically use their smartphone to access the Internet, even when other devices are available to them. Recognizing this transformative tsunami, Google declared mobile to be its number-one focus in 2011.
Mobile-Internet use is revolutionizing commerce through mobile-ready websites and helpful smartphone apps. Users are able to read reviews, compare prices, and even make online purchases from their Internet-enabled mobile device. Location-based services such as Shopkick (which allows retail locations to reward customers simply for walking in or for scanning the barcodes of featured products) and local-focused discount offers from sites such as Groupon, are making mobile a highly competitive space for local advertisers.
Indeed, with consumers rapidly migrating to mobile devices as their go-to research device prior to a shopping trip or night out, mobile platforms appear custom-made for local businesses. A recent study showed that after searching for a local business on their smartphones, 61% of users called, 59% visited, and 58% looked for directions to a local business. That’s great ROI on a low-cost marketing investment.
Six Essentials for Successful, Local-Business Online Marketing
Diving into online media to enhance your local-business marketing isn’t as difficult as it might seem. You can boil it down to six primary steps.
One: Build Your Online Home
Businesses that haven’t already developed a serious online presence now have a variety of good alternatives to start with. Though a website is often the preferred choice, local businesses can now start by filling-in business information on their unique—and free— Google Places listing page. A Facebook Fan Page is another good choice for a small business, especially if you have frequent updates or special offers to post, since new postings will appear in the Facebook news stream of your fans. To target younger audiences, a business owner might select a mobile-only website.
Two: Help Visitors Find You
Search visibility + inbound links = online-marketing success. By finding out what search terms your customers are likely to use and then placing those terms on your website (or other online home, such as a Facebook page), you help searchers find your business. Good keyword research is still the heart of online-marketing success. Increase traffic to your site by using these keywords when you list your business on free sites such as Google Places, Yellow Pages websites, and other local-targeted directories, such as MerchantCircle or Manta. You can find important directories specific to your area by typing your most important keyword phrase, plus your city, into a search engine.
You can also get links from social-media sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Share information about your business on these platforms and provide links back to your site, and encourage friends and customers to do the same. And don’t be intimidated by YouTube: quick, informal videos can drive a lot of traffic back to your site (remember the Old Spice guy?), as well as show up high in search rankings if you include your keyword phrases in the description.
Three: Set Up Your Funnel
Once you have visitors headed to your online home, you need to funnel them to the right page on your site. Your site’s navigation and content are vital to ensuring that as many visitors as possible do not “bounce” off your site and back to the search engine (or worse, to a competitor’s site). Ideally, visitors will land on a page that offers great content and invites them to take a specific action that will give the business owner valuable information.
Four: Make Visitors Take Action
Get a return on your investment by encouraging visitors to do something that gives you useful information, or that establishes a relationship with them. Two tried and true methods include inviting them to sign-up for an email newsletter or to download a useful document (provided you collect some contact information in exchange for the download).
Newer methods that have evolved with the increase in social and mobile platforms include offering visitors an app to download, or inviting them to participate in a survey, game or contest. Every visitor who decides to interact with your site is more likely to interact again in the future, giving you additional opportunities to convert them from prospect to customer.
Five: Establish a Relationship
Use the information you collect to stay in touch with visitors, whether through Facebook postings, special email offers or even opt-in text messages. As the direct-mail marketers say, “the money is in the list”—repeated contacts with visitors will build loyalty, make them more knowledgeable about your products and offers, and increase their lifetime customer value to you as they receive and respond to offers.
Six: Track, Test and Optimize
If department-store magnate John Wanamaker had founded his famous company after the advent of the Internet, he wouldn’t have famously stated, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Online marketing analysis tools allow you to know which half works, plus much, much more. Everything online can be measured and tracked, helping you to fine-tune just about everything you do on the Internet. Website and online-ad stats allow you monitor visitor activities and choices. You can assign values to certain actions, assign and track marketing goals, note trends, and split-test ads and offers to improve conversion ratios and drive down ROI costs.
While there is much more to online marketing in the local market, these six essentials will help you find, meet and profit from the growing audience of local consumers interested in your products and services.