In today’s ever-connected world, it’s never been more important for brick and mortar businesses to develop an online presence. Local business margins shrink and high streets are drying up as customers move online. So is it over for offline shopping?
As it happens, not so much. 61% of customers say they’d still prefer to shop with brands that have a physical location, versus ordering products online. The convenience of visiting a local store, touching products and engaging with real people remains a significant draw for retail customers.
In fact, the perks of shopping at local retail locations are such that brands born purely online, like Warby Parker , are now opening dozens of physical locations.
If online retailers can make a success of the high street, surely local retail is not as dead as the foreclosures would have us think. Perhaps instead, online brands, with knowledge of today’s online landscape, simply have more effective marketing for today’s connected consumers? Brands like Coca-Cola would agree :
“The only way to remain in business is [better marketing]. The moment we stop… the e-retailers are going to rule.”
So how can small local businesses compete with the powerful brand marketing of large online retailers? Without the big budgets of silicon valley backing, the answer might be in your local online presence.
How an Online Presence Helps Local Brands
☞ Good marketing is simply about staying in front of mind with your target market.
☞ You needn’t become an online marketing guru or spend thousands of dollars on ads. You should simply be present in areas where your local customers hang out, or where they’ll naturally come across your content.
☞ This may seem easier said than done, especially for the non-tech savvy, so we’ve put together this list of 10 ways any small local brand can increase their online presence. Even better, each of these tips can be utilised with next to no marketing budget. Heck, most of these are ideas simply require your time!
1) – Join local Facebook Groups as Your Page (and be helpful)
– Almost every small town has its own Facebook groups. From buy, sell & swap groups to particular niche interests amongst locals, there’s a group you can join.
– Facebook allows you to join these groups as a page you own, meaning you can post, like & comment as your brand name.
– Now, nobody likes a spammer, so don’t join these groups just to flog your weekly specials. Instead, be helpful & engage with people in a natural way.
– Every time you reply to a comment, like a post or share an interesting article related to your locality, people will be engaging with and thinking about your brand. It seems too simple to be true, but it does actually work.
Tip: Turn on post notifications for every post made in these groups so you never miss a chance to help.
2) – Engage with Local People on Instagram
☞ Just as engaging with people in Facebook Groups can be a great way to keep your brand front of mind, interacting with locals on Instagram is also highly effective.
☞ Every time you like, comment or follow the posts of local people, they’ll receive a notification with your brand name on it. Very simple, but also very effective.
☞ Better still, with Instagram, most of this interaction can be automated. Tools like Archie can be set up to automatically like, follow & comment on posts from people you specifically target.
☞ For example, you can use Archie to automatically like the posts of anyone who uses social media within 5 miles of your business, or anyone who checks-in at a competing or complementary business. As you can imagine, this is potentially powerful stuff.
Tip: Tell Archie to automatically engage with users who already follow your local competitors. This helps improve your marketing efficiency by increasing the chances users will be interested in your products.
3) – Have a Website with a Blog
– When building a strong online presence for your local business, the key is to be a helpful brand that people are happy to engage with. Most marketing messages are skimmed-over when people feel no resonance with a brand.
– But when you’re helpful without asking for anything in return, naturally, people will grow to like you.
– For online brands, writing helpful blog content has long been an effective way to engage with potential customers, but small local brands have so far been very slow to adopt this .
– If you can create a helpful online resource for your local town or city, customers may stumble across this when searching for answers online.
– Ideas for helpful content to post to your website could be local news, coverage of events on your high street, promoting local non-profits, discussing local politics & other content specifically related to your local area.
Tip: An easy way to find ideas for the type of content you need to produce is by scouring local Facebook Groups. Look through these groups for frequently asked questions, then write the answers in a blog post on your site. Next time someone asks, comment the answer with a link to your blog article for further information
This helps the person who asked, then leads them to check the rest of your site…
4) – Re-Share Your Customer’s Social Media Posts
☞ When it comes to your business’ social media, it can be tempting to keep a well-manicured profile, only posting the highest-quality images.
☞ This is great if you’re a high-end fashion brand where image-is-everything. But for a small local cafe or restaurant? Not so much.
☞ Creating high-quality social media photos can also take a lot of time and resources, especially for SMBs with limited staff. Instead, it can be much easier to simply re-post (or “regram”) content created by customers who check-in to your business location.
☞ I recently encouraged my friend to do this at his new cafe, The Pedlar , a small coffee shop in the Thai tourist town of Pai . It freed up his time to stop creating content, but surprisingly had a much more positive impact on his social media…
☞ Once he started re-posting customer’s posts to his own followers, the number of people checking in to the business on social media increased 300%. After customers saw they had an opportunity to increase their own exposure, they were incentivised to check in and post something themselves.
Tip: Coupling this strategy with in store flyers & table tents can further encourage people to check in, creating a self-perpetuating flow of content and check-ins at your business.
5) – Share Helpful Information About Your Local Area
a) – This may seem so simple it’s not worth considering, but sharing helpful information about your local area can make you a pillar of the community.
b) – You can share on Facebook, Twitter, on your blog or in local forums – as long as it shows you care about sharing community-related content, it’ll help cement a positive image for your brand.
c) – Once you’re a pillar of your community – whether on social media or otherwise – the occasional plug of your brand, seasonal sale or shopping event won’t be a scanned-over marketing message. It’ll be willfully absorbed.
d) – Gary Vaynerchuck’s book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook explains this concept very well and is worth a read for any business owner or marketing professional.
e) – But who wouldn’t want their brand to a be a pillar of the community, anyway?
6) – Create Facebook Videos
– Video content enjoys higher engagement across all social media platforms.
– The one caveat of video is that they’re much harder to produce than a simple photo. I like to use this to my advantage; because videos are harder to produce, most local businesses dismiss them.
– Putting in the time and energy to create a video yourself, or hiring a local videographer to make one for you, can be an excellent way to create long-term & highly-shareable content for your brand.
– Apps like Shakr & Animoto can help you create professional video ads for your brand with just photos & text.
7) – Broadcast Live
☞ Social media sites like Instagram & Facebook now feature live streaming options, enabling you to stream live to your social media followers at the click of a button.
☞ Whilst live streaming is still a new feature for these sites, they’re doing everything they can to get users engaging with the feature. Currently, this means that when a page or persons starts live streaming, every user who follows that page or person is sent a notification.
☞ This is a fantastic way for small local brands to get massive reach without paying for ads.
☞ You needn’t create a movie set or special background, you can simply live-stream the products & customers you have in your shop for a few minutes every week or so.
☞ Better still, use the live-streaming option to show off your weekly specials & sale items, and use the live stream time to impress upon followers how limited the deals might be.
Tip: On the theme of being a pillar of your community and sharing relevant content to your locality, consider live streaming local events, good weather & even the seasonal changes of your area. This is a great way to keep your brand front of mind without actually trying to sell your products. You’re just showing love for your town!
8) – Hand out Free Laptop/Tailgate Stickers
– Such an old-school trick, but it still works so well! Handing out a free laptop or tailgate sticker to your top customers is a great way to get your brand seen by other people – especially those who live near your business.
– 45% of all daily driving is for shopping & errands. In other words, 45% of all driving takes place in and around your local borough. Turn those customers into driving advertisements!
– Sticker Mule have a great selection of sticker printing options, including high-quality waterproof tailgate stickers .
9) – Run a Like & Comment Promotion
☞ You’ve seen these before – your aunt or your dad sharing a local brand’s posts and tagging your mom in order to win the chance of a free product or service.
☞ The promotions usually run something like: “Like this post and comment XYZ in order to be in with a chance of winning ABC special prize”.
☞ Oftentimes, people will like and comment, then tag a friend to say “Wow, wouldn’t it be good if we won this?”.
☞ These types of promotions are incredibly effective, and a great way to get your local brand noticed. They are completely free to run and often reach thousands, if not tens of thousands of local people. The key here: local people.
Note: you must make sure you stay within Facebook’s rules – encouraging tags and shares could result in your post being removed.
10) – Partner with Local Micro-Influencers
– Partnering with local “micro” social media influencers can be an effective way to get your brand out there; especially if there’s a particular demographic you’re trying to reach.
– Social media influencers are often lauded as having hundreds of thousands of followers, but a new trend amongst savvy marketers is turning to those with much smaller , but highly engaged audiences.
– These accounts typically have anywhere from 1,000-50,000 followers and are known as “micro influencers”.
– Quite often, if the accounts have less than 5,000 followers, the influencer can be persuaded to work in exchange for product – or a substantially lower fee than tabloids would have you believe.
– As a local bar or cafe, check-ins from these micro influencers in exchange for free lunches can have you at the top of local trending pages for pennies on the dollar. Better still, once you’ve introduced a “micro influencer” to your retail location, they’ll often come back just to be friendly (but that’s only in my experience).
Tip: Scour the Instagram trending pages for your local areas and businesses similar to yours, and find accounts which have posts in the top 9 images. Filter them down to accounts with under 10k followers, then reach out to see if you can do a deal. You’d be surprised, but these accounts are still considered “small”, and more often than not, they’ve never done any paid promotions.
What Tips Can You Share?
Is there some low-hanging fruit that we missed? What brand-building tips can you share for local retail brands? Let us know in the comments below and share them with our readers!
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