Channels that will drive the local marketing revolution

Beyond keeping the lights on and running nearly every aspect of their operations, small business owners often add chief marketer to an endless list of responsibilities. While time demands have considerable influence on which channels these local marketers use, much can be learned from the small business owners who directly interact with their customers on a daily basis.

Not only do local marketers have stronger ties with their customers, but they also now outspend national brands on advertising. According to BIA/Kelsey, the total annual advertising spend in the U.S. is $235 billion, with 55 percent of that number ($130 billion) spent at the local level. Local businesses are more willing to spend money to make money in the current economy but are also keenly aware of every expense, what it means to the bottom line, and whether it moves the needle. As local marketers become increasingly savvy and focus on the tactics that provide the most tangible results, we are seeing a dramatic shift. There is a local marketing revolution under way, driven by new and evolving channels that are redefining the relationship between the small business and its customers.

Hyperlocal media
Traditional media remains on the local marketing radar, with more than 40 percent of small business advertising dollars still dedicated to newspaper, television, and radio. This relationship is evolving quickly however, as even large national outlets are moving to incorporate hyperlocal reporting to compete with rural papers and cable television. More localized channels translates into better value for the advertising dollar and more precise targeting of key demographics -- both of which benefit the local marketer.

Web and microsites
Nearly every small business owner realizes the value and necessity of a 24/7 storefront and marketing presence, but only a few have had the time and interest to take advantage of analytics. This is changing quickly, as most local marketers are seeking deeper insight into customer behavior and how to drive traffic to their site and business. Many are using microsites to track specific campaigns more effectively and taking advantage of the data to refine their offers for future success. Local marketers are also seizing opportunities to refine their web presences and ensure their businesses are easily found on Google, Citysearch, Yelp, and other relevant channels with localized components.

SEO and online ads
Search has long been predominantly local in nature, with another recent BIA/Kelsey Group study indicating 97 percent of consumers use the internet to research local products or services. As noted above, many local marketers are taking steps to increase their visibility on locally focused sites and working to improve their search engine optimization through blogs, keywords, social media, and other efforts. Online and social media ads are also becoming a popular part of the small business marketing arsenal, given the ease-of-use and valuable measurement tools baked into these advertising channels.

Social media
The emergence of social media has leveled the playing field by giving small businesses unprecedented marketing opportunities to interact directly with current and prospective customers. The Small Business Success Index notes that small business adoption of social media has doubled since 2009, with one in five small business owners actively using these channels. Beyond the time investment involved, social media is one of the most valuable tools to interact with customers, build and maintain favorable relationships, and quickly share information with an engaged audience. While cost is minimal to nonexistent, half of the Small Business Success Index respondents did share that social media was more time-intensive than anticipated.

Mobile
Hardly a quarter goes by without news of skyrocketing smartphone sales and surging numbers involving mobile users accessing the internet. (Pew Internet recently noted that 40 percent of adults now use the internet, email, or instant messaging on a mobile phone.) While smartphones offer distinct opportunities to engage customers, basic feature phones offer an even broader ability to reach customers with SMS texts and timely deals, as virtually every cellular phone now offers this service.

Location based services/marketing
Driven in no small part by the continued growth of smartphones, Foursquare, Gowalla, and Loopt are gaining popularity and usage by large and small businesses alike. These location-based services give small businesses more insight and data about customer behavior, with considerable opportunities to package both proximity and customized deals into a winning proposition for their target audiences.

Direct mail
No-call lists, email spam rules, and untargeted broad media all affect local marketers' ability to reach audiences, which leads to an increased commitment to direct mail. Already the leading channel for most small businesses at nearly 29 percent of marketing dollars spent, savvy local marketers are tying campaigns to microsites to drive additional response.

When you take a broader look at these increasingly popular channels, all of these channels enhance the local marketer's ability to become more effective at engaging new and existing customers while tracking the return on their investment and how it affects their bottom lines. Given their direct proximity to and knowledge of their customers, we should watch these chief local marketers closely to see where the revolution is headed.

Shane Vaughan is the vice president of marketing for Balihoo.

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