Local online marketing = New Rules

Same Game, New Rules: Local Online Marketing

Dominate competition using local online marketing strategies

When was the last time you opened the Yellow Pages to connect with a local business? I have to admit that my copy goes straight to the Blue Box as soon as it arrives.

The concept of marketing hasn’t changed. Sellers still need to get their message in front of buyers, but the fact is that consumer behavior is different today than it was just a few years ago. Hours that used to be spent in front of the television have shifted to YouTube, Facebook and computer games. People still watch television; however, technology such as the PVR ensures that most viewers only see commercials as they speed past them.

This change in consumer behavior has thrown an enormous monkey wrench into the fourth ‘P’ of the marketing mix (Product, Price, Place & Promotion). In the good old days, promotion was pretty easy.  Local online marketing levels the playing field for firms. In the old days, a nice ad in the telephone directory or a catchy radio spot at drive time meant that the phone continued to ring and customers found you. For some additional exposure, you could try a direct mail campaign or a place a coupon in the local business directory. All at a fairly hefty cost.

Who cared which message was the one that pushed your campaign to ‘critical-mass’ with your target group? Each media option was like a piece of an invisible puzzle that would activate purchasing behavior. We understood that repetition was the key to earning that essential ‘share of mind’ with customers, that exposure equals business.  This ‘marketing mix’ is the reason for the old adage: “I know that I’m wasting half of my advertising budget, I just don’t know which half!”

Out with the old: before local online marketing

Why do small businesses need to be concerned with local online marketing? Clients of mine report that what used to work well simply doesn’t anymore. One recently shared with me that he tracks his advertising spending ‘like a man possessed’ and has seen his ROI on telephone directories go from 7:1 to barely breaking even! If you’re a small business owner this probably sounds familiar.

Consumers simply aren’t using old media the way they used to. Recent statistics on local online marketing supports this. According to Atlanta based media research group The Kelsey Group:

  • 70% of North American households use the Internet as an information source when shopping locally for products and services.
  • 31% of all business buyers turn to a Search Engine first when looking for a locally based product or service.
  • 25% of all commercial Internet searches are conducted by users looking for local merchants.
  • 43% of all searches on Google include a geographical identifier.
    • 86% of those people follow up with a phone call.
    • 61% of people who call make a purchase off line.

For local online marketers, relevance and relationships have replaced the ‘shotgun’ approach. Customers are turning to Google and social media. Google cares about relevance; social media is all about attention. To put it another way, clients find you with Google and then stay connected with you through social media sites like Facebook. Relationships replace repetition.

Continue the conversation

Most business owners have heard that social media and local online marketing is essential. So what does that mean? A customer may find you while researching a purchase, but not yet be ready to buy. Facebook keeps them connected if you give them a reason to ‘like’ you.

National television spots are asking for Facebook ‘likes’ without giving customers any compelling reason to do so. This seems eerily familiar to the dot-com debacle of the late 1990s when too many foolish decisions were made in haste and billions of dollars were wasted before it was properly understood. Many so called ‘experts’ surfaced and preyed upon the not yet Internet savvy, draining the resources of Fortune 500 firms and small businesses alike. History has a habit of repeating itself…

Businesses need to understand just how important it is to become relevant to Google. Page ranking isn’t for sale. There is a process to ranking well. Businesses pursuing local online marketing need to learn this.

Just like in early days of the dot-com boom, some opportunists have surfaced. Many businesses receive multiple offers every week from SEO (search engine optimization) firms promising incredible results and charging outrageous fees. SEO is definitely an important part of a successful web presence; yet it is only a piece of the ‘new’ puzzle. There are many other issues to consider such as content syndication, auto-responders, lead capture pages, rankings targeted feeder sites and integrated social media campaigns just for a start. It’s important to become educated to understand exactly what is being offered, how it works and how to tie it all together, in order to properly value these services.

The playing field has leveled and local businesses can compete like never before. Campaigns can be tried, tested and improved at very little cost. There are no magic bullets with Internet marketing. Local online marketing, like old school marketing is still all about finding the message that’s the most effective and then getting that message to the right people.

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