If you own a business in small town America you might have discovered that getting the word out and enticing people through your doors isn’t exactly easy. In fact, small town marketing can seem more daunting than marketing in a larger city. More often than not, the population is more rural, aging and not very tech savvy. One would immediately think that the word “daunting” is a far underestimate. But it shouldn’t. There are many benefits to being located in a small town or community, some of which I’ll cover below. So let’s dive right in!
1. Establish Your Company as an Expert One of the greatest advantages of doing business in a small town is that you’re probably not competing with dozens of similar businesses to stand out and get noticed. Establishing yourself as an expert in your industry, or a trusted source of information, is a very effective way to stand out, get noticed and create a positive reputation for your brand. This is your first step to successful small town marketing but, how do you go about establishing yourself as an expert? Start by knowing exactly what your expertise is. If you own a landscaping company your expertise is knowing how to make someone’s property beautiful, increase their curb appeal, increase the value of their home, make their lawn the envy of their neighbors and give them an oasis they can enjoy without leaving their back yard. In a nutshell, you’re the experts at creating beautiful, inviting outdoor spaces. Once you create your expert status it’s time to get the word out. The best way to do this is by SHOWING people rather than just telling people. In today’s digital world, anyone can say anything and unfortunately a number of the reviews you find online are likely fake. As a result, people have become wary of being told something. Using a slogan like “We’re the lawn care experts” isn’t enough. A dozen others can make the same claim. Where you will set yourself apart is by showing that you are the best. You want to demonstrate that you, and your staff, know exactly what you’re talking about. One of the best ways to do this is by giving away your knowledge. I know what you are thinking. Tom why would I want to give away information? Isn’t that counter intuitive? Good questions but think of this way…in the end, most people will not have the time or desire to do your job. That’s a simple fact. They much rather be doing something else. Maybe some people will do some of the little things you suggest, but when it comes to the bigger jobs you’ll be the first company they think of because they know, like and trust you. How do you share your knowledge and establish your expertise… There are a number of ways that you can establish your expertise and get the word out about it. • Write for a local newspaper, or suggest an “Ask the Expert” column. Many newspaper editors, especially those in small towns, are actively looking for new articles or columns to add to their newspapers. Reach out to your local newspapers and find out what their needs are and then suggest how you can fill those needs. • Create a blog as part of your website. Don’t have a website? Get one! A website is one of the primary methods a potential customer will use to gauge your credibility. Not having a website will serious dampen your credibility because a business without a website is like a chef without a restaurant. Put yourself in the shoes of your ideal customers and write helpful advice about your industry. For the landscaping company this might include advice about: yard beautification, maintaining a healthy lawn, gardening, easy ways to increase the curb appeal of your home, etc. • Actively reach out to related groups and communities via Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook. Answer questions and get yourself involved in social dialogue. This will greatly move you towards being an expert in the eyes of your community. Also and this one depends on the nature of your business but get involved on Pinterest. For the landscaping company this is ideal. Take photos of your work and display it for the world to see. • Host a free seminar during the evening or on Saturday morning. Think of your ideal customers, what would they find so intriguing that they wouldn’t be able to pass up attending?
2. Make Face-to-Face Connections People do business with those they know, like and trust. This basic business truth is very pronounced in small towns and is a key tenet of small town marketing. Small town populations can be extremely cliquish and loyal. Small town marketing leverages this by having the business insert itself into the community establishing trust and awareness. If you are already established in town, this shouldn’t be too difficult. If you’re the new kid on the block, and do not have many connections in the small town where you do business, it’s important to get out there and meet people. They will not come to you, you are going to have to make the first step and remember, you want to not only meet them but get to know them as well. Here are some ideas… • Shop local, yes you. Rather than driving to a nearby city to get your groceries and run your errands get out and support the local butcher, bank, market, salon, and other businesses whose services you need. This simple move will do wonders and will increase appreciation, trust and awareness. Many of the businesses you support will likely return the favor. • Rather than a cliche ‘Customer Appreciation Day’, go out in the town and do acts of kindness or something for the town. You might even get some good press. A business in my hometown in Pennsylvania made mark for itself by providing the city with public artwork. Not only did it beautify the main street but it also provided a great deal of PR for the business. • Attend local business networking events. Networking is key to small business marketing. There is strength in numbers so start building relationships with other small business owners. The Chamber of Commerce is a great place to start inquiring about events in the area. • Attend local events where your customers and potential customers will be.
3. Make Online Connections Yes, face-to-face networking is a great way to meet people in your community and is very important to small town marketing- but all those same people are also online following their favorite people and brands on social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest. According to a recent University of Minnesota study, half of small town businesses either lack a website or are not easily found on Google. I can personally testify to this fact as nearly 80% of the businesses in my hometown either lack a website entirely or have one that is severely outdated in design and usability. This results in these businesses and their towns losing out on substantial sales which instead goes to businesses with an online presence. To stay connected, and relevant, it’s a very good idea to find out where your ideal customers are hanging out online…and join them.
4. Get Found Online Make sure that your company and products/services can easily be found online by people who are searching for a local provider.If you own a spa you’ll want to make sure you’re at, or near, the top of the results when people search Google for things like: • spa in [your town] • where can I get a massage in [your town] • pedicure [your town] • and so on… You are going to want to make sure your website is optimized for search. Something we call search engine optimization. Here you will want to make sure your website contains the keywords that you want your business to show up for similar to those above. SEO does take time and if you are in a hurry a good way to get traffic to your site is by pay-per-click (PPC) marketing. This allows you to buy keywords directly from Google. You can purchase all the keywords above for your spa business so when someone types in “spa in Pittston” your ad will show on the top or right hand side of the search engine results page.
5. Sponsor or Host a Local Event Could your company create a signature event to host every year for your community? We are not talking about a “Sales Event” but something that will attract the right people and give you a name in the community. For example, Renasant Bank is located in the Southern United States where they are crazy about college football. So one year they hired a 6-story JumboTron and hung it overlooking a public park. More than 4000 people showed up to watch the games and enjoy food from local restaurants that were set up at the event. The bank also set up a private hospitality tent for clients. It was such a success that that we heard they planned to do it again the next year. Be creative. If you can go big, that’s great – but it’s not always necessary. Just make sure it’s something people will want to attend and tell their friends about. So there you have it – 5 ways to market a business in a small town. But, this list is not exhausted, share your ideas in the comments below…