Local Small Business Marketing

The blueprint for success in local small business marketing has certainly changed in a world now dominated by the internet and … increasingly … mobile media.  In fact, does a blueprint even exist anymore?

Local small business marketing used to be … at least until the 1990’s … a relatively simple process.  There was a basic formula that almost everyone followed.

It usually included The Yellow Pages.  It doesn’t seem that long ago that temp workers were swarming through neighborhoods dropping those huge ponderous books on your doorstep or inside your front door.  Well, they’re all online now, of course. 

There was newspaper advertising and some magazine advertising.  Extremely expensive though right?  Direct mail of course.  Radio and TV ads.  Co-op mailings. 

The internet didn’t exist so competition was minimal often confined to the local choices you could drive to.  But less competition also meant fewer choices. 

Access to information was scarce.  Think about it.  Other than the newspaper, three television stations and your local library or bookstore, wasn’t credible information sometimes almost impossible to find?

Local buyers were at the mercy of local advertisers.  They were almost forced to accept whatever they were being fed.  And advertisers held all the power.

But the 1990’s brought profound advancements in technology.  And even crazier was how quickly those changes occurred.  The availability of information … and the rate of that availability … exploded seemingly overnight. 

There were even “sages” proclaiming that mankind had reached the upper limits of perfection during the late 1990’s.  That we had advanced so far so fast that we couldn’t get any better. 

He just may have been right.  Because … since then …. things have seemingly gotten progressively worse in a lot of ways.

What about local small business marketing during this time?  Wow.  Technology transformed this formula almost overnight as well. 

There are reasons why so many local businesses were closing their doors right and left.  Why so many malls that had teemed with shoppers … some of whom even went there to get their exercise … became “ghost towns” within a few years eventually closing their doors entirely.

Let me tell you a story about one such mall.  A web search says that the word “mall” is probably a shorter version of the word pall-mall.  “A usually public area often set with shade trees and designed as a promenade or a pedestrian walk” as the dictionary says.

The Cottonwood Mall just down the street from my home in Holladay, Utah is a great example.  Built in 1962, it was the first mall built in Utah and the second mall built in the U.S. 

During the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s, you could go there to find a myriad of shops, restaurants and big department stores.  And a lot of people.  People who shopped there on the weekends, during the week and especially for the holidays.  But something happened in the early 2000’s. 

Traffic plummeted and tenants moved out.  What had once been a busy thriving marketplace became a ghost town.  It was torn down in 2008 but with grandiose plans for redevelopment on the site. 

To this day, it remains a vast empty dirt-covered field surrounded by a chain link fence situated right in the middle of Holladay in suburban Salt Lake City.

Once undreamed of technological advancements and the easy access to amazing quantities of information had completely transformed the local small business marketing equation.

What happened?  Well, just before the advent of the internet: 

  • Marketing messages had become almost indistinguishable from the competition.
  • Resistance to conventional marketing methods … by consumers … was at its highest levels ever.
  • Buying cycles were prolonged and stretched out longer than ever.
  • Price wars became ongoing as almost everything was always “on sale.”
  • Products became commodities and brand loyalty disintegrated.

As the internet started taking over our lives, the way we did business and interacted with each other changed with it.  To a point where sellers are now at the mercy of buyers who have all the power.  You don’t believe me? 

Do an online search for a product.  You can find almost anything on Amazon.  And have it delivered to your door within a couple days.  Often shipped “for free.”  Without talking to anyone or even worrying about brand loyalty.

Of course those companies that understand this are the ones that are thriving.  They build relationships with customers and use today’s technology to grow their businesses.  Even locally.

Online marketing … a web presence … and social media are absolutely required today for local small business marketing to survive and thrive.  But don’t make the mistake of ignoring email.

And also be aware that your customers … and prospective customers … are turning to mobile media at a mind-boggling rate.

Think about this:

  • 94% of all smartphone users have searched for local small businesses on their phone?
  • 70% of those searches have resulted in a call to a business.
  • 66% of those people went to a local business as a result of that search.
  • And 90% of them did it within 24 hours!

Once again, don’t forget about email marketing.  As I state on my home page, there were 3.9 billion email accounts in the world in 2013.  That figure was expected to top 4.9 billion by 2017!

Email still is the most popular means of communication on the planet.  Even though Facebook and Twitter have 1 ¼ billion users between them, the number of email accounts more than triple both of them combined!

So combine the smartphone with email and you can see where local small business marketing is headed.  Yes, you need to use social media and even mobile apps to communicate with your customers and get them to take the action you want. 

But you also need to combine them with an email list and email marketing to build an ongoing profitable relationship with your customers.


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