Multibillion-dollar corporations rely on a logo that everyone recognizes or a trademarked phrase that immediately brings to mind one of the company's products. Small businesses, on the other hand, don't have the same level of brand recognition and need to build relationships in local communities to foster growth and expansion.
How do you build brand loyalty on a local level? Advertising, PR, and marketing campaigns can do the job, but it's also important to get creative with local projects. If you truly want to build relationships with local customers, it's going to require more than an advertisement on a bus seat or 30-second radio spot.
Small Business Growth: Where Do You Begin?
An interesting article published several years ago by the Harvard Business Review suggested it was hard to put all small businesses into neat categorizations. However, one of the most important features of a strong start-up was the existence of "promotion and other start-up support such as brand identification."
How does a business develop brand recognition with local customers? How do small businesses build relationships with local customers with limited budgets? What must be done to compete against companies with much greater reach?
Using the Internet on a Local Level
The internet connects us to the entire world, but it's also a potent tool for communicating with your customers or clients on a local basis. Does your company have a Google+ listing? Have you "claimed" your official social media accounts on websites like Yelp, Facebook, and Twitter?
If you're not convinced that using the internet is essential for communicating with local customers, consider the recent survey that says more than 80% of shoppers perform some research online before making a purchase.
"Eighty-one percent of shoppers conduct online research before they make a purchase. Sixty percent begin by using a search engine to find the products they want, and 61 percent will read product reviews before making any purchase. On average, a consumer will visit three stores before making their purchase."
Think about it: if you're looking for a local hairdresser, are you going to roam the streets of your town and try to find one? Will you actually open the Yellow Pages and look through listings? There's a significant chance you'll search the internet for local hairdressers and make your choice based upon the information you find.
Remember: Claiming your social media accounts means you can exert some (although not total) control over the available information your customers can find when they surf the internet for details about your business.
Don't assume your customers will call your store for hours or that they'll drive by to read a sign in the window. Make sure your local customers can find out as much as possible about your business even if they live just up the street from your retail store.
Generosity Builds Character and Customer Relationships
Huge businesses often have a terrible reputation for not giving enough back to their communities, but their sheer size means they don't have to be generous to win market share.
A small business, on the other hand, can't be seen as greedy or aloof and must actively cultivate relationships that go further than simply selling a great product.
For example, participating in activities like charity drives, local community races, and sporting events gets your company's name in front of a lot of eyeballs, and it also improves public sentiment about your company.
An Inc.com article provides some savvy ways to build relationships in business (for B2B applications), but those concepts are also appropriate in B2C.
"Be sure to contact people when you are NOT in need of something. Take time to learn about their business since it's as important to them as your business to you."
What does this mean for your local efforts? It means getting in touch with your customers even when you're not having a sale. For example, request your customers' birthdays whenever they fill out a card to get on your mailing list (you do have a mailing list, right?). Then, send them a postcard on their birthday.
Want to really wow them? Don't urge them to come in and shop. Just wish them a happy birthday. You'll increase the favorable opinions your customers have about your business, which means valuable brand recognition and customer loyalty.
Tip: Keep your contact list up-to-date. An accurate mailing list means your sales, product launches, and other special events will have the greatest audience possible.
Build Business Relationships, Too
Your customers are essential to your business's growth and success, but they're not the only people you should focus on as you look for ways to grow in your local community. Another way to build local relationships is to do so with other local businesses.
For example, can you find a local supplier for one of your products? Small, local businesses help keep local towns thriving, and it's important for consumers to support "Main Street, USA." Your responsibility as a business owner is quite similar.
According to an article on The One Thing:
"The economics clearly show that when local businesses have more support the entire community is stronger. Take a look at your inventory, the service providers you use, where you take clients to lunch – are you giving your business to other local businesses?"
By partnering with other local businesses, you can build crossover appeal. Feature materials or components from other local businesses in advertising about your products, and you'll build respect and rapport with customers, as well as your business partners.
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