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How spreading the 'local love' can help small retailers capture consumers' attention

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Having a top-notch technical team and a dynamic  marketing department sure is nice, but, let's be honest, those luxuries aren't available to every business - especially small retailers. In this case, though, high-end resources don't matter as much. Thousands of local businesses across the country are tapping into the huge benefits the online world offers using simple tactics to build support and demand in their own local communities.

So, how do you get started if you're a small retailer and looking to improve your online offering?

We reached out to John Jantsh, a leading marketing consultant and author of a Forbes favorite blog on marketing and small businesses, to find out more about his top tips on local marketing ahead of NRF's free forthcoming webinar on the topic.

When you talk about “local marketing” – what does this mean exactly, in particular for retail businesses?

Thanks to technology, local marketing means a lot more these days than yellow pages and local ads. Today, retailers have a number of opportunities – and challenges – for driving local traffic, from search rankings and profiles, to location-based games and apps. There’s a lot to learn to take advantage of all that, but in this webinar, I’m focusing more on how to make your business more competitive for the local search, including how to optimize your website, build out local search profiles, get listed and mentioned, and how to handle negative reviews.

Many local retailers and small businesses are seen as the very foundation of Main Street in their hometown. Why is it still important for them to have an effective online presence as well?

Not so long ago, people in need of something grabbed a book full of yellow pages and thumbed through it looking for a place to eat or shop. Or they browsed their local newspaper and saw ads that grabbed their attention. And businesses bought those ads. Now, shoppers are armed with a numbing array of tools that make it easy to discover, explore, research, rate, review, and share their experiences with others – even as they are walking or driving past your establishment. So, if you’re trying to reach today’s customers, you need to be engaged where they are. If not, they’ll just find your competitors.

Is it expensive for local retailers to establish a strong online presence?

It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, but can take some time. For example, you don’t have to pay anything to claim most social media profiles, but you will spend time creating and maintaining them. Or, you can use free platforms to create a blog for your business, but you should plan to commit time to writing.

There are also a lot of online advertising options these days that let you set the budget you want to spend and test to see if you see it’s working for you before putting too much money into it.

Are their certain tools that should be part of any local marketing effort?

Search engines – like Google, Yahoo and Bing – are now among the primary means that people find products and services in their hometown. And, 82% of local searchers follow up offline via an in-store visit, phone call, or purchase. As a local retailer, you, of course, want to be among those search results.

What about content? How can you localize that?

I often tell business owners to “spread the local love,” meaning that if you want to get something, first give something. If you want to get love from the community, make sure to include content on your own site that’s local. Add a blog that talks about the community, gives dates for local events, or coverage of local happenings around town. If you partner with local non-profits, give them coverage. And don’t forget to shine a little light on your customers, too.

The process seems a bit daunting. Are there any tips for rising above the rest when starting a local marketing effort?

Just to break it down into parts and start with what reaches more potential customers. Too many marketers try to jump into everything at once, like into location-based apps like Foursquare and Gowalla or group-buying sites like Groupon and Living Social. Sure, there are a lot of consumers using those services, but there are more using search. Start by claiming your listing or “place” on things like Google Places and Yahoo Local. Then look at how your business appears on Yelp, InsiderPages and CitySearch and other sites where customers turn to for local listings and reviews. And move on from there.