The oldest way for local businesses to reach new customers—and in many ways still the best—is paid advertising. But advertising is more complicated these days and has progressed beyond a simple ad in a local newspaper to an online world with phrases like “retargeting,” “search engine optimization (SEO),” “lookalike audiences,” and “behavioral targeting.”
As a local business owner, it can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be if you put together the right marketing strategy. This simple two-part process will help you target your ideal new customers.
1. Do your market research
Identify and find your audience
Before you dive headfirst into the latest digital advertising trends or go overboard on your social media pages, you have to make sure that’s where your audience lives, works, and more importantly, shops. Ask yourself a few questions first: What problem does your product or service solve? Who are the customers with this problem? What are their demographics, like age, income, and gender? Once you have those questions answered, you can start to think about where to find those customers, whether that’s online, in traditional media, or both. If you have established competitors, do a quick online search and see where they advertise to establish a baseline for your marketing plans.
Know your business
In addition to knowing your potential customer base, you need to know your small business inside and out. Why are you a better choice than your competition? What makes your local business special? These are the kind of messages to put in your advertising and marketing strategy. Know your brand, know your voice, and then use it across all of your advertising mediums.
Be there when they are ready to buy
Review sites are not only fruitful places to advertise, but they also have customers who are actively looking for a product or service. These are high-intent customers—for example, 97% of people spend money with a business they find on Yelp. When consumers use review sites, they are interested in businesses they can return to again and again, and most of them share that experience with their friends via the most priceless form of marketing—word of mouth.
That’s the intent behind all advertising: Meet your audience where they live and work, find them when they are making a decision, and entice them to use your business or buy your product. A good marketing strategy takes all of that into consideration and creates the best mix of paid advertising for your small business, and the new customers will follow.
Step 2: Place your advertising
Digital advertising and social media
Online advertising has come a long way from flat, static banners on a webpage. It can do so much more, from tracking consumers across multiple devices and following up on abandoned digital shopping carts to helping you show up first in search engines through SEO. The expense for digital ads varies based on the details of the plan and who builds and executes it. It’s often more cost effective to bundle your digital advertising with other media, like your local newspaper, or use the many digital advertising options available on business review sites.
Social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram have very easy-to-use advertising options, from boosted posts to digital ads, which you can create on your own or by using their design services (for a fee). They help business owners find new audiences through “lookalike” targeting—finding lists of people who look like your existing customer or social media fan base and advertising directly to them.
Local business pages on sites like Yelp also have customizable advertising platforms to boost your sales. They help build the ad and then circulate it to a known network of potential customers through tools like geographic targeting, using zip codes near your small business.
Business review sites
Make it a priority to advertise on review sites like Yelp, Yellow Pages, and Google My Business where customers can leave real-time feedback about your business. They are some of the most helpful places to advertise your business because they offer a constructive customer engagement environment and provide integrated tools to help you build your business, plus you can interact with consumers in real time.
Done correctly and effectively, email marketing can provide one of the better returns on your investments (ROI), but it takes some time to finesse. Email subject lines should catch the attention of your customers with a great offer or enticing promotion. It’s said that you have eight seconds or less to capture a reader, so be sure you’re punchy and to the point. The body of the email should be easy to read and concise. Do some extra research on your industry and business category to find best practices for day-of-week and time-of-day engagement, and experiment with what works best for your business. You can also track data through your email service, like Constant Contact or MailChimp.
Print media has knocked on the door of extinction multiple times, but it’s still standing for many markets and business types and can still be a very effective place to market your small business. You just have to incorporate the right mix of media in your marketing strategy.
Your local paper is a good source of advertising mediums, from traditional print to digital extensions on their social media platforms. Most papers have advertising packages that are small business friendly, where you can take advantage of the reach of the larger paper in print and online without paying exorbitant advertising prices. Some of their extensions might also be free as a bonus for using their other platforms.
If you’ve got a tight advertising budget, look for smaller, hyper-local neighborhood publications, which may offer print ads to consumers in your neighborhood for a much lower cost than your larger, city-wide paper. This can include city- or suburb-specific publications (like the People Newspapers in North Dallas) or a neighborhood newsletter (like the Inman Park Advocator in Atlanta).
Are you looking for customers in the B2B category? Put some paid advertising in relevant trade publications or professional journals. Many of these also have an online component and you can get additional digital advertising alongside your print ads. In addition, LinkedIn has several advertising options for B2B marketing plans.
Television and radio advertising spots are almost always too expensive for new businesses, but there are many opportunities for low-cost or free advertising exposure on local TV and radio stations. Check your local media’s policies on Public Service Announcements, which are usually free to businesses on a first come, first served basis.
In addition, you can try writing a press release touting your business and send it to the local media as well as posting it on your own website and social media platforms. Be sure and include a “hook” that showcases why your business, product, or event is special and unique.
Direct mail might be an option and is a good use of marketing dollars if you have the ability to target your mailing lists, print quality postcards, and offer a great discount.
There are many ways to advertise your small business, and it can be daunting for a first-time business owner to build a marketing strategy that works. Often it’s just a matter of trial and error, finding the right mix of advertising media that works for your business. Don’t be afraid to take risks, fully utilize experts in your field, and make sure you understand and utilize the tools available to you across all the platforms.