Do Local Businesses Need Marketing?
In addition to our clients, we interact socially with a large number of Quad City area business owners whose primary clientele is local. You might be amazed by how many of them ask if they really need to develop a marketing plan, and the corresponding budget, to market their business on a local level. The first answer is, any of them that have experienced success have already been marketing but they may need to revise their thinking a bit. The second answer is, if they haven’t already been marketing, they probably won’t experience the success of those in the first answer.
Online or Offline?
Once the need to market your business is established, the next question that generally comes to mind is if the focus should be online or offline marketing. The answer to this question is different now than it was twenty years ago and the ratio changes every year. Until the early to mid-1990s the focus for local advertising and marketing should have been almost completely offline. Since then, the momentum began to shift to the point where the primary focus should now be online. In short, though, the answer is that you should have an integrated marketing plan that includes both online and offline components.
There are a variety of traditional options for offline marketing and advertising. Some of these include TV, radio, newspaper, local magazines, billboards and the Yellow Pages. For many small to medium sized businesses, cost and complexity often limited them to selecting 2-3 of these items at the most. For many, the Yellow Pages were often their primary, and sometimes only, offline marketing vehicle. Twenty years ago this made sense and a business could have success doing it this way. Today, that is unlikely. An online campaign is now a virtual necessity to complement your offline campaign if you hope to reach the majority of potential consumers.
Online marketing growth has now created a situation where it is a necessity to focus at least some of your marketing resources in this area. Depending on your type of business, it is generally recommended that you dedicate anywhere from 50-80% of your marketing dollars to online. The good new is that, comparatively, many of the online marketing resources are less expensive, and more efficient, than their traditional offline counterparts. Examples of some of the major online resources include the following.
- Organic Search Engine Marketing (e.g. SEO or content marketing)
- Paid Search Engine Marketing (e.g. SEM or PPC)
- Banner Advertising
- Directory Advertising
- Social Media
What’s Driving Online Growth?
In general, technology itself has been the major driver for online growth since the early 1990s. It primarily boils down to continually expanded access to better hardware and software and better, more widespread, internet access at lower comparative costs than in the past. In the intervening twenty years there have been a number of factors that were major contributors during any given time frame, but some of the main current drivers are the following.
- Growth of mobile technology and internet use: Mobile search usage and advertising are up about 270% just since 2010!
- Improved local search targeting technology: Search Engines have exponentially improved their local targeting capability in the last couple years.
- Social Media growth: Internet usage has hit a wave of expanded usage due to the popularity of social media. Facebook has been the major driver with around 310 Million users per day logging in.
Do I Still Need the Yellow Pages?
Your Yellow Pages salespeople will tell you yes and we won’t disagree on that. Where we will disagree is to what extent. While local businesses spent 80-100% of their dollars with the Yellow Pages twenty years ago, that number should now be significantly reduced. They still say they’re #1 and should get all your marketing dollars. The reality is, by their own admission the offline Yellow Pages have experienced tremendous ongoing decline since the 1990s and the online Yellow Pages have also fallen behind Search Engines as a source for local business information. The offline piece should come as no surprise but here are a couple examples of online Yellow Pages declining interest.
US Yellow Pages Interest
At a national level, Yellow Pages still had a significant percentage of online interest and relevant as recently as 2008. Recent declines, however, have been significant and rapid and this trend is unlikely to change.
Quad Cities Yellow Pages Interest
Trends for the Quad Cities Metro Area show a much lower interest even as far back as 2004. Recent trends now show the Quad City area much closer to the national average which remains unfavorable to Yellow Pages.
Keep Your Local Marketing Simple
Since we’re in the Quad City area we’ve written this article specifically for local businesses but the trends apply to almost any metro area in the United States. The impact of online growth has made marketing planning a bit more complex for local businesses but it can still be boiled down to a few important steps. Here is a quick breakdown of online and offline marketing recommendations for local businesses.
- Yellow Pages: Get a simple listing and, at most, a small ad. No matter what your YP sales rep tells you, Yellow Pages usage is not nearly as high as it once was. Their own research verifies this.
- Newspaper and Radio: If you want to do it, limit it to very specific event based initiatives (e.g. a special sale). Ongoing radio and newspaper ads are a poor investment based on return but they’re better for events.
- TV/Local Cable: If you must do it, do it well. Get a professional ad and be very selective in your targeting. We don’t recommend TV unless it a modest portion of a large budget as it is inefficient.
- Website: Your first investment should be a good website. Don’t cut corners or Do-It-Yourself unless you are an accomplished web developer. This is where you want to funnel all your online traffic and it needs to look good.
- Organic Search: If you can’t do anything else, make sure your on-site and off-site SEO are a high priority. It doesn’t matter how good your website is if nobody can find it. Think Page 1 of Google for your local search terms.
- Paid Search: You can drive some pretty good website traffic with a very modest Pay-Per-Click (PPC) budget if your campaign is locally targeted. Focus on Google and set a fixed budget you are comfortable with.
- Directory Advertising: Don’t pay for any Directory Advertising unless it is extremely high traffic in your specific local area. You should, though, get listed on any relevant directories that are free or come with some other paid advertising.
- Social Media: Pick the one or two options that best fit your business and open an account. Use the free benefits for referrals and customer contact but be very discriminating with regard to paid ads. Conversion is not yet as efficient as it would need to be for local investment.
- Yellow Pages: Do absolutely no paid online advertising with the Yellow Pages. Your offline listing and phone service gets you a simple free listing online. Ad as much detail to your free listing as you can without spending any more money.
If you have any questions or would like additional details, feel free to comment below or contact us by phone or email. We love to talk marketing and we appreciate the feedback.