Whether you’re planning your grand opening or you’ve been in business for 100 years, marketing is critical to the success of your brick-and-mortar business.  Ideally, your marketing reaches a large number of your target prospects and attracts enough of them to become customers using just the right information.  Only there’s one problem—21st Century people don’t get all their information in the same ways as 20th Century people—so it’s critical for you to understand what has changed and how it should affect the marketing strategy for your business.

Just for fun, next time you see your kids or your grandkids, have them imagine that it’s the 1990s and tell them how life worked for 20th Century people:  When you aren’t familiar with the area, how do you order a pizza, get a haircut, or find a dentist?  You drive around until you find something that looks good, or you “let your fingers do the walking” and use the Yellow Pages.  How do you decide where to go out?  Maybe you try a restaurant recommended by a friend, but you make certain you know where it is and how to get there if you’ve never noticed it.  When you shop for the really big purchases like cars or real estate, you pick up a newspaper, look at the dealership ads and check out the classified section—if you find something interesting, you go to the dealership and subject yourself to the salesman, or spend an evening driving around with your real estate agent.  You rent videos at Blockbuster and buy a newspaper each week just for the TV guide.  You pay your bills by mail, write notes on paper, buy stuff out of catalogs, and you use pay phones when you have to.

Now let’s come back to today and your business:  Your kids and your grandkids are not the only ones who use the Internet on their computers and phones to do everything that used to require the Yellow Pages, Rand McNally, the newspaper, car salesmen, real estate agents, video stores, the post office, catalogs, pay phones, or even paper.  In fact, as of early 2014, two thirds of Americans have smartphones and half of Americans use their cell phones to get recommendations and directions before they go somewhere.  The number of smartphone owners increase to over 75% if you look only at Americans under 50!  The bottom line:  21st Century people are flocking to new technologies and the Internet has become a powerful tool where you can do a terrific amount of marketing.

Smartphone owners in 2013 who with their phones have ever:

Google research shows that a lot of business starts on smartphones.

So without further ado, we will count up (rather than count down) the Top 7 Local Business Marketing Methods to effectively reach 21st Century people:

  1. You still need a sign most of all.  In any century, a sign on your door means you’re open for business and helps people find you.  If you’re in a high-traffic area, make sure your sign is big enough for passersby to see, and make sure it clearly, accurately, and instantly conveys who you are and what you do or it will be misunderstood and ignored.  Should you have your logo and sign designed professionally?  Absolutely!  You don’t want to invest good money into a sign and all the permitting with a lousy logo or design.

  2. Claim or create your Google MyBusiness Listing.  The first telephone directory was published in 1878 on a single piece of cardboard that listed 50 businesses with telephones in New Haven, Connecticut.  In 1886, the Yellow Pages debuted, and most 20th Century businesses planned their entire marketing strategy around their Yellow Pages listing.  21st Century businesses need to plan their marketing strategies around Google, which is what most of those 75% of Americans with smartphones are using to find you when they haven’t seen your sign.  Setting up your Google MyBusiness listing is free, and puts you on both Google Search, Google Plus, and Google Maps—so people will be able to find you both online and in the real world.  Be sure to include as many details as you can, especially name, physical address, phone number, website address, and business hours.  This should always be kept up to date whenever something changes.

  3. Set up a website.  Wait—why is this after the Google listing?  Well, this is because Google’s local business search is so powerful, some small local businesses may actually be able to forgo having a website.  Some of you are probably thinking, “Hey! I think a Facebook page should be Number 2 or Number 3!”—and I could write an entire article about why you would be wrong… 😉  For now let’s just say that you always want search directories and social media to drive traffic to your website, and never the other way around.

    Again, make sure your website is mobile device-friendly, shows your business name, address, and phone number on every page, and that they all match exactly what you put onto your business listings.  Be sure to include your business hours, menus, and any other information that will help customers decide to call or visit you.  The design of your website also shouldn’t be taken on willy-nilly (I love that word), because a particularly bad or out-of-date website can actually detract from your brand—so make sure you spend enough time and money for it to be an effective marketing hub that is consistent with the image you want your company to project.

  4. Set up more local business listings.  This is where I will finally recommend Facebook, not because it isn’t important, but because with over 4 million searches per minute on Google—let’s stop and think about that one for a second—it’s more likely that someone is looking for you on Google than on Facebook, and because you want people to find your website more than you want them to find your Facebook fan page.  Should you pick up every listing that you can?  Yes—each listing will help you build authority on Google and other search engines, which means a higher search ranking, which means more traffic.  This quickly becomes overwhelming for small businesses because there are literally dozens of general search directories as well as several that focus exclusively on restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions, etc.  Here are a few to get you started, and here is a graph from Google to motivate you:

    Actions taken after local search on a smartphone, 2013

    When 21st Century people search on their smartphones, they mean business—they’re highly likely to call, visit, and even buy when they find you!

  5. Let the pictures tell your story.  So you’ve gone to the trouble of creating a cool logo for your sign and your website, you’ve got yourself a social media presence on Google Plus and Facebook, and hopefully you even have a website—but people like pictures more than words and 21st Century people more than anyone ever before love pictures!  Instagram users post on average 70 million photos per day.  In 2013, Facebook users posted an average of 350 million photos per day!  Odds are, some of the photos posted, shared, or pinned online will be at your business.

    These should not be the only photos of your business!  Why?  Well, first off, you need photos to use on your website, on your business listings, and on social media.  You’ve spent all this time creating a unique space in the real world—it would be a shame (known in business as a “missed opportunity”) if none of it ever made it online in its full glory for your customers to share and your prospects to admire!  Don’t wow your web visitors with your cool logo and then let them down by leaving them just to read about your store/restaurant/bar/club/etc.!!!  If you have a space in the real world that sparks curiosity or pride, we can help you make it too a part of your online brand—right on Google and right on your website.  Of course you’ll share lots of your own cell phone snapshots online, but it’s still critical to have a baseline of solid professional photography to inform customers about the most important aspects of who you are and what you do.

  6. Get publicity.  No matter the century, it’s important to have people talking about you, and hopefully saying good things!  This used to just mean issuing a press release or making friends with a reporter to get newspaper, radio, and TV people talking about you—and this is still very valuable marketing to seek, but news reaches 21st Century people through other means too.  We’ve already established that people will be posting pictures at your business on social media, so be sure to establish your business on the most popular sites with your target prospects so that you can be tagged, shared, and discovered by the contacts of your customers.  Bloggers in your area may also be interested in writing about you, so reaching out to them as well as reporters can really help bring people in.  In the end, publicity is all about receiving free advertising, and it helps build authority on Google, improving your search engine rankings as well.

  7. Get reviews.  If you’ve been in business for a while, you may already have reviews on several sites that you aren’t even aware of!  Claiming your business listings as recommended above will make sure you get notified when someone has left a review.  It’s important to stay on top of these reviews because search engines, including Google, display ratings for local businesses prominently and even use them to help determine your ranking.

    Anyone in business long enough will inevitably have unhappy customers (some may be your jealous competition!) and eventually, some of them will leave bad reviews.  Don’t panic—bad reviews do not guarantee the failure of your business!  I’ll write more about handling reviews later, but the best medicine for bad reviews is to ask your most loyal customers to write good reviews.  You won’t have to bribe them—they’ll be happy to help you out because they want to keep coming back!

What about paid advertising, sponsorships, promotions???  Of course, those can still effectively reach 21st Century people and turn them into your customers—but the advertising landscape is much more complex and convoluted than the traditional methods of the Yellow Pages, newspapers, magazines, radio, and television used to reach 20th Century people.  My goal in this article was to highlight the most basic and universal marketing methods since so much has changed in 15 or 20 years, and so very few local businesses have adjusted their marketing priorities to keep up.

With my next article, let’s re-examine your relationship with “traditional media” advertising, and see if we find any holes in your marketing strategy…