In recent years small business has embraced the buzz term “local area marketing.” But interestingly so many small business leaders are still struggling to figure out what it really means.

“Just give a few bucks to the local sports team, give the local charity some love, and show some of the local schools a group hug….and you’re done!”

Well, not quite.

Almost 20 years ago when we were working with emerging groups like Eagle Boys Pizza and Subway, back in the days when they only had a handful of stores, we had no choice but to embrace new ways to market the business because we had no budget and even less national presence to do anything else.  At the time we had no idea what we were doing either. We just figured if we wanted to have any chance of getting our brand and product into the market then we had to think a little laterally.  The big question for us was, “How can we jump out of the bunker, slap the big bear opposition, and then dive for cover with them saying, ‘Hey, I don’t know what that was, but it hurt!’”

Enter the local area marketing strategy.

At first we would put together random ideas just to get attention in and around the stores. We’d have people standing on street corners with banners and A-frames, hand out a bunch of t-shirts to sports clubs, pull some crazy stunt that might get some media attention, and then sit back and say, “Yeah that worked, but we really don’t know why, or if we could do it better. I wonder what would happen if it had structure?”

So, we came up with the following 6 steps to success. After you understand your customers and the messaging you want to send to them, then you are in a position to pull your local marketing strategy together, and there are six key steps to help you do that.

  1. The Opportunity Audit – Get a team of people together, staff, friends and family and do a brainstorm session on the things you could do in the local area to build brand awareness. Try to avoid advertising ideas and stick to marketing activity. Your competitors can see you advertise but they can’t necessarily see you market, giving you the aforementioned opportunity to slap the big bear.
  2. Innovate –Look for things your competitors WON’T be doing in the local market. They’ll be looking to do the simple things like giving best and fairest awards at the local sports club, or handing out checks to the local schools at random. What do you think you can do that they would not? And how can you execute some of the simple ideas with stronger presence and meaning in the market?
  3. Action – Write up your plan of activities and allocate people and execution dates to the plan. Set milestones so you ensure you actually get things done and don’t just talk about them.
  4. Evaluate – Now that you have done something in the market, be sure to write down how it went. The good the bad and the ugly. A failure is not a bad thing. It’s only bad if you don’t look for ways to improve.
  5. Renovate – Because you’ve taken the time to evaluate you are now in a strong position to fix problems and improve good ideas to make them great. Overhaul all of your local area marketing ideas, they can always run smoother, be stronger in the market and have greater impact if you keep refining and renovating the idea. You will also find as your relationship with the community becomes stronger so too do the activities you are executing.
  6. Integrate – With strong local area marketing ideas in place, work out how you can integrate them with your advertising campaign and the national campaign being run by the franchisor. This way all of your messaging to your consumer starts to match, offering your marketing greater cumulative impact on your consumer.

With these 6 steps in place we could then get serious about our local area marketing activity. Local area marketing is not rocket science. But it does require some thought and commitment for it to work.