On some level, it’s fairly obvious that a healthcare provider would have different local marketing needs than a quick-serve restaurant or a plumber, as they provide hugely different services. But the local marketing industry often talks about small and medium-sized businesses en masse, grouping all of their unlike needs into a single bucket to be addressed.
This was one of the topics discussed at a panel discussion hosted by CoInvent last week at WeWork Soho in New York called “HyperLocal Marketing for NYC Businesses.” Moderated by Street Fight co-founder David Hirschman, the panel featured several industry veterans, each focused on a different piece of the SMB marketing equation, including Joe Apfelbaum, co-founder and CEO of Ajax Union; Kevin Lee, founder at Didit Search Marketing; Claudio Schapsis, founder at Georillas; and Sean Barkulis, director of strategic partnerships at ShopKeep.
“The question we are trying to solve is how do you acquire and retain customers?” said Barkulis, kicking off the discussion with an age-old query, and one that remains essential in business marketing despite the many transformations the field has undergone.
“If you’re a brick-and-mortar, there are all sorts of ways to automate and get pushed out [online,]” said Barkulis. “For plumbers, Angie’s List is a place they go as well as to Google paid ads. There are a lot of different ways that you can target.”
Schapsis pointed to Google Maps as arguably most important element for any local business that wants to be easily discoverable, as that is where virtually all users go when looking online for a certain location. “If a person is looking for your business, most likely they will open Google Maps,” said Schapsis. “Can a person find your business in the first results on a Google map? That is what we are trying to answer.”
Lee stressed understanding that location isn’t what it once was in the days of “old school marketing,” where the most important piece of the puzzle was where your business was physically located. In the pre-digital age, location was all about “being on Main street,” Lee said, adding: “Location online is very different; there’s location on mobile, location on desktop, location in social media.”
Social Media Isn’t Really Free And It May Not Be For You
Apfelbaum pointed to the trend of SMBs flocking to social media to post content for “free,” simply sold on the fact that there’s no money out of pocket. An effective social media campaign requires a lot of time and marketing in itself, he asserted, and so to get any results there is still a “cost” in time spent and opportunity.
“Unless your strategy really resonates around social media, then it may not be a good idea for you,” advised Lee. “So people who go in thinking, ‘This is free and I can get organic reach’ may not have their expectations aligned with reality. Social media needs to align with strategy.”
Schapsis said he sees a lot of wasted time and money on Facebook as a hyperlocal marketing tool because often business owners will run campaigns themselves without an effective strategy.
SEO Is Not Magic
Apfelbaum said that many small business owners (lacking an understanding of algorithms) have a sense that SEO is sort of “magic” — and that finding the right keywords to land your business on Google’s homepage is the key to the success of a business.
Nonethless, said Apfelbaum, “A large percentage of small business that we serviced that [reached] number one still went out of business,” said Apfelbaum. “They were so worried about trying to win the SEO lotto ticket they lost focus on their business. Business is not magical. There’s a science and a process to it.”
Apfelbaum urged the audience to think deeper about what SEO is, and “peel the onion back” and be mindful of the cost of SEO campaigns: “What is your cost per acquisition? How much are you willing to pay for every person to come into your bakery and buy something? Marketing is about testing. Why do SEOs become SEOs? Because those people are trying to find every angle, and to figure out why it works.”
Get The Data
Barkulis spoke as well about the importance of point of sales (POS) systems in collecting customer data that can be useful for future campaigns and ultimately, more sales.
“The POS is there talking to the customer,” said Barkulis. “You can do all these marketing tactics and tools through this software.”
He advised the SMB campaign managers to think about converting one-time customers into long-term customers. All it takes to try this is getting their email address so as to engage them with an email marketing campaign, or a phone number to do the same via SMS.
Online Reviews Can Make Or Break You
Each panelist stressed that end of the day, the efficiency of your hyperlocal marketing only goes so far as the efficiency of your business. If you want to run a great business, you have to listen to what people are saying. Critics love to speak out, and they’ll do so on Yelp and other online review sites.
Barkulis recommended that SMBs get Google News alerts set up for their company name so that they can quickly put out any fires that online reviewers may start. “Just showing that type of initiative will help,” Barkulis said.
“You want to be in that conversation,” Schapsis added. “If you aren’t in it, then it has only one voice and that’s the voice of the people that complain. At the end of the day, people are complaining about specific things that you could improve. Learn from it.”
Nicole Spector is a Street Fight contributor.