Across the hyperlocal landscape, competition has become fierce. Dozens of on-demand delivery startups launched last year, and hundreds of loyalty programs and appointment scheduling platforms are now vying for the attention of local merchants. For hyperlocal vendors, the need for comprehensive brand strategies has never been greater.
The number of seed-funded companies has quadrupled in the last four years, and customers who would potentially use all this new technology are feeling overwhelmed by the choices. A strong brand strategy is the foundation of a winning launch, even though developing the strategy can increase the time it takes to get a new product to market.
Here are eight brand development strategies for hyperlocal vendors, from founders and executives who’ve been in the trenches themselves.
1. Understand the true needs of local service businesses. “The team here at MyTime has spent countless hours with thousands of merchants to understand how they run their businesses. That effort is reflected in our product and brand. We oftentimes will verticalize the messaging to focus on the needs of that industry segment. For instance, when speaking with salon owners, we might emphasize split time bookings for hair colorings and the ability to pay booth renters directly, less a commission.” (Ethan Anderson, MyTime)
2. Keep the focus narrow. “Specific considerations would be making sure to only partner, reach out to, market ourselves, and produce content for, a very thin sliver of those that fell within our core audience. If any of the content or partners were even one standard deviation outside of catering to our core personas, we would not pursue that activity. There was a deep understanding of the audience from the start, from which we built out all of our product and core activities.” (Garrett Gan, Thalamus)
3. Get the logo right. “The first thing any startup needs to do, as far as branding is concerned, is to create a strong but unique name and logo. This can be more complicated than it sounds. I’ve seen several startups change their name or logo after just a few months or years because they didn’t take the time in the beginning to establish their brand the right way. Just look up the former name of mobile payment provider Softcard for a good example of a company that just chose the wrong name and needed to rebrand, quickly, for unforeseen circumstances.” (Linden Skeens, Thumbvista)
4. Align around a mission. “We aligned our company and brand around a mission and values that are larger than ourselves. In our case, our mission is to help small businesses succeed online while connecting consumers with great businesses they can trust. Our mission is important because it allows us to talk about and focus our company on our values and what matters to us in a broader sense—fairness, transparency, and helping small businesses succeed.” (Jeremy Gin, SiteJabber)
5. Remember that the brand is local. “By focusing hyper-locally, our brand develops meaning hyper-locally — in a particular neighborhood or even a particular city block. We try to foster advocates and champions on both the consumer and business side who can help give our brand life at that local level.” (Ethan Anderson, MyTime)
6. Continue to evolve. “Initially we approached this market space assuming that a self-service, instant local mobile branding solution is what SMBs are looking for. And then it hit us. We were wrong. They are not looking for branding. They are looking for customers. So, we innovated and enhanced the service into a lead generation platform, with hyperlocal branding value proposition kicking in as a nice add-on. This resonated with SMBs.” (Venkat Kolluri, Cidewalk)
7. Build something that serves a specific niche. “Hospitality is all about human interaction. Those who work in restaurants got into the industry to spend time with people, not sit behind a computer crunching numbers. We’ve differentiated ourselves as a tech solution in the restaurant space by creating a tool that arms servers with information about guests’ visit and spend habits. That way they can provide a personalized experience based on a guests’ habits for everybody.” (Winston Lord, Venga)
8. Don’t forget about the customers. “Don’t forget about your current and potential customers. I work mostly with digital and advertising agencies and marketing departments at major brands. These professionals are well-connected, so the chances of them referring you to their network of peers—or in some cases, advising against you—is very likely. So, make sure your client services are top-notch. Your brand is more than your name and logo. It’s how you treat your customers and how satisfied they are with the services you provide.” (Linden Skeens, Thumbvista)
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.