The Noodle

Getting hyper

4 ways you can win the local marketing game

My local grocery store is like a small-town market from a bygone era. The produce is fresh, mostly organic and locally grown; the shelves are stocked with wholesome foods made from the finest natural ingredients; the butchers, bakers and other employees are friendly and helpful; the seafood is certified sustainable, the chicken is free-range and the eggs are cage-free. The air carries the aroma of hearty baking bread, freshly ground coffee and fresh-cut flowers. In addition to offering all of my favorite healthy foods, my congenial grocer is a good neighbor. It donates considerably to area food banks and shelters, helps local school kids create gardens, makes loans to area farmers and each month provides breakfast for the volunteers who keep the nearby beaches clean.

Ironically, this quaint market belongs to a national chain that has become the eighth largest public food and drug retailer in the country (it ranks No. 232 on the Fortune 500 list). In 2013, it enjoyed record profits and $13 billion in sales. And its employees love the brand, too. Whole Foods Market offers terrific benefits and a fun, friendly work atmosphere. The company’s exceptional work culture has garnered a spot on Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” every year since the list began in 1998.

One of the reasons for Whole Foods’ continuing success is its focus on local marketing. The grocer realized that its customers’ needs are different and vary from region to region, resulting in region-specific social accounts and content marketing strategies. It builds tremendous brand loyalty and trust by integrating its stores into the various communities it serves. And it all starts with its mission and concurrent strategic marketing plan.

Donna Vieira, VP of marketing for interlinkONE, a software and marketing services company focused on lead generation activities, says most businesses that serve consumers could benefit from hyperlocal marketing strategies.

“For the most part, most small businesses do need to focus more energy on marketing to local consumers,” Vieira says. “In 2013, MarketingProfs put out an article that said three quarters of U.S. consumer spending occurs at retail locations within 15 miles of the consumers’ homes. That’s a pretty staggering statistic. When you think of ecommerce, it really shows the immediate need to market locally, especially if you’re in a B2C environment. I can’t emphasize enough that it all starts with a solid marketing plan.”

A marketing plan can include social media, direct mail, mobile messaging and/or automated marketing campaigns. Following are examples of how you can create loyalty and trust in your market:

1. Integrated marketing campaigns

When retailers such as Whole Foods open a new store, they frequently launch an integrated marketing campaign that begins when local residents receive a direct-mail invitation to a grand-opening celebration. The invitations typically include information such as an explanation of the company’s mission, a list of local partnerships and coupons for free merchandise. A select group of local community and business leaders may receive an invitation to a pre-grand opening that features free food, local vendor promotions and live music provided by local talent such as an area high school band ensemble.

“Direct mail is frequently an integral element of successful marketing campaigns,” says Greg Retzer, sales director at Western States Envelope and Letterhead, a century old print company based in Wisconsin. “Direct mail is usually perceived as the least intrusive form of advertising, and despite changes in the way we communicate, most people still look forward to going through their mail every day. Many successful marketing campaigns begin with a direct mail piece that engages the reader and directs them to download an app, or visit a website or a brick and mortar location. When the content of direct mail is relevant and personal, there is even greater potential to engage and nurture a relationship, and build brand loyalty.”

Retzer says that with the U.S. Postal Service’s EDDM (Every Door Direct Mail) program, it’s easier than ever to target very specific local markets. In addition, cross promotion strategies, including media advertising and social media like local Facebook and Twitter, can provide another option to reach area residents.

2. Relevant content

Rising popularity of social media compels many business owners to create a presence on social media, but Meghan Skiff, founder of Mixy Marketing, and an inbound marketing expert, warns that “having a presence” on social media is not a sound marketing strategy.

“Business owners need to build their strategy based on desired outcomes,” she says. “If the business is looking to leverage the local community in order to drive revenue, the goal is to take an active role in the community conversation, initiating and building loyal relationships over time. The focus should be on the customer, not the network. Social networks are simply tools to execute the strategy.”

For example, Whole Foods successfully engages customers by offering useful, relevant content through a bimonthly 20-page newsletter that features healthy budget recipes, seasonal deals, recipes for in-season produce and several pages of store coupons. Facebook pages share store photos, event reminders, great recipes and customer reviews. Users of the iPhone and iPad can download a Whole Foods app that offers more than 3,000 recipes and the ability to create a shopping list for a particular recipe with one click.

3. Marketing automation

Companies can use vehicles such as newsletters to get customers to opt in for timely reminders on special in-store events, and weekly specials and coupons via an automated marketing program.

“Automating your marketing is essential in today’s busy world,” Vieira says. “With newsletters, social media sites, blog posts and your website to keep up with, you need tools that can help you stay on track with your goals without spending huge amounts of time.”

4. Unique customer experiences

And while coupons are great, Andrew Davis, author of “Brandscaping,” says that businesses should not rely on them to build loyalty. “Brands should think about creating an experience so good they don’t need discounts and promotions. For example, instead of sending a discount for a product or service (which cuts into your profit for your most loyal customers), ask yourself what you can do to inspire them to come back? What can you do to get them excited about telling others about what you do?”

Davis points to special events such as meet-and-greets and educational seminars as ways to create excitement and interest around your brand. The key is to create an ubiquitous, upbeat vibe that makes people want to be a part of what you are doing.

“The businesses that truly take advantage of local community brand building are building their own community of supporters within their physical community,” Skiff says. “If this is done well, the business becomes part of each individual’s story. For the customer, it’s much more appealing to be part of the story than the target of a promotion.”

By Lorrie Bryan