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Local Marketing: Customers Left Out in the Cold

Thursday, November 17, 2011

For businesses, local marketing usually deals with the people that they wish to include: Those living in the target markets served by the business, and those living in markets that the business would like to develop. Time, money and effort is spent understanding who these people are, what they need and want, how to reach them and how to turn them into customers. Local marketing also excludes large groups of potential customers — those outside the areas served by a business.

Some companies market extensively online, but their products are only available for purchase in store. Others offer e-commerce, but only to people living in select places. Often, certain prices, products, deals or promotions are only available in one area, but can be seen by people in another. Some companies are forced to exclude people from having access to their products or services due to regulatory or logistical reasons, while others simply aren’t interested in expanding beyond their backyard. This means that there are inevitably people left out in the cold — those who want to buy your products or services, but are unable to access them.

It is not difficult to target offline marketing channels for those living in your target areas. Companies use direct mail and run TV ads on select local affiliates. Similarly, in-store or out-of-home advertising can be placed strategically in target zones. Digital ads don’t share these physical boundaries. In the past two decades, the internet has created the illusion of a borderless society. A local business can receive site visitors from the immediate vicinity, from across the country or continent, or from around the world.

However, this borderless society doesn’t really exist. We’re still divided into a world of a few “haves”, and a large number “have-nots” — those who can see the products, services and deals that are available to your customers, but cannot access them. This can create frustration among customers who are excluded today.

If you don’t care right now, you ought to — because you might be targeting those same customers tomorrow. Even if you have no plans to ever extend services to people in these areas, their frustration could be vented in social media, which might tarnish your reputation. Here are some things for local or regional businesses to consider when creating a targeted local digital strategy:

  • Have a plan to address the people you don’t serve. Assume that at least some of the traffic to your site will be from people outside your business service area. At the very least, have a message to them explaining where your business operates and where it does not. If possible, tailor the message by language or by region.
  • Be transparent. If you can’t ship your products to people in a certain country, or if residents of a particular state are excluded from a promotion, explain why. A borderless society has created increased communication channels. Markets may be viewed as separate, but they’re fully connected. Don’t try to hide things. It’s far better to be up front with everyone.
  • Monitor complaints from those left out. If you find that a high number of complainants are coming from a certain geographic area, it could be valuable business intelligence in terms of inspiring you where to grow your business next.
  • Keep them posted. If your local business plans to expand, offer people the option of subscribing to a mailing list so they can be informed when you reach their area. This helps you build a future customer base before you’re ready to launch.

Local still matters in marketing, maybe more than ever. By tailoring messages to the people in your area as well as to those outside it, you can create a successful local strategy for a global world — and provide a little warmth for those perpetually left out in the cold.

Get in touch to find out more on how you can improve your local strategy!

Sari Stein, Strategic Consulting Director

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