Digital Age Journalism & Social Media Anthropology
A local business Main Street Shopping Village at Holiday Time


An old victorian house converted to a local service business

An old victorian house converted to a law office with room for other local service business © Phil Jacobs

There was a time not that long ago when the world of advertising was very different from how it is today. There were three options:
• television (but that was only for the large corporations with huge budgets and to a degree it still is)
• radio (not quite as pricey)
• print (the most accessible to small and local businesses but still a sizable but unavoidable expense)

This still describes the world of national, regional and even local advertising but no longer in totality. This is for two reasons. One is the internet and the other is the internet. The former is the internet and its role with large, corporate business marketing. The latter is the Internet and its role with small, local business marketing.

The word local in ‘Local Biz Marketing’ can be confusing. It is worth taking the time to explain exactly what it means and what the parameters are as it relates to marketing. The word ‘local’ in ‘Local Biz Marketing’, as it relates to business marketing, refers to something other than the marketer working exclusively in his or her own business’ area. It does not mean, as is often thought,  that someone who does ‘local biz marketing’ must be ‘local’ to the same area as the businesses that desire to be marketed. Nor does it mean that the marketer only works with businesses in the same area in order to do a professional job.

A local biz marketing specialist worth his salt can market a ‘local business’ anywhere in the country,  in other words, without it being local to his or her business community. Only the business being marketed needs to be local to the community it does business in. What exactly makes a business local?

There are three critical points that define a local business:
• it has a physical presence in a community
• it does face-to-face business with customers in that and surrounding communities
• it can even be part of a chain that is a regional or national corporation but if it fits the above two criteria, it needs to promote itself as a local business.

Why is all of this so important? The reason is because there are different ways to market a business. Varying rules and guidelines apply if  a business is local versus if it is an on-line, e-commerce business or a corporation that does not do face-to-face community sales or services. More specifically, one of the major components of marketing any kind of business is now about something called SEO or SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION.

Search engines are part of the online or web based universe. Until there were websites, and the need to find information on-line easily, search engines and optimization were unnecessary. But today, search engines and places that store all the available information such as Google, Yahoo, Bing and even YouTube, seek out and provide information.

Due to specific techniques and the latest formulas or algorithms for finding it, information can be accessed more easily if one knows how to make that information more accessible. Thus, the more specific a person seeking information can be and the more accurately the information being sought is positioned, the better the chance will be of the two finding each other.

The process is a kind of match making, if you will. The attraction of one party to the other and making the match depends upon how accurately each is able to delineate what each seeks and how explicit each is about what the other offers. In business, using computerized marketing, it is the job of the vendor or seller to be explicit about what is offered to attract the person or consumer seeking exactly or as close to that as possible.

Originally Google came up with a type of search engine optimization that was ‘global’ in terms of URLs, or the world of all things listed on the Internet. This, of course, included every business service, product and items that were for sale. The goal of SEO optimization was to get a company, services or product as close to being number one in its category. That meant that professionals whose job it was to optimize their clients websites did so to get them as close to being the first company listed on the first page of a search engine such as Google.

Not every company could be #1 or even on the first page. But professionals who specialized in SEO came up with all kinds of ‘tricks’ to rate their clients as highly as possible. Some of these methods have been more or less ethical. Thus developed the terms ‘white hat’ and ‘black hat’. One does not want to be caught using ‘black hat’ methods to increase a client’s ranking. The result can be banishment from Google.

Google has always managed to stay one step ahead of the SEO wizards. It continually changes its formulas or algorithms so that no one can stay on top for long without constantly working at figuring out how to do so. In addition, Google recently came up with something called Google Maps and Google Places.

Google identified 64 millions businesses in the United States. Each business was represented by a red upside down tear drop shape on Google Maps. It was slow at first, with only a very small percent of businesses claiming their Google Places and learning how to optimize their pages. But the momentum has gathered and there may presently be as many as 20% of local businesses in the US listed and optimized as Google Places.

What does all this mean and what is its significance? It means that there is a whole new way for local businesses to promote themselves. Websites, which are one time could simply be on-line business cards and brochures became much more complex e-commerce sites, corporate communities, brands for business and vehicles that were very expensive to produce. Along with the need to optimize for the search engines on a regular basis, this could all become a hefty expense for a business. This was and is not a problem for larger businesses and corporations with budgets to match their appetites for media and other expensive advertising. But what about the budgets and resources of small and local businesses?

Traditionally, local businesses have relied on less expensive types of advertising. Television commercials can easily run into four and five figures as an on-going campaign. Even radio commercials and print advertising can be pricing especially because repetition is the rule to become known and remembered through these venues. But then something happened to advertising on a local level similar to the advent of the Internet and how SEO transformed national advertising into the race to become #1 on Google or at least on the first page of Google.

Inbound Marketing is a term coined by two graduate students at MIT to contrast the old form of advertising or marketing that is ‘outbound’ or ‘intrusive’. With the old style of marketing, which still exists both ‘nationally’ and ‘locally’, the potential consumer is ‘intruded’ upon to buy, buy, buy. Examples of this are commercials that interrupt your favorite program and scream at you to buy their essential product that you can not possibly live without. Radio may be a slightly softer sell. But there is print and all the issues that come with that.

The paper industry is dying. This is for several reasons. They include ecological concerns, cost, waste, litter, and technology. The emerging technology is making paper more and more wasteful and less and less useful. There may still be a generation or two that will have to cease to exist before the population of our country is essentially paper free. There are those who have grown up with devices in hand that make paper irrelevant and even unnecessary. But we are not there yet. There are those of us who grew up thinking on paper, and despite our best efforts, will die without being able to completely transition to digital data processing with our brains.

But there will come a time when paper will not be necessary for communication, for commerce, for advertising and for business marketing. That time is around the corner. Some of us have viewed and even lived it. But we are part of the transition not the establishment. Depending upon age and financial circumstances, the digital items available today can replace the necessity and, to a great deal, the desire to use paper. This includes on-line books, Internet banking, and computer address books both on desktops and handheld devices.

As part of the transition, social media is providing the bridge. To come full circle and be specific to marketing, Google has created Google Places. In addition, there are over seventy Local Online Business Directories, all paperless, and available for vendor/business information about products and services, coupons, offers, recommendations and ratings from existing customers, photos of place, product and plenty more.

The beauty of the Local Online Business Directory is that it is interactive, something a print venue can never offer. In addition, these directories allow customers to become part of a business’ sales force. Comments and ratings are ‘word of mouth’ online marketing. ‘Word of mouth’ has always been one of the most reliable forms of advertising and spreading the word about a desirable or even undesirable commodity, company, product or service provider. Now with over seventy online directories to choose from (depending upon the category of business sought), one can get a very good idea of what one is seeking within ones own community.

Google has created something called the ‘seven pack’. This is similar to being on the first page on the original SEO. With local SEO, each of the top seven to ten businesses are ranked in order from A to G or A to J down a row and next to a Google Map with pins correlating to the location of these top rated companies. Each listing links to the actual Google business listing that can be claimed by its owner, optimized with a description, photos and other information. In addition, recommendations and ratings can be made by consumers making them the online sales force. Good ratings can make a business’ reputation. Bad ratings can break one or put a dent in it. This can be overcome but it does take some time and hard work.

Small or local business shopping is a hot ticket item right now since it is part of a national AMEX campaign to follow Black Friday at malls throughout the nation. In fact, many stores have advertised on TV that their Black Friday will start at midnight on Thanksgiving Thursday just so no one misses it, I suppose. But getting back to Small Business Saturday. It may be a gimmick on the part of its originators but it is ingenius none the less and essential to the survival of local businesses as well as the communities they reside in.

So consumers, let’s shop local all we can. For those of us who are also marketing professionals and can now specialize in Local Biz Marketing, we can play a doubly vital role in the welfare of local communities, our own and others all across the nation.

A local business Main Street Shopping Village at Holiday Time

A local business Main Street Shopping Village at Holiday Time © Phil Jacobs


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