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The importance of local authenticity
When deciding which local businesses to patronize, consumers choose ones they know and trust. Columnist Brian Smith shares tips for marketers looking to help their businesses cultivate a strong image within their local communities.
Welcome to the post-truth world. A world of fake news and faulty Facebook metrics. A world of Yahoo data breaches and WikiLeaks scandals. A world in which it’s hard to spot a glimmer of truth when it’s sunk to the bottom of a Flint, Michigan well.
With truth in short supply these days, a brand’s authenticity, particularly its local authenticity, is more important than ever. We trust those we know, those who live in our community. They’re one of us. We are forever suspicious of outsiders, the unscrupulous “them.”
If you’re a local marketer for an SMB (small or medium-sized business), you’ve got an advantage over larger brands with multiple locations. You’ve got your finger on the pulse of the community. You live in it. It’s easy for you to capitalize on that pop-up holiday market on the corner of 5th and Main.
But marketers at multi-location brands often don’t have this luxury. Their local marketing campaigns are typically run by corporate offices far removed from the locations they’re managing. And it’s hard for someone in a Manhattan skyscraper to know what’s happening on the streets of Akron. Multiply this problem by a thousand — or ten thousand, depending on the number of locations managed — and it’s obvious why national brands have trouble providing local credibility.
So how does one project local authenticity without faking it?
Let’s take off our tinfoil hats, emerge from our post-truth bunkers and see if we can shine some light on the subject.
Show me the social proof
When it comes to purchase decisions, we never make them alone. Sure, we might complete the transaction online without ever interacting with another human. But consciously or subconsciously, we make our decisions by considering how they will reflect in the eyes of others, and by what others might have decided in the same situation. We may ultimately ignore these influences, but they remain. It’s as if someone is constantly looking over our shoulder, nudging and judging our decisions.
What’s important for marketers to realize is that not all of these influences carry the same weight. If it were only the company telling you to buy a product, you’d naturally be suspicious. But if you also read multiple reviews endorsing the product, your trust and confidence grows.
Nevertheless, these faceless strangers leaving reviews will always remain in the “them” category. And the truth is, a single recommendation by someone you know and trust will trump the opinions — no matter how many — of people you don’t know.
And that’s why local authenticity is critical for brands. It transforms that nudging and judging voice in our ears from “them” to “us.”
Most of the time, local marketers won’t be able to establish personal relationships with potential customers. That’s the domain of salespeople. But there are three steps you can take to improve your brand’s local authenticity.
1. Cultivate positive reviews and social check-ins
The truth is, customers are far more likely to leave a negative review than a positive one. Therefore, it’s critical that after a customer completes a transaction, you ask them how satisfied they were with the experience and the product.
If they loved the product and the experience, ask them if they’d be willing to endorse you on review sites and check in on social media.
If the customer was disappointed in the experience, give the customer a chance to vent to you in private by asking them what went wrong. This gives you a chance to remedy wrongs, improve your process, and at the very least, decrease the chances of a public complaint.
When you can’t catch a customer before they leave a negative public review, be sure to respond to their comments in a timely fashion. And when you do, take up the mantra of Patrick Swayze in “Road House,” and “be nice.” You can be certain that other potential customers will be reading and judging your actions.
2. Participate in the community (duh!)
Nothing makes a company feel more local than actually participating in the local community.
Now, hold up. Before you go running out there handing out flyers and setting up a booth at the local farmer’s market, the first step you should take — always — is to create local landing pages for each physical location.
Why? Local landing pages serve as the virtual storefront of your brick-and-mortar locations. When customers search for you or a product and service that you provide, this will be their first impression of each store’s local identity. Make it a good impression.
It doesn’t do you any good if your local landing page scare customers off. In addition to having a pleasing layout and streamlined UI, the information on these pages should always be accurate and up-to-date. This is particularly true of your name, address, phone number and store hours. After all, nothing says you’re an out-of-towner like having a map pin that doesn’t actually lead to your store, or a phone number that connects to a disconnect recording.
But taking care of your local landing pages isn’t enough to establish local authenticity. You need to anchor yourself in the local community. And then your need to get that message out on your local landing pages. Try to highlight each location’s unique personality.
This can be as simple as saying you’re located across the street from the courthouse, providing a brief description of your building’s history (assuming it’s interesting), or listing unique events happening at each of your individual locations.
For example, if you’re a home improvement brand that hosts different do-it-yourself classes each week, you should be updating it on your local pages. This will give you a chance to win with search engines and your local community.
Another great way to provide local identity is through pictures. This can be as simple as highlighting your employee of the month or pictures of customers and inventory inside the store.
Or consider taking a cue from small-town America and hype the big high school football game, celebrate the prom or promote the winter carnival and other seasonal events. Better yet, create and sponsor some of these events. It’ll earn you local citations and establish you as an important part of the community.
3. Get to know your customers through automated personalization and geotargeting
Humans anthropomorphize pretty much everything we see. We assign human personalities to animals. We identify with Big Bird and the Muppets. We see faces on the moon and patterns among the stars. Let customers do the same with your company by creating a brand persona and personalizing your marketing campaigns.
We’re entering the era of account-based marketing for individuals. With the rise of Big Data, chatbots, digital assistants and content automation, marketers have an unprecedented opportunity to speak to customers on an individual basis.
As such, it’s critical that brands improve their omnichannel marketing and utilize detailed customer IDs to create the best and most personalized customer experience possible.
But knowing your customer isn’t enough if you aren’t also taking into consideration where your customers are, and when. After all, sending me an ad for your nearby restaurant at 10:00 p.m. doesn’t do you much good if your restaurant closed an hour earlier.
For local marketing, context is king. That’s why placing the online world into the context of the physical world will be critical going forward. Fortunately, there have been significant technological developments that are making it easier to target customers at the right moment and location.
For example, Google AdWords proximity-based advertising establishes a geo-fence radius around each store location for PPC targeting. Instead of taking a scattershot approach of targeting potential customers by ZIP code or region, you can now exclude the areas that don’t lead to conversions, and thereby find the optimal targeting distance for each store.
By targeting only customers who are likely to convert, you improve the efficiency of your advertising spend and foster local authenticity.
Bringing it all together
It’s not easy for brands, especially multi-location brands, to provide local authenticity. But if you cultivate positive reviews, actively participate in the community, personalize your content through automation, and refine your PPC targeting accuracy, you can provide the local authenticity customers are seeking in our post-truth world.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.