Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Democratization of Technology Benefits Local Retailers

The Democratization of Technology refers to the process by which access to technology rapidly continues to become more accessible to more people.  Thanks to the mobile revolution, never has this democratization happened at a faster pace and is resulting is a huge boon to the local retailer.

In the U.S., comScore reports that 94 percent of those 18-24 years of age own a smartphone, 93 percent of those 25 to 34, 84 percent of those 35 to 54 and even 58 percent of those over the age of 55 do as well. These numbers are huge and result in both the consumer and the local retailer having technology in their in their pockets and on the counter that can intercommunicate.

At an increasing scale, Retailers now have greater access to use and purchase technologically sophisticated solutions that in the past were only available to the big box retailers. That's because the new breed of mobile solutions are powerful yet user-friendly for the small retailer. No longer do these retailer solutions require extensive networking expertise or costly service contracts.

I have had a lot of experience lately with a local retailer mobile loyalty app called Flok that is a great example of how the democratization of technology is benefiting local retailers. Flok enables small retailers the ability to have their own branded loyalty app that motivates and engages customers.

Flok requires no in-store hardware ... not even WIFI since merchant interactions take place on the customer's smartphone.  In addition to contextual rewards, Flok allows merchants to leverage beacon technology, push messaging, geo-location, and social media integration to accomplish results that were previously unattainable for the small business retailer.

Flok is a fantastic example of a product that gives local retailers digital technology that allows them to execute a merchant engagement solution far more effectively than a big box retailer could ever possibly achieve.  Local retailers are part of the community and can more effectively engage their customers in ways that are impossible from a big box retailer's marketing department.

So local retailers, what are you waiting for? User-friendly, powerful mobile tools are out there that will help you grow your business. Most are available at a cost that is a fraction of what you pay for your home cable bill ... and they work. No better time to start than now!

Hyperlocal Marketing Series #5: Loyalty Programs

The way your customers earn rewards is changing. . .

We’ve all been stuck behind that customer in line at the grocery store. You know, the one rifling through her purse, then her coat, and finally her keychain to produce her rewards card. We all have them. We all go through the same stages of panic as we realize— often too late — that we will need to present them at the register in order to reap the rewards. Well, those days are over. Just as the way we swipe credit cards has changed, the way businesses offer rewards has changed, and mobile loyalty programs are the new king.

I will confess that I have turned down loyalty programs in the past because I didn’t want to do two things:
1) sign up at the register and 2) add a fun-sized credit card to my keychain. Now, thanks to the mobile phone, I don’t have to do either. All of my reward cards are in one place: on my mobile device. This newfound convenience goes both ways. Not only do customers benefit from ease of use, but businesses benefit from easier access to customers. The process of getting a physical reward card involves a lot of effort from both parties. But with mobile loyalty programs, offering exclusive deals to your customers has never been easier, just as it has never been easier for customers to redeem them.

By producing repeat customers, an easy-to-use loyalty program will help your business maintain its reach in a local market. Because of the rise of applications such FourSquare and Yelp, repeat customers can also become content creators for your business. Customers are rewarded for becoming repeat customers through your program, and you are rewarded with more exposure from their check-ins and reviews. Like most of the pieces of hyperlocal marketing, it’s a win-win. Customers and businesses alike reap the benefits. Hopefully you are starting to see how all of the pieces of a hyperlocal marketing interact with one another. Alone they are strong, but together, your business becomes a digital powerhouse. Your customers have constant access to your business. This includes industry news, exclusive deals, customer news, special events, and much more. Hyperlocal marketing is a surefire way to connect with local customers, retain their business and expand yours.

Read the rest of our Hyperlocal Series:
Hyperlocal Marketing Series #1: How to Connect With Your Best Customers
Hyperlocal Marketing Series #2: Local Directories
Hyperlocal Marketing Series #3: A Responsive Website
Hyperlocal Marketing Series #4: Social Media

Hyperlocal Marketing Series #4: Social Media

Attracting local customers through social media

In recent years, social media has entered the zeitgeist of marketing. It has become imperative to have an online presence as a means of exposing customers to valuable information about businesses. Social media can be a way to inform, comment, advertise and promote. The best part? It’s free to start. A social media presence can fit into any marketing budget, and with steady monitoring, can become a personality-rich extension of your business online.

As stated early, both Facebook and Twitter are free to start. You can get an account up and running in seconds. That’s the easy part. From there you will need to develop a social media strategy. Who do you follow? What are you posting? What are you saying? Connecting with a company that offers marketing consulting will help you optimize the best plan for your business, and will open up the opportunity to engage in paid search programs to increase your reach at a cost. Both Facebook and Twitter offer paid search packages as well as the tools to analyze and optimize your strategy.

As an added bonus Twitter made a deal with Google to allow tweets to show up in Google search results. This news is huge for social media strategies, as they now double as SEO strategies. So when you expand your social media presence, you expand how well your business indexes in online search. It’s a win-win.

With a strong social media presence comes the responsibility of monitoring feedback. It is important to respond to positive comments and even more important to resolve negative comments. Both positive feedback and positive complaint resolutions can go a long way online, often times becoming the subject of subsequent content. Allowing your customers to create content is part of interacting with them, and embracing their content will help your reputation and reach grow.

Another advantage of social media is grooming accounts to be industry news aggregators. Think of your Facebook feed. We know what every member of the family and our high school class is up to. However, if we build a social media profile around a solid strategy of following industry-savvy accounts, our pages will begin to aggregate valuable news for viewers. And don’t forget, this can also be a way to monitor competitors in your industry.

Clearly, there are more advantages than disadvantages to a strong social media presence. Social media offers exposure, personality and a near-direct line to customers. While customer feedback can be negative, a good social media strategy can turn it into positive content. With the help a consulting team, a social media strategy for your small business will give you the extra reach you need to connect to customers, all while keeping you updated on industry happenings.

Read our latest hyperlocal marketing posts:
Hyperlocal Marketing Series #1: How to Connect With Your Best Customers
Hyperlocal Marketing Series #2: Local Directories
Hyperlocal Marketing Series #3: A Responsive Website

Hyperlocal Marketing Series #3: A Responsive Website

What the rise of mobile search means for your business

Very quickly, let’s recap the two statistics presented in the overview of hyperlocal marketing in the first article of this series, because they provide a foundation for understanding what emphasis on the marketing strategy can do:

In 2014 (for the first time ever) there were more mobile searches than desktop searches. Furthermore, according to the Global Web Index, 80% of adults online have a smartphone, and nearly 50% have a tablet.

It doesn’t take a seasoned marketing strategist to figure this one out, but I’ll just come right out and say it: you’re going to need a responsive website. Failure to adopt a website that can scale to a mobile device is going to cut off a huge portion of potential customers. So what exactly are you giving up by not having a responsive website?

Brace yourself, here comes the numbers.
According to a Google/Nielsen study, 45% of mobile searches have goals. What kind of goals? Well, when people mobile search, they are:

30% more likely to visit a retailer’s website
57% more likely to visit a store
51% more likely to make a purchase
39% more likely to call a business

As discussed in the local directories article of this series, setting up your business online involves listing it among as many relevant business directories as possible. But it doesn’t end there. The data above tells us that those searches are going to land customers on your website. The following statistics (a store visit, a purchase or a call) are the results of optimizing your marketing strategy for mobile search.

Lastly, another (often overlooked) advantage of a responsive website is the value of the data it collects. In addition to landing goal-oriented local customers, your responsive website will yield more detailed search analytics—the perfect ammunition for getting the greatest return on investment for your marketing budget. The collection of data such as how often the website is visited, how long it’s visited, how much new traffic versus repeat traffic and from which devices it is being accessed (mobile, tablet, desktop, etc.) is going to be very valuable in the hands of marketing consultants who can help you test and optimize the best hyperlocal marketing strategy for your business.

At the end of the day, failing to embrace mobile search will result in your business missing out on a large percentage of prospective customers. A hyperlocal strategy that fully optimizes the power of a responsive website is going to yield much more customers than the local competition. And this isn’t just hearsay on a company blog, this is marketing strategy based on easy-to-understand data. You don’t need to be a statistician or an analytics specialist to crack this code. The writing is on the wall: A responsive website is a necessary tool for attracting local customers.

Check out the other stories in our Hyperlocal Series:

Hyperlocal Marketing Series #1: How to Connect With Your Best Customers
Hyperlocal Marketing Series #2: Local Directories

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Hyperlocal Marketing Series #2: Local Directories

The importance of online business listings

Let’s face it, in your quest to find some nearby Chinese takeout you’re not reaching for the yellow pages. You’re going to search online. In today’s world, coming up in online search results grounds your business in the reality of your customers. It’s how your company can be right in front of your customers at any given time. And without overwhelming name recognition, a strong presence on local directories is your ticket to the local market.

The first step toward encompassing this type of hyperlocal marketing is making sure your business is listed on Yelp, Google My Business and Bing Places. It might sound like common sense, but it’s important to add the right details to your business profiles. Keep in mind these listings will provide a way for customers to become acquainted with your business, and because they might be their first impression, you’re going to want more than a picture of your storefront and a sentence. Be sure to include the necessary information for search optimization, such as location and phone number. Consider these profiles like the windows to your storefront. Your customers aren’t going to come inside an empty building, and they certainly aren’t going to entertain a hollow business listing.

Another bonus to listing and monitoring your listings—one that couples perfectly with a strong hyperlocal marketing strategy—is that your business will index better in local-based searches. It’s an ideal way to capitalize on your locale and become a household name in your community without a large marketing budget. To maximize this local advantage you must monitor your listings on directories, especially customer reviews. Online reviews weigh heavily toward how your business ranks in search results. They are an often overlooked piece of hyperlocal strategy.

All in all, taking advantage of local directories can drastically improve your customer base in a specific location. If you don’t, other businesses will—surely outperforming your local reach. If you want to connect with the customers closest and most likely to revisit you, look into adopting a marketing strategy that includes a strong hyperlocal approach.

Read our latest hyperlocal marketing posts:
Hyperlocal Marketing Series #1: How to Connect With Your Best Customers

Friday, March 25, 2016

Hyperlocal Marketing Series #1: How to Connect With Your Best Customers

What is Hyperlocal Marketing?

Simply put, hyperlocal marketing is marketing oriented to a defined geographic area—usually a local region, town, community, etc. The idea is to attract local customers and turn them into repeat customers. Hyperlocal marketing has been a part of business since the inception of business itself. While it initially existed as yellow pages, newspapers and direct mail, the term has taken on new meaning in the digital era. Basically, the popularity of search engines coupled with the ubiquity of mobile phones has shifted the marketing landscape to give the power of hyperlocal marketing back to small businesses. Understanding how this digital landscape works will help you connect with and retain your customers.

Search Drives Hyperlocal Marketing

At one time, if you wanted to find a business you checked the yellow pages. Thanks to the internet, that norm has shifted to search. People rely on online search for everything. Directions, dating advice, a wedding photographer, medical diagnoses, an easy hollandaise recipe and much, much more. This is why it’s imperative to have an online presence regardless of your industry. Indexing online is going to help you connect with customers both far and—more importantly—near.

So how does search—the driving force of hyperlocal marketing—interact with the rise of mobile phones?

Well, in 2014 (for the first time ever) there were more mobile searches than desktop searches. Furthermore, according to the Global Web Index, 80% of adults online have a smartphone, and nearly 50% have a tablet. The shift to mobile search has ushered in a new era of online presence. An era that not only requires a website, but a responsive one that can be accessed on a smartphone or tablet. Accounting for your customers finding your business on a mobile device is now a crucial piece of any successful marketing strategy, and one that can be harnessed by small businesses.

So how can a small business implement hyperlocal marketing in today’s marketing landscape?

This series will cover the four best ways to utilize hyperlocal marketing for your business: local directories, social media, responsive websites and loyalty programs.

Read the next article in our Hyperlocal Series: Local Directories

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Foursquare Check-In Addict's Story of Recovery

My story begins on January 5, 2010 when I tapped my first Foursquare check-in at a Skyline Chili and ends today ... 60 days since my 5,000th (and last) check-in on Foursquare. Since that last check-in, I've had daily urges to whip out my iPhone and tap that Foursquare icon. I know I should move the icon from its coveted position on my home screen and maybe even bury the icon in my "elephant graveyard" folder labeled "Infrequent." But alas, one day at a time.

I'm many years past the millennial classification that is normally tagged as the mobile generation, but ever since I got my first PC back in 1986 - an AT&T 6300 with a whopping 10 MB hard drive - technology has been my passion. Never really been much of a "gamer," but my technology exploration quest inevitably led me to mobile and its never ending plethora of apps. So, in early 2010 I stumbled upon Foursquare and my check-in addiction got started.

If you've gotten this far in the post, I will assume that you know a little something about Foursquare so I will skip any major app overview. But in short, Foursquare leverages location, recognition, gamification, and rewards to engage users of their app.

Location today is very different than in the early days of Foursquare. Today, it is rare to try and check-in to a location on Foursquare and not find a listing for the business. Back is 2010 I remember regularly adding locations and admittedly enjoying the process. The feeling of helping to add to the merchant ecosystem for some reason was a thrill. At one time I was not only adding new listings in Foursquare, but also in Gowalla ... an early Foursquare competitor that fell by the wayside.

It's the other three elements of Foursquare - Gamification, Recognition, and Rewards - that finally lost their luster for me and had me turn my mobile behavior around. In retrospect, I think my realization of a need for a change started around the time that Foursquare released their companion app Swarm. This required me to start the check-in process on Foursquare but then complete the process through Swarm ... still scratching my head on that one. And hey, 5,000 check-ins on Foursquare and no fireworks, no new badge, no recognition? What's up with that?

Then, mysteriously, Mayorships disappeared! Eliminating my subconscious (and silly) thoughts that telling a business that I was the mayor of their establishment elevated my standing in their eyes. The few times I tried to mention my mayorship status I got the obvious reaction of "What's Foursquare?" BTW, Mayorships returned in June 2015 but that part of the addiction grip wasn't strong enough to suck me back in. With the return of this self-aggrandizement enabler came some weird tinkling coins that were awarded in various denominations when you check-in. Still, I can't figure out what I'm supposed to do with the 1,408 coins in my account?

But probably the biggest contributor to my check-in recovery was finally realizing that after 5,000 check-ins I maybe got, at best, 3 rewards pushed my way ... a free dessert, a $5.00 off special, and something else so inconsequential I can't even remember it. I think where Foursquare really messed up was in not enough engagement with their merchants, letting them know how to claim their business, and then educating them on how to use the platform to build their business.

Many of the local retailers I frequent have implemented loyalty programs like Belly and Flok that actually reward me for my patronage. I started to begin seeing the light! Heck, even a local sports bar - with a Chicken Philly to die for - started rolling out the Flok program. In the 3 months I've been in their loyalty program, I've received a free sub on my birthday, a free soft drink for joining the program and a $2.00 off reward that miraculously appeared when I drove by the location. I frequently receive push notifications keeping me engaged with specials that ride along with the Cavs games that are happening. 

So there you have it, mobile check-in addiction can be overcome if you honestly evaluate the question ... what value are receiving? If your answer is "very little," take a look around for what mobile loyalty programs your local retailers are using and take that first step towards rewards. Smart phones are ubiquitous now and retailers have noticed this and are quickly shifting from old-fashioned plastic card programs to mobile loyalty. Get rewarded, get recognized and have fun!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Hyperlocal Comes of Age for the Small Business Retailer

Hyperlocal marketing has been with us for decades in multiple forms: yellow pages, billboards, direct mail, newspapers, and numerous other mediums. Today, consumer mobile adoption has created the “perfect storm” for Main Street small business success. In this age of the Internet, GPS and QR codes, small business CEOs can easily leverage some sophisticated digital marketing tools to reach local audiences, build awareness neighborhood by neighborhood, and make the most of a limited marketing budget.

The buzz in big box retail marketing circles is about hyperlocal marketing … something that is very tough for a large retail chain to execute, but – with the right digital tools – an extremely effective marketing strategy for the small businesses CEO. Hyperlocal marketing is using focused marketing efforts targeted for a community within a local geographic location. The main goal of hyperlocal marketing is to connect with people close by and turn them into repeat customers due to their proximity to your business location.

In his Think With Google article, Matt Lawson, Google’s director of search ads marketing, states, “We want things right, and we want things right away. As a result, the consumer journey looks markedly different than it did just five years ago. Instead of a few moments of truth, it’s a series of ‘micro-moments’ when we turn to mobile to act on a need.” Turning to our smartphone for hyperlocal information has become second nature. Google searches involving ‘near me’ have nearly doubled since last year as people make purchase decisions on the move.

Gone are the days when brand building was a game for big bucks. Today, with hyperlocal marketing , even mom and pop retailers, with limited marketing budgets can establish their brand among their target audience and drive new and repeat customers in to their stores. Getting started with building your small business’ hyperlocal marketing strategy is easier when you leverage the tools and experience of a technology partner who has expertise in working with small business retailers. Let’s discuss four cost-effective digital tools that should be part of your hyperlocal marketing mix:

Mobile Device Loyalty Programs

The future of loyalty programs is not in plastic cards or even keyfobs, for that matter. Nope, the future lies in retailer-branded mobile loyalty programs that will allow consumers to get their rewards and a much much more. For the consumer, there’s the convenience factor – your loyalty card is with you at all times. Now a days, who doesn’t panic when they leave the house without their phone? For the retailer, you can drive higher engagement and encourage program members to redeem more offers and even get your brand on your customers’ phone home screens.

Mobile app loyalty programs combined with close to ubiquitous consumer smart phone adoption has created this “must have” tool for the small business retailer. Consumers have been trained to check-in on apps like foursquare and Yelp and amazingly it is the gamification aspect that seems to encourage this behavior, since there are little if no rewards ever received. The new breed of small business mobile loyalty solutions leverage this gamification behavior and tie-in rewards and messaging to achieve significant repeat business and increased revenues.

Today’s best mobile loyalty solutions leverage beacon technology, push messaging, geo-location, and social media integration to accomplish results that were previously unattainable for the small business retailer. Membership sign-up can be jumpstarted with personal invites to an existing customer email list and/or invitations pushed to social media followers. Repeat business drivers like welcome rewards, birthday rewards, visit reminders, and Facebook check-in rewards motivate customer to come back and inexpensively do wonders for branding.

But the real beauty for the small business retailer adopting a good mobile loyalty solution is simplicity. “Set & Forget” allows the hurried small business CEO that already leads a day long schizophrenic existence of managing his business to not have to add another task to his daily chores. A good mobile loyalty program just works and results in a significant increase in repeat business. Also, hardware requirements and WIFI connectivity do not matter since all digital communication takes place through the app on the customer’s phone.

Responsive Websites

I wonder what sort of device you’re reading this on? A laptop? Maybe an iPad while you’re sitting on the couch multi-tasking with your TV and mobile device? Or perhaps even more likely you’ve got a smartphone in your hand, and you’re thumbing through information before your store opens for the day.

Since more local searches are being conducted through mobile devices, your company’s website should also be optimized for mobile devices. That means creating an experience specifically for mobile, and not a mini version of the desktop site. A mobile optimized website has pertinent information readily available that buyers want to see when they access your website from a mobile device. If a potential customer has to pinch, squeeze and swipe too much, chances are they’ll move on. Your website is your “home base” so if it is not mobile responsive get it updated ASAP.

Social Media

Social media has come to be one of the most essential hyperlocal marketing techniques for small business retailers. Although it may be difficult to establish a direct relationship between social media and in-store sales, few would deny the influence that it bears on consumers’ purchase decisions. Use your social accounts to offer your followers a peek into your business. Offer your social media followers exclusive deals. If you are an expert in what you do post your expertise through articles on your social properties. There are lots of creative ways to deliver hyperlocal engagement through social media … and it’s free to get started.

Make sure to monitor your own social media profiles and thank customers for positive feedback as well as respond to negative comments and try to resolve issues offline. Also, some of your best competitive information can be found by monitoring what your competitors are saying through their social channels. For the busy small business owner there are cost-effective tools that will consolidate all your social chatter in a single view making it easy to stay on top of things … and some even aggregate everything your competitors are saying too.

Local Directories

You should pay close attention to your business profiles listed on Yelp, Google My Business, and Bing Places. Make sure they are accurate, add additional business details, and claim them as the business owner. They are prioritized by the search engines and will be seen frequently on local searches. I don’t know about you, but when I am in the mood to eat out Yelp is the go-to app for me.

Just twenty years ago, when we first started figuring out the digital landscape, there were no tools. Sending 500 emails was a cumbersome process, and having a website was a little like having a classic European sports car … rare, expensive and difficult to maintain. In 2016 digital marketing tools tailored for the small retailer are out there. A good technology partner will assist you in stitching together social media chatter, cookies, email addresses, mobile IDs, location data and other identifiers, to create a powerful hyperlocal marketing machine.