If you're marketing to a local audience, there are more tools available than ever to help you. In this blog find out how you can use online services, as well as traditional marketing techniques, to attract local customers.
Appealing to local customers is easier than ever. And it's not just about flyers and local ads; technology can also be used to market at town or even postcode level.
It's just easier to market within a defined geography, for example, in theory I can consult across the whole of Europe, but in practice I keep to my home town and neighbouring counties. I can network locally, I can use local marketing techniques, and there are enough customers in the catchment area to keep me busy. It's about fishing where the fish are.
Get listed in local directories
The internet is an increasingly powerful local marketing tool. As a first step, you can get listed with Google My Business so customers searching Google and Google Maps find your contact details.
Free Index is another free online directory. With FreeIndex, your local customers can add reviews. The more positive reviews you get, the higher up the index you go. Basic listings on sites such as Thomsonlocal.com and Yell.com are also free.
Location-based social networking
Another easy step to ensure local customers find you online is to optimise your website for local searches. At its most basic, this means including your operating area in the keywords of all pages and page title fields, and adding as many relevant backlinks (links from other local websites) as possible.
Increasingly, social media is also lending itself to local marketing. Restaurants, bars and shops, for example, might consider listing on Foursquare, a free location-based mobile app that uses global positioning data to allow people to share information about places to eat, drink, shop or visit. Users can pick up automatic suggestions on where to go from within their vicinity.
Traditional marketing for local businesses
Face-to-face networking can be an extremely effective way of building local custom, particularly for business-to-business customers. If someone has met you, they are much more likely to want to use your firm or refer you.
Networking can also help you develop marketing partnerships with local, complementary businesses. For example, a high-street wedding dress designer and florist may find it valuable to promote each other in their marketing.
Other traditional marketing techniques you could use to attract local custom include targeted leaflet drops, press releases to local media and local sponsorship.
Evaluating response to your local marketing
To ensure you're spending your time wisely, measure the effectiveness of your marketing strategy. Put in tracking mechanisms so you can measure how successful each technique is. Evaluating web-based marketing can be easy using Google Analytics, which is free, but if you do only one thing, ask all new customers how they heard of your company.
The internet is probably the first place you turn to when you're looking for something. The internet can help you find people, learn more about your market and keep up to date with regulations affecting your business.
Understanding how to use search engines makes it easier to find what you want. It's also worth thinking about how you can check information can be trusted.
1. Recruitment and finding people
The internet can help you find new employees and make other useful connections.
There are many ways to recruit new staff online
Social media is a good way to stay in touch with people
You can use the internet to learn a lot about people
2. Customers, suppliers and competitors
The internet can give you access to a wealth of information about existing and potential customers and suppliers. It can also help you learn about your competitors.
You can get information about other businesses, like new clients or prospective partners
Searching online can give you a sense of what kind of company you're dealing with:
The web is the best place to start any competitor research:
3. Market research and trends
The internet can provide you with an enormous amount of helpful information when you are performing market research. Online services can help you understand and identify your target customers:
You can use the internet to analyse your market and identify opportunities
You can keep an eye on wider trends in society and technology.
4. Laws and regulations
Keep up-to-date with new laws and rules that may affect your business. There is a wealth of legal and regulatory information available online
Government websites will give you the official line on new initiatives, rules and regulations
5. Using search engines
Search engines are the main way people find information online. If you're having trouble homing in on the information you need, there are a number of techniques that can help. Using basic search operators can produce a more specific set of results:
Use the advanced search
Can you trust the internet?
Anyone can publish practically anything online, so it can be hard to verify the information that you find. When relying on data you've found on the internet, you must be confident that it can be trusted.
Get a second opinion: Ask colleagues or contacts what they think of the information you've found. Are they familiar with the source? Have they ever seen conflicting data?
Find the original source: Statistics often get repeated online without reference to the original source or piece of research. Use search engines to try and identify where a piece of information originated.Identify who's behind it
The internet is full of 'sponsored content' created by companies or individuals that have an agenda. This information is often reliable, but it's important you understand what motivations were behind its creation.
If you want to get inside your customers’ minds, you need to do qualitative research.
Face-to-face interviews and focus groups can provide valuable insights into your products, your market and your customers
Qualitative research is about finding out not just what people think, but why they think it. It’s about getting people to talk about their opinions so you can understand their motivations and feelings.
Face-to-face interviews and group discussions are the best way to get this kind of in-depth feedback. Qualitative research can be valuable when you are developing new products or coming up with new marketing initiatives and you want to test reactions and refine your approach.
Reasons to do market researchResearch is an important first step before you undertake many key marketing tasks including preparing a marketing plan, doing SWOT analysis, product development, branding and pricing. Market research should also inform your online marketing strategy - everything from the design of your website to email newsletters, SEO and social networking.
Market research can also help you develop your products and services and make sure they meet the needs of your target audience. For instance, if you run a restaurant and you want to introduce a new lunch menu, you could invite a small group of local people to come and taste the food and give you feedback on your dishes, service and proposed pricing. This kind of exercise would not cost you much but it could provide you with important feedback and increase your chances of success.
Before you go into production with a new line, it’s vital to get your product into the hands of some members of your target market. Is it easy to use, does it do what it's supposed to, is the design appealing? Does it look as if it will stand out next to competing products in-store? Is the packaging working? Is the price right? This type of customer research almost always throws up one or two important issues that can then be ironed out before you launch your product.
Running a research groupGetting clear results from qualitative research can be difficult, however. Some people may be positive just to be polite, while others may be overbearing and dominate the discussion. With focus groups, you are working with small samples of your target market, typically with four to eight people. Or you could conduct one-on-one interviews. By contrast, a survey (quantitative research) might be sent out to a large number of customers.
Choosing the right person to interview people or to moderate a group discussion is vital. Professional market researchers are the ideal choice and it’s certainly important that business owner/managers don’t run the sessions themselves. It’s vital to find an independent person to do the job - that way, they’ll remain unbiased and the people they are interviewing will feel they can speak honestly.
A good moderator will run the session in an unstructured, free-flowing way. Answers should be probed and proceedings should be recorded for analysing later. Body language and non-verbal responses are worth noticing and video is useful to remind the moderator how respondents looked as well as what they said in the interview.
What can qualitative research tell you?
Qualitative research is about getting people to expand on their answers so that you can get more insight into their attitudes and behaviour. It’s all about getting underneath people’s responses to find out what is driving their decisions.
Quantitative research means asking people for their opinions in a structured way so that you have facts and statistics to guide you. To get reliable results, it’s important to survey people in fairly large numbers and to make sure they are a representative sample of your target market
Quantitative research techniques, including surveys and customer questionnaires, can help small firms to improve their products and services by enabling them to make informed decisions based on hard data.
Why do I need market research?
Market research can give you insight into your market, your competitors, your products, your marketing and your customers. It is an important first step before you undertake many key marketing tasks including preparing a marketing plan, doing SWOT analysis, product development, branding and pricing.
Market research should also inform your online marketing strategy - everything from the design of your website to email newsletters, SEO and social networking.
How to carry out quantitative research
Quantitative market research typically includes customer surveys and questionnaires. These can be conducted face-to-face with a clipboard and pen, over the telephone, via post or email, online or via your website.
Survey questions have to be carefully considered so that the results provide meaningful data. Don’t just ask if people know about your business - ask how often they visit, what products they buy and where else they go to buy the same products and why.
Answers on a structured questionnaire are usually closed - in other words, they require respondents to choose from a specific selection of answers and do not allow for the respondent to qualify their answer or elaborate. So a garden centre owner might ask, “How often do you buy plants and gardening supplies?” and respondents would have to choose between five options:
By asking lots of people the same questions, it’s possible to build up a clearer picture of how customers behave. You can then use this quantitative data to guide your business decisions.
You can also use quantitative research methods to compare sub-groups of customers. For instance, if you run a local café or deli, you will probably find that you are catering to a range of different customers, all with different needs - from mums meeting for coffee to local workers popping in for a sandwich, to ethical shoppers that buy your Fairtrade products, to keen cooks looking for specialist ingredients.
It’s worth using surveys to find out about your customers so that you can analyse the results of each group. Make sure you speak to a good number of each type of customer so you get the clearest view.
If you repeat your surveys regularly, you can monitor how opinions are changing and how your new initiatives are being received. Try to keep some of the questions the same so you can make true comparisons with previous research.
Quantitative research techniques
Choosing how to conduct your survey is an important issue. Face-to-face works well if you need to explain anything or show a product to the respondent. Telephone surveying can also be very effective, but it can be hard to catch people when they have time to talk.
If you are sending out surveys by post and email, you may find you have to offer an incentive in order to persuade people to take the time to fill out the questionnaire.
A good time to ask a customer to fill in a questionnaire is when you have finished a job for them. A customer satisfaction survey gives customers the chance to point out any quibbles they might have and also to praise good work. It can be a good way to gather positive testimonials that you can use in your marketing.
At the same time, take the chance to gather contact details and add the customer to your mailing list so you can get in touch with them in the future (make sure you get their permission).
If you want to survey a large number of new prospects, you can contribute questions to an online omnibus survey. These are general surveys that are completed by large groups of pre-selected consumers online. By adding two or three questions of your own to the survey, you can get some useful feedback. This is ideal if you are thinking of going into a new market.
What can quantitative research tell me?
Quantitative market research can answer many business-critical questions, including:
Analysing the results of your quantitative research
Collecting data is just one part of the research task. You have to collate it and analyse it as well. With a complex survey, this can be a specialist task in order to extrapolate all the findings and drill down into the data to see how different groups have responded.
However, a simple survey can be very effective and highly revealing, and small firms can always benefit from asking their customers what they think.
Market research exists to guide your business decisions by giving you insight into your market, your competitors, your products, your marketing and your customers. By enabling you to make informed choices, market research will help you develop a successful marketing strategy.
Market research helps reduce risks by allowing you to get product, price and promotion right from the outset. It also helps you focus resources where they'll be most effective.
Market and marketing researchThere are two main types of market research - quantitative research and qualitative research. Quantitative research focuses on coming up with numbers: for example, what percentage of the population buys a particular product. It's gathered using surveys and questionnaires. You can do simple quantitative research yourself by talking to your customers. More in-depth quantitative research can be used to identify markets and understand customer profiles - vital if you're launching a new product.
Qualitative research gets behind the facts and figures to find out how people feel about products and what factors affect their buying decisions. Researchers use questionnaires and focus groups to gather this intelligence, while interpreting the results is a skilled job.
You can also do desk research with existing surveys and business reports. Much information is available online and from industry organisations, and some of it is free. This information provides data on market size, sales trends, customer profiles and competitor activity. Your customer records also provide a wealth of information, such as purchasing trends.
For forecasting, it can help you assess key trends to anticipate how the market may change. This is a vital step towards identifying new market segments, developing new products and choosing your target market.
Market research needs to be a regular planned part of your strategy. Even as an established business, you need to stay in touch with your customers' needs as well as market trends and your competitors. It measures the effectiveness of your own marketing, giving you information about attitudes to everything from packaging and advertising to brand awareness.
Planning your market researchEffective market research starts with knowing what you're trying to achieve and what information you need - whether you do your own research or brief a professional.
On a tight budget, you can take a do-it-yourself approach to market research. For example, if you're considering taking on a shop, you can check the levels of passing traffic at different times. Taking time to talk to your customers or potential customers is invaluable, too - this free market research can be very revealing.
However, to get the intelligence to make sound commercial decisions, you'll need a more sophisticated approach. For instance, if you carry out a market research survey, you'll need to plan the best way to conduct it and how to interpret the results. What customers tell you to your face may not be the unvarnished truth, while your ability to interpret results is likely to be compromised by your own feelings.
For a truly balanced approach, you should work with a professional market researcher, such as an agency or a freelance consultant. If you're looking for detailed quantitative work, you will probably need to work with a company. However, a freelance market researcher can be cost-effective for a survey or focus group. Professional market researchers are skilled in asking the right questions and interpreting the results, producing objective results that you can act on with confidence.
Lisa Hunter is an experienced Marketing, Events and Project Manager. She has over 10 years’ experience working in the IT and marketing industry, delivering strategic marketing support and managing creative projects for a wide-range of clients. In this blog she shares her knowledge and experiences…we hope you enjoy it.