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How to attract more local customers

How to attract more local customersNew technology, such as mobile phone applications, is allowing business marketing to be increasingly localised. Naomi Marks finds out how you can use the latest developments as well as tried and tested techniques to attract local customers.

Appealing to local customers is easier than ever. Although technology is more often thought of as enabling small firms to punch above their weight at national or global levels, increasingly it can also be used to market at town or even individual postcode levels.

“It’s just easier to market within a defined geography,” says Sarah Orchard, lead consultant and founder of Orchard Marketing Associates. “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,” she explains. “It’s about fishing where the fish are.”

Online directories

The internet is an increasingly powerful local marketing tool. As a first step, you can get listed on Google’s free Local Business Centre so customers searching Google and Google Maps find your contact details.

Free Index is another free online directory. “With Free Index your local customers can add reviews. The more positive reviews you get, the higher up the index you go,” explains Orchard. “Basic listings on sites such as Thomsonlocal.com and Yell.com are also free.”

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 back-links (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 specific locations. Users can automatically pick up suggestions on where to go from within their vicinity.

It is also unlikely to be long before location-based services for mobile devices, such as the Google Latitude service, introduce location-relevant advertising. “Apart from the time investment, using social media such as Facebook to promote your business is free,” points out Orchard. “But it doesn’t replace pressing the flesh.”

Traditional marketing

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,” points out Orchard.

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 businesses.

Other traditional marketing techniques you could use to attract local custom include targeted leaflet drops, press releases to local media and local sponsorship.

Evaluate responses

To ensure you are spending your time wisely, measure the effectiveness of your marketing strategy. “Put in tracking mechanisms so you can measure how successful each technique is,” advises Orchard.

“Evaluating web-based marketing can be easy using Google Analytics, which is free,” she adds. “But if you do only one thing, ask all new customers how they heard of your firm.”

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