Don't call it a comeback. Why community marketing is here to stay.

community marketing

In the age of digital advertising, many small business owners tend to believe that online marketing is the magic solution that solves all of their sales problems.  Yet, in the increasing noisy world of social media, I would actually propose the exact opposite. Community and grassroots marketing is what's needed most, but used the least often to grow local businesses.

Remember the days when we received huge stacks of direct response mailers? So much so that the mail almost didn't fit in the mailbox!  As social media has taken over advertising platforms, the pile certainly thinned out as traditional marketing has often taken a backseat to digital.  

Yet, in my experience, the most successful business owners have evolved from how local direct response marketing is deployed, instead of fully abandoning it for digital. So while social media is quick and inexpensive, community marketing is often the path less traveled which can make all the difference. Your new year marketing strategy needs to include traditional channels, online strategies and very importantly; community marketing to validate the premises made through traditional and digital.

The tricky part about grassroots marketing is that it takes time out of our calendar, and requires us to put ourselves out there in ways that is much more difficult than just posting online and hoping people will find us.  It is much more comfortable to sit behind a computer, in our yoga pants and slippers, and market our business.

By itself as a channel, digital marketing typically isn’t effective for local small businesses. The reason is that you must be willing to personally connect with current and future customers  to enhance what's posted on social media.

Here are my top three reasons why community marketing needs to be part of your toolkit as a small business owner.

  1. Community marketing makes traditional marekting perform better. I've seen this time and time again in my own business and consulting practice. The small business owners that already have great community partnerships always have better performing metrics with online paid traffic. We live in a very noisy world and in order to cut through this noise, a strong local reputation for your brand offline will multiply your ROI on online.

  2. Community marketing creates value. I am guided by the saying 'give before you get'. Meaning you've got to give value before you actually get value in return. In his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, Gary Vaynerchuk states: "There is no sale without the story; no knockout without the setup."

    Community marketing is a great way to create a setup for new customer acquisition. Giving out free samples (typically micro versions of  your paid services), hosting local giveaways, or creating community events emulates the same effect as free downloadable PDF online. But it’s more effective because the easiest person to convert is the one standing in front you.

    In a way, local brick and mortar business owners have an advantage to online businesses in that when used correctly, brick and mortar business owner can leverage personal connections in creating new digital traffic.  One networking meeting could turn into hundreds of new likes on your Facebook page. This subsequent new ad audience will be much warmer than someone who stumbled upon your page online.

  3. Finally, community marketing enables your team members to be part of the overall vision and mission.  In most small businesses, the team members arrive for work every day for much more than a paycheck. They're there because of the way that the role they are in makes them feel. By being involved in community partnerships, non-profit donations and goodwill in the community, your team members feel like they're part of something greater than just clocking in and out of a job.

Community marketing is the new blue ocean in advertising.  Direct response mail is now beautifully created and carefully crafted to stand out among a sea of noise.  What used to be junk mail is now inspiration, because the “easier” path is much more likely to show up in our digital news feed.

My prediction is over the next few years the digital trend will boomerang back to a balance of personal, in person community connections when it comes to effectively marketing a local small business. While social media can emulate personal connections through Facebook Live, social learning groups and free online content, community marketing needs to be part of a comprehensive marketing strategy for local small businesses.