Internet Strategy

The #1 Marketing Mistake Local Businesses Make

Steve Wolgemuth | Jun 11, 2014

It all begins with your brand, right?

You need the right name for your business, a sharp logo, and a great message in order to successfully reach your local audience.


Or do you?

This is the question I’ve begun to ask after 8 years of watching successful businesses grow, in spite of failing miserably with their branding.

How Do They Do It?

There was a pattern. These businesses had physical locations that served nearby clients, and they provided a great user (or customer) experience in one way or another. The experience itself was their branding, not their logo or tagline. Their branding was fulfilling expectations for those amazing french fries, the on-time limo service, the detail-oriented cleaning service, the friendly banking experience, and the grocery store with wide aisles, free food samples, and short checkout lines. Sure, all branding is valuable, but a business with local markets will build its brand primarily by consistently providing remarkable user experiences. A great user experience will eat a world-class logo, tagline, elevator speech, and even a unique selling proposition, for lunch when it involves actual human touch points with a local audience. Providing great customer experience is how most local businesses execute their brand.

Most businesses that have nearby markets understand this intuitively, but don’t apply this intuition when it comes to online marketing. In my observation, they treat it like a print medium. They create an online brochure that communicates their message, and they do their best to keep design consistency with their print assets. Some call this integrated marketing, but I disagree.

If you lead a businesses with local markets, you must recognize that providing great user experiences is the key to success. That’s why you must search for ways to provide it online. That’s your brand. For starters, local audiences are looking for a phone number, hours of operation, and the business location (depending on the type of business). Beyond that, understanding the nuances of your local brand may be your best guide. Your goal must be to provide the same great experience online that has made your business successful offline.

Your goal must be to provide the same great experience online that has made your business successful offline. (tweet this)

We’ve All Experienced It

Consider the hardware store with an amazing facility. People walk into it and slow down, look around and say, “Wow, this is amazing.” Meanwhile their website looks more like a coupon clipper publication that was busy and irritating to navigate.

Visitors walking into that store would soon meet a friendly employee who would ask, “May I help you find something?” The website, in contrast, was the equivalent of 10 people surrounding the visitor shouting “Buy this today!” The store attendant would suggest a product after learning more about the customer. The customer could expect to get some practical tips on which was the right grout for their bathroom wall or the repair kit for their bathtub. The website offered no such help.

Consider the restaurant where people lined up for two blocks to eat that Reuben sandwich that drips off your elbows. Meanwhile, its website had boring stock photos of food that was no more appetizing than a JC Penney catalog.

What about that great lunch place where you can be in and out in 10 minutes? Meanwhile, the website takes nearly half of that time to load because of the cheap hosting and lack of vision of the owner for how this actually matters to people.

Consider that plumbing service that everyone loved, but strangers that looked them up online had a hard time finding out about them. They had the best word-of-mouth that no one heard. They may be the area’s best plumber that no one can find. Which brings up another really important topic.

Customers expect you to be easy to find, even if they’ve never heard of you.
If you’re the real deal, and their best choice, you should be all over Google’s search engine results. At least, that’s what your potential customers are thinking according to extensive research done by Forrester in 2012. Organic search ranking was found to be the most trusted marketing signal than anything a customer would encounter, just behind reviews. Part of creating a great user experience is being really easy to find. That means top ranking, multiple appearances for any single search on Google, and a presence all over the local web; but most importantly, you need to be found in everyone’s pocket.

The mobile click through rate drops 90% between 1st and 4th place on search engine results. (tweet this)

Winning the Mobile Game

A great mobile presence is extremely important for local businesses. More than 56% of all searches done on a mobile device have a local intent. People are looking for a product or service that’s within driving distance. Even if your potential customer has read your website on a PC, there’s a good chance that they’ll do it again on their mobile phone, just before they call, get directions, download a menu, email you for more information, or visit your retail location. If you aren’t winning the mobile game, you’re taking a big risk that they’ll find your competitor at the very moment when they’re taking action. Mobile equals local. Mobile equals action.

mobile phone screen

But winning on mobile isn’t as easy. The mobile click through rate drops 90% between 1st and 4th place on search engine results. You need to be at the top and if users click through to your website, it needs to be a “thumb-friendly” experience.

Reflect the Offline Customer Experience Online

If you oversee a business that has physical locations that serves nearby customers, there’s a good chance that you are already providing a great experience for your customers in real life. Taking that insight and then applying it to your online marketing will be your guide to online marketing success. Understanding that you must create an online experience for your customers that is as good as the one you create every day in real life will help you avoid the biggest marketing mistake that most local businesses make.