After a few months of major projects, mainly the deployment of a new digital platform for our sales force, I finally have time to write part two. In this post, I look at the options for local businesses trying to survive in an increasingly digital world. Day after day, they are bombarded with the idea that everything has gone digital, everything and everyone is on the internet. "The future is digital," they are told.
In fact, one of the more common objections a Yellow Pages advertising consultant hears is, “I don’t need to advertise in the Yellow Pages, I am on the internet.”
I’d agree with the second half that statement. I’ll even concede that many of their customers are also on the internet. But the more important question is, how much trade does that business do via their online website, compared to the paying customers who pick up the phone and call, or simply walk through the door?
If your customers are not coming to you via the internet, is the internet the best place to chase those customers? Can you afford to compete with an out-of-state internet giant, who leverage their size to beat any possible price?
Would you even want your relationships with your co-workers to be competitive, each pushing themselves harder to meet impossible targets? A warehouse of conveyors, with human picking machines running to meet a timetable. That's not the heart of the American business community. It's not the business model that built your community.
If your customers are local, if your business serves your local community, if your success relies on the people who live within easy travelling distance from your place business, then surely your advertising should address those people first? Local advertising provides results for local businesses.
Now the Yellow Pages are not the only local media in (your) town. For brand and name recognition, a local radio station or outdoor billboards can help build your image. For specific sales events, special promotions, or to take advantage of a particular season, radio and local newspapers are great ways of helping a potential customer consider what you have on offer. Direct mail is another option, but the results are generally as poor as internet-only advertising, with a 2% - 3% doing the old-fashioned version of a “clicking though” – actually reading the mailing piece.
Yellow Pages should be a key part of a local advertising strategy because it’s there when the consumer wants it. A person reaching for the Yellow Pages is a person in your local community, who is most likely ready to make a purchase. That's supporting the community I can get behind!
That’s not to say the internet does not have a part to play when it comes to buying locally. Many of your customers may go online and research before they buy. Today, many business owners and workers deal with consumers who are much more knowledgeable about the products they want. But research does not replace holding an item in your hand; the internet does not give a feel to the level of quality of an item. Most importantly, internet retailers only give people what they ask for. They lack that face-to-face communication where you find out what they actually need. That human element, that connection local businesses have with their community, is worth preserving.
This election season, much politics is being made over “who built it” but the political wrangling is missing the point. People in your community built it. People in your community built the infrastructure. People in your community built the businesses. Most importantly, people in your community can build a better future when the money in your community, flows though the businesses, the workers, the shoppers in that community.
Regardless of whether peak oil results in a much lower-energy world, or technology comes to our rescue and we move forward into a techno-utopia, the relationship between local community and local business will be vital. Far worse than the vision of a post-carbon world, where local businesses are once again selling, repairing and supporting locally produced goods; is the dystopian vision of a million small businesses, all trying to beat each other with ever lower online prices, while the remaining good jobs disappear out of their communities, in the frantic race to the bottom.
Whatever the future holds, the success of our local communities will depend on the local leadership, of the local businesses, in those local communities. Local businesses have local options. Yellow Pages online is an important part of a strategy, not a replacement. Local radio, local newspapers, local advertising agencies that can help with your marketing plans.
Most importantly, make sure your customers know you support the buy local campaign.