How to scale organic local marketing
How can enterprise businesses grow their local marketing without ads? Columnist Megan Hannay says the only way is to rethink "organic" marketing.
Scaling local seems oxymoronic, which is why advertising platforms — digital and analog — rule in the local space. If you Google the term “local marketing agency,” you’ll see results for SEM and ad campaigns, plus nods to local SEO (which often begins with scaled citation tools, like Yext). The agencies that do focus on content development are generally targeted toward local small and medium-sized businesses.
Local businesses are the fresh French bread and homegrown raspberry jam of what makes each community unique. But enterprise businesses also have the power to affect communities — whether they’re online “sharing economy” platforms or chain stores.
So this article will focus on how enterprise businesses can scale local marketing without ads. My previous posts on local sponsorships, events and journalism covered snapshots. The big picture is an entire campaign created to scale local marketing efforts for one brand, across multiple market segments.
Who’s already scaling local?
Through its “city hosts,” Airbnb asks its top brand advocates to help create local content and experiences for other customers. Other sharing economy businesses have similar programs, like Lyft’s Ambassador program, which rewards local users for sharing Lyft with others in their city.
Hat tip to Nifty Marketing’s Mike Ramsey, who covered Airbnb in his guide to local content strategy.
Dick’s Sporting Goods
Recently dubbed “America’s hottest retailer” by CNN Money, this brand’s stock is valued at an all-time high, as its primary competitor, Sports Authority, closes its doors. But Dick’s is also one of the most frequently appearing brands on local sponsorship pages — as we found when we analyzed sponsorship pages of thousands of events across the US.
Going big in local markets doesn’t have to be a tactic reserved for the upper echelon of enterprises. In many cases, it’s a mission that grows with the company; Airbnb acquired a local Q&A app back in 2012, long before the home-sharing company’s $30 billion valuation.
Scaling local means developing a mission, and a plan, to scale relationships with entities at the local level, including:
- community organizations; and
Some of these efforts cost money; others require a refocus. But across the board, the only way to scale local without ads is to rethink “organic” marketing.
Organic = not paid advertising; organic ≠ no effort
Scaling local marketing can’t be done alone; instead of paying advertisers, you’re channeling your funds to sources who help you develop content and relationships.
Scale local with customers: Personalize and localize customer interactions
Bonus: Can be as inexpensive as creative swag and shipping costs.
Caveat: Must be in a market where you’re already somewhat operational.
Local brand advocates can be feet on the ground for your business. How can you make their experience special enough to share with their peers, or maybe even strangers?
At ZipSprout, my employer, we send every matchmade organization a handwritten note and customized card along with their sponsorship check. We want these cards to be corkboard-worthy, so our partner organizations have a reason to show them off.
We also interview organizations all over the US for local content from Philly to SoCal. For teams who can’t yet fund a street team in every city, finding local advocates is a great way to reach new locals in existing markets.
Scale local with writers and creatives
Bonus: Highly authentic local content will result.
Caveat: Can take a lot of organization to manage at scale; various creatives will have different standards and practices.
Columnist Rebecca Lieb wrote a great Marketing Land post in July on scaling content marketing across a global brand, full of tactics to embrace if you already have a content team in place.
But if don’t have copywriters across the globe — or even across the US — it’s still possible to create authentic local content at scale, partly thanks to the Great Recession.
Local journalists are getting creative with service offerings, as most can no longer rely on the [City X] Times, and, as I wrote here in August, this shift provides an opportunity for brand partnerships.
Depending on the writer and organization you work with, local journalists will either have a freelance rate for creating content for your site or will work with you to create sponsored content for their publication. Both tactics have benefits: With one, you’re getting grassroots content on your domain; with the other, your brand’s story is shared in front of a new audience.
Michele’s List and the Columbia Journalism Review are great resources for finding local publications. If you’re looking for other assets, try using TaskRabbit to find photographers or videographers in particular cities.
There are millions of professional creatives; why not hire someone to document their own backyard?
Scale local with sponsorships
Bonus: Comes with great local marketing benefits, plus true grassroots connections with locals.
Caveat: Can be expensive/take a lot of organization to track.
The big picture is this: Partnering with local nonprofits, events, meetup groups, clubs, associations and schools gives your brand a local footprint, unique to each city. Their marketing benefits are digital and offline, and they can be targeted by demographic, as well as location.
Local sponsorships truly are a hidden inventory of hyper-local opportunities to scale.
Scale local with employee empowerment
Bonus: Also benefits employee retention rates.
Caveat: Can be more expensive or take a full-time person to coordinate.
If you’re a multi-location enterprise organization, there are a few ways to empower employees on the local level.
The simplest, and most expensive, are programs that match employee donations to local nonprofits or pay for employees to engage in volunteer hours. Studies have shown that these programs increase employee retention and engagement, along with the bonus incentive of allowing (local) employees to find and advocate for local nonprofits in target markets.
But there are so many more ways to build local organic reach with employee (or franchise partner) aid. Local employees are subject matter experts, both in your product and in their region. They’re the perfect contributors for local-oriented content — blog posts, website information pages and social media assets like photos or videos.
It seems so obvious, yet I see so few national companies developing content at the local level.
Whole Foods (another brand on ZipSprout’s “top givers” list above) is one of the few enterprise businesses with hyperlocal content on store location pages. Here’s a glimpse of my local store’s page:
In addition to a unique regional Facebook and Twitter presence, each store has a plethora of unique web content, including a calendar of local events.
This level of local web sophistication doesn’t happen automatically; employees need to be hired or trained for digital skills, and the national brand needs to set content standards, so that each location still feels like a part of the overall company. But this page, which lists events I can walk to and easy-to-access product listings, rings a lot more local than a clearly computer-generated generic location page.
‘Local’ doesn’t require automation
Organic local means building networks of relationships and giving each entity the agency to add to the big picture. For enterprise brands, this needs to be a repeatable process, but it doesn’t have to be a process left to bids and bots.
Organizing hundreds or even thousands of locals in a brand-wide program enables businesses to curate content and relationships at scale. “Scaling local” may seem like an oxymoron, but it’s an awfully good way to build enterprise connections.