Do you own a business that relies on a local customer base, such as a brick-and-mortar retail store, nail or hair salon or restaurant? The busy holiday shopping (and eating) season no doubt kept you hopping, but now that the holidays are over (and people see their credit cards bills), business will undoubtedly slow down.
To help keep your business thriving in 2014, making it stand out from the competition is critical.
Local Business Marketing Strategy Steps
Assess the Competition
You can’t stand out from your local competitors if you don’t know what they’re doing. You may not be able to visit these establishments yourself without raising suspicion, but have trusted sources such as your friends or family members “mystery shop” to check them out in person. What stands out about the competition? Is it the cool atmosphere, the amazing service or the friendly owner?
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, you should check out the competitors’ advertising and marketing. How are they promoting their brands? What social media channels are they on and what kind of content do they post? How do customers engage with them on social media? What’s the vibe of their websites – fun, informational, practical? How easy is it to use their sites, both on your desktop, laptop and mobile devices?
Assess the Market
Where does your target market overlap with your competition’s, and where does it differ? Is there a subset or new niche in the market your competitor isn’t serving, but you could be? Perhaps you have a baby products boutique but your competitor a few blocks away has cornered the local market for upscale moms, and you’re struggling to get those customers.
Instead, how about if you targeted young, hipster moms or same-sex parents? Use market research such as Census information to figure out if there are enough people in a niche to make it worth your while.
Plan Your Attack
Once you’ve got your reconnaissance info and your market research, sit down with your team and figure out what your competitors’ strong and weak points are.
If you decide it’s not worth trying to beat them in the areas where they’re strong (either because they’re too far ahead of you or too well established), how can you take advantage of their weaknesses?
Getting involved in your local community’s organizations is a great way to make your business stand out. For instance, by sponsoring a Little League team, a sporting goods store gets built-in business from the players’ parents, who will not only shop there but also recommend it to their networks.
On a slightly bigger level, being involved in a charitable organization can not only encourage others involved to shop with you, but also raise awareness of your business as being a participant in the community. You can form alliances with other small businesses in the community. There is strength in numbers. Alignable  is a new company that helps you do just that.
Think Big AND Small
Standing out from the competition may not require shifting your entire marketing strategy. Often, it’s the little things that count.
For instance, I live near a popular retail area with a lot of dog owners who like to walk their dogs in the downtown shopping area and even bring them into stores or restaurants. Some stores and restaurants put bowls of water and dog biscuits outside their doors for the dogs; others don’t. Guess which ones are more popular?
Local Business Marketing Tips
To get you started, below are a few local business marketing tips for simple ways to stand out from the crowd:
- Create a proprietary drink or menu item at your bar or restaurant.
- Add outdoor seating to your bar or restaurant if no one else in the area offers it.
- Open extra early or stay open extra late to capture customers who aren’t served by your competitors’ hours.
- Have a weekly trivia contest or game night at your bar or restaurant.
- Provide cushy seating for bored spouses or boyfriends at your women’s clothing boutique.
- Set up a children’s area in your store with toys and games to keep kids occupied while parents shop. This doesn’t have to be limited to kid-related businesses. One hardware store I know in a high foot-traffic area gets lots of walk-ins from parents of toddlers simply by having a Thomas the Tank Engine train set on the sidewalk outside.
- Put art from local artists on the walls of your store or restaurant. You can even sell the art and take a commission from the artists.
- Use crazy, creative window displays to attract attention so that everyone is eager to see what that month’s display will be.
By now, you get the idea – be different, be creative. Strive to provide things that your competitors do not.
So how do you plan to make your business stand out in the new year?
Local Marketing  Photo via Shutterstock