In just its second year, the Small Business Saturday initiative managed to pull 103 million customers through the doors of small business establishments. This Thanksgiving weekend frenzy surpassed the projected number of 89 million and showed that the bourgeoning “shop local” movement is gaining traction in a real, measurable way. What’s most interesting about the push to shop local is how much of its success hinges on social media marketing; this is particularly interesting considering the two industries developed almost directly alongside each other, at least in terms of sophistication and popularity.
Small business has almost always relied on word of mouth to succeed. There are very few national TV spots and building-side ads trying to pull you into Daydreams Comics in Iowa City, Iowa or Homespun Crafts in Indianapolis, Indiana. Unfortunately, word of mouth for a lot of businesses can only go so far. Social media is essentially a rebirth for word of mouth in a digital age. Platforms like Facebook allow small bookstores to broadcast events to an always ready audience, reaching them on their cell phones as well as computers. Twitter is used by many “pop up shops” and mobile businesses to let consumers know where in the city the business can be found that day. Given the incredible success social media has had on small businesses this year, how should these businesses proceed moving forward?
Word of mouth has always been an important part of marketing, both because it is free and because, almost always, the words are going to a person from someone in their life that they trust. This gives credence to the brand and service, as well as giving confidence to the overall purchase decision. If you’re looking for what to do in Chicago, for instance, you are more likely to take the advice of a person you know and trust who has experienced it than from a kid who once saw a movie about Chicago and thought it was okay.
The massive shift to digital has opened up new avenues of marketing, which are ultimately cheaper and hold lots of promise for small businesses who have limited advertising budgets.
Google AdWords Express
In an effort to give small businesses a bit of an edge in catching the attention of customers, Google launched a service called Boost, which would later become AdWords Express. The idea here is that you register your business with Google and when someone searches for stores in your area, you stand out from the usual suspects (read: international corporations show up as red tabs and you show up as a blue tab that automatically sets you apart).
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is emerging from the dark shadow of its past to become a massive force in Internet marketing. Large corporations use it to boost their rankings in search engines, but smaller business can use SEO to deepen their potential customer base. SEO is beneficial for one simple reason: people can’t go to your site if they can’t find it. Targeting keywords specific to your business and location will help more people find your site and hopefully walk through the doors of your storefront.
After this past Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there are considerably more smartphones and tablets out on the market. That number is growing as people move away from stationary computer setups toward mobile Internet devices. Companies like Groupon have launched local services that allow small business owners to create offers and deals in real time and beam them to cell phones of customers who could be in your neighborhood. Your deal that day might win you a new regular customer.
The shop small revolution has a lot of support behind it in the shrinking world. People are starting to reject the convenience afforded by huge corporations and re-invest in their communities by shopping small. The movement will likely grow in the coming years and businesses looking to harness the increasing public enthusiasm for “small shopping” will have to evolve their marketing methods with the digital methods cropping up and leverage them to succeed in the current economic landscape.