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Building brand awareness in the local market when competing with online giants

6 minute read

local market

In a world of eBays and Amazons independent and local businesses often struggle to be competitive. Online giants can often beat local businesses on price, convenience and selection leaving high-street shops with the difficulty of carving out their slice of the retail pie… Yum, pie!

The importance of local brand awareness for small independent businesses cannot be emphasised enough. When your entire clientele is likely based on foot traffic it is important to make sure that shoppers in the local area are aware of your business and its offerings.

So, how may local businesses harness this movement of ‘buy local’ and the turning tides against online giants? How may they build brand awareness that communicates their individuality and ethics and puts them on the radar of local consumers? I will take a look at it right here in this article; Just about as local as it gets.

When local is more beneficial

Naturally, all businesses are different, from food to fashion or leisure to the service industry. Covering all aspects of your business to be included in your brand image and business sustainability is very much dependent on your product or service. There are different ways of using the local aspect of your business to improve your local brand awareness but this is, of course, dependent on the service or product you provide.

Using just a few industry examples I will explore ways of utilising aspects of your business to improve local brand awareness:

  • Food outlets: Food outlets already benefit from locality as people have to be physically present to make the transaction, or at the very least, be in the local area for delivery. This leads to a powerful USP, you can only get a traditional muffuletta sandwich when you visit Central Grocery And Deli in New Orlean’s French Quarter or, more close to home for me, the fish and chips bought from the chippy local to my parents in Leicester. And, this is kind of obvious because fresh food has a shelf life, it doesn’t travel well and, unfortunately, you can’t get a giant sandwich delivered all the way from America’s deep south and you can’t get fish and chips sent 200 miles in the post…Yet…
  • Fashion: Fashion is an interesting one as the predominant advantage of local shops was to be able to try on clothes, however, with such online retailers as Thread and ASOS offering free returns and try before you buy, this advantage is diminishing. Instead, local retailers of fashion are relying on more personal connections with clients, offering a curated experience of shopping by calling customers up when something suitable comes into stock, which, in this day and age of rapid commerce and frantic purchasing, seems refined and luxurious.
  • Leisure: Though leisure activities such as yoga, swimming or workouts mostly require specific equipment or instruction, some people are preferring to embrace the home workout over going to local facilities. Considering the abundance of sports equipment available on Amazon or more specific sports giants like The Fitness Superstore, this again feels like an erosion of local business. Added to that the chains of David Lloyd and alike, and it’s easy to see why independent local leisure facilities are struggling. Instead businesses in the leisure industry are moving to more community and social events where people can use facilities as a place to make and meet friends. This can extend from weekly swimming lessons for toddlers whilst mothers have a coffee and unwind, to yoga and brunch provided by independent yogis (love that word) in hired local spaces.
  • Services: Services such as law firms, housekeeping or dental practices have always had the advantage of being a local place where clients, customers, or patients have a trusted service provider who they can access easily in person. By maintaining a trusted reputation with local customers, practices can retain consistent and repeat business.

So, each local business is different. Rather than try and list every single type of enterprise and point out its strengths over big businesses that can be applied to its brand image and longevity, I shall use one of my examples.

We will consider one of the most threatened, most beaten down industries in the country, if not the world, we will consider the local, the humble, the endangered, electrical appliance shop… “What’s one of those?” I hear the younger of you cry and my answer is; Exactly.

Olliebobs Electrical’s – Electickling your fancy since 1923

Note: This is a work of fiction… Any similarities to electrical outlets is purely coincidental.

Another quiet day in the shop. People hurry by the window, heads bent with one eye on their phones and the other on where they are walking. It’s as if our high-street shop front filled with fewer and fewer TVs each year, is invisible. It’s not that we’re getting less stock in, it’s just that the TVs are so damn big these days. We need a bigger window.

There is a flurry of excitement. It’s just after midday and I am standing behind the counter doing the books. Dad is in the back room eating his noxious egg mayo sandwiches. The bell above the door chimes and a tall man, austere in his baring with silver grey hair and in an elegant charcoal business suit comes in, shaking the rain from his trench-coat.

I straighten, adopting the salesman’s smile. My facial muscles ache from disuse.

“How may I help you?” I enquire.

The man replies that he has an overwhelming hankering for a Happy Meal and can I point him in the direction of the local Macci D’s. He doesn’t even say please…

Okay, you get the picture… With Amazon selling electricals such as TVs, microwaves, smart speakers, and insightful fridges, as well as brick and mortar businesses such as Currys serving the shoppers who want to engage with the real world, Olliebobs Electrical’s is being pinched from both sides.

On one hand, there is the convenience and low prices of Amazon, on the other there is the physical engagement of customers who want to look before they buy covered by Currys. Each are huge brands, each offer good customer support, low prices, easy returns and instill confidence in the shopper.

So, what can Olliebobs Electricals do to scrape out a place in this saturated market? In short, what makes who we are, where we are, what we do and how we do it special? How may we improve our local brand awareness?

Knowing the local customer

Before we start building our local brand awareness, we need to consider what our demographic is. Young or old? Male or female? Rich or poor? Intellectual or… Less intellectual, outerlectual?

This will not only tell us what we need our brand to look like but it will also help us identify the media streams we can employ to increase our brand awareness and instil confidence in our service.

Through experience we’ve discovered that it is primarily males between 45 and 65 who come into our shop and actually purchase things. From the look of them they are of moderate wealth and seem to prefer the personal touch over rock bottom prices that our competitors offer. They are eloquent, however not overly so and seem more interested in TV than books… Which is a good thing, we’re not a library after all.

So, our ideal customer is: male, 45–65 years old, income of £50,000-£70,000, interested in watching sports and enjoys rock music and, let’s not forget, they’re local.

Building brand awareness

Our brand needs to speak directly to this customer. The entire experience, becoming aware of us, walking through the door, purchasing a TV and beyond, needs to be designed to have them, the customer, at the center of the experience.

Advertising campaign

Advertising through publications, TV, Radio and social media can be costly to a small high-street business. However, by targeting our local demographic with foreknowledge about their reading, watching, listening and online habits, we can make sure that we’re speaking to the right person, through the right medium at the right time.

If we can answer the questions, what publications do they read? What do they watch on television and at what time? What radio station do they listen to on the way to and from work? And what other interests might they have on their social media network? We can tighten and target our advertising campaign and, by using local publication and media streams, we’re able to avoid costly campaigns for our Bristol based shop to “potential customers” in the Outer Hebrides.

Our example ad campaign could describe the sublime experience of shopping with us and the expert knowledge we have over chain electrical outlets.

Word of mouth campaigns

It is not only paid advertising that builds local brand awareness. Rather, we can use word of mouth by providing excellent customer service and a positive, memorable experience.

The confidence we build in our customers is inextricably linked to our local brand awareness. We want every customer to walk out of the door having had an experience that was exciting and fun. We want them to feel that they can call us up at any time and we instantly know who they are and are ready to assist. We want them to feel remembered, calling them up for special events or just a check-up on their equipment. And, most importantly, we want them to talk to their friends about us.

This is where the brand personality has to shine. We need to be spoken about to friends as our customers show off their new AV setup saying how attentive we were and, in this way, we instill confidence and brand awareness in the local area. 

Conclusion

Building brand awareness is difficult for any SME and though it would seem that narrowing our demographic by making it local is going to make it harder, in some ways it can make it easier. Whether we’re a brick and mortar store like in our example, or are competing for the market online, we have the advantage of local knowledge and the ability to make personal connections with clients and customers.

Often our very individuality makes us stand out so embrace it, polish it up and make it shine. Embrace your differences.

Oliver Kennett is an author and freelance copywriter living in Bristol. A graduate in both law and engineering, he enjoys exploring science, technology and social impact through his writing. As well as clients in the technology, tourism, legal and lifestyle sectors, he has written extensively for charity. In his spare time he writes short stories and novels for children and adults in the horror, sci-fi, fantasy and humour genres.

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