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Competing with the Big Dogs: Marketing Tips to Build Local Economies

3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course on a blogging series about “sustainable marketing.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.

By: Fergus McGrath

I’m a big supporter of local economies because I believe doing so will help solve many of the social and economic ills troubling us today. Supporting local businesses keeps more dollars local, strengthens the middle class, minimizes the proliferation of the top 1 percent, and creates a stronger sense of community. In a time where wealthy individuals and corporations have great influence over our political system and our government has been rendered incapable of leading our country out of this recession, we need to take a systemic approach to improving our economy. We cannot continue to support these corporations with our purchases. Our economy can become self-sufficient by supporting each other in our local communities and regions.

I live in the Mission District of San Francisco, a community which takes its local economy seriously. Besides pharmacies, you’d be hard-pressed to find a chain store in the neighborhood. However, the Mission District of San Francisco is a statistical outlier in a country that is slowly succumbing to national chain stores located in strip malls. Small business owners will be successful in creating local economies if they can educate the public about the issues at hand and provide a product or service which provides superior value when compared to its large competitors. The key is to create a brand identity and marketing strategy that will create and convey this value.

An important ingredient to the success of a local business is to create a strong brand value. Two of the most important components of a local business’ brand are its specialization and customer service. In order to distinguish themselves from the larger chains, local companies have to become specialized in their offerings and provide a knowledgeable, passionate service with an owner-operated feel. One example of this lies in our local video shop. In an economy where most local video shops have folded, these folks stay in business because they know their stuff, are super friendly, and provide a stimulating experience that keeps the neighborhood loyal to their service.

A local entrepreneur also needs to know the points of differentiation for their company compared with the national competition, as well as the talking points for why local economies are better for 99 percent of the country. However, relying on skills, knowledge, and passion won’t necessarily create a successful business. Taking the brand value information into consideration it is important to craft a marketing strategy that will convey these values and points of differentiation to your community.

Social media is a useful way to reach your target market because it is free and widely used. From my perspective, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are best used to convey the skills and value that one’s business offers to its community. Talk about interesting insights you have about your profession, and educational tidbits that you think your customers will find helpful. Craft a social media plan that that you think your customers will find value in. Market your Twitter and Facebook accounts to get followers, and market to your followers through these sites just enough so they won’t get burned out. Friend and follow other businesses in the neighborhood, as well as other businesses in your industry. Create a rich dialogue all parties can find value in.

Word of mouth is extremely important for local businesses. Thus, it is very important to develop strong networks within your community. One way to do this is by joining or creating a local business alliance. In Oakland, CA, local businesses have collaborated to create Plaid Friday, where local businesses in Oakland are marketing against a corporate-dominated Black Friday to increase holiday sales. Other collaborations with local businesses could include swapping web page space to promote each other’s business. Knowing one's local politicians is another important facet of marketing. Attend and network in your local political/government scene and make sure you know your supervisor, mayor, etc. so that when issues arise you have a contact to leverage.

It is time to wake up and smell the coffee; brewed at a locally-owned coffee shop using beans roasted at a locally-owned coffee roaster (it’s unfortunate we can’t grow coffee in the US!). Support and own local businesses and together we can thrive. What do you think? Please respond and keep the dialogue going.

Fergus McGrath is an MBA candidate at Presidio Graduate School. He is focused on local food production as a means to help solve economic, environmental, and social issues.



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