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Viral Marketing For Local Business

Maples Photo

by Bob Maples

Across the country, local businesses are struggling to reach new customers with traditional local marketing.

The view on the ground is grim.  Local newspapers are floundering and closing.  Customers are ignoring classified advertising.  Free business directories lie bleached and molding on a million suburban lawns from California to Connecticut.

Online, however, it’s a different story.  Online, customers are doing more than paying attention; they’re actively looking for local businesses.  Let’s look at the figures:

  •  50 percent of mobile searches are now local, says Google.
  • 51 percent of adults look online for information about restaurants, bars and clubs, says Pew.
  • 73 percent of smartphone owners use them to locate stores, says Nielsen.

The challenge isn’t the customers.  The challenge is that local businesses are struggling to connect with customers.  A city, chamber of commerce, or a community needs to help their local businesses of all sizes connect with customers through an integrated set of the most important local, viral marketing channels: social media, e-mail marketing, local listings, search engines, PR and content marketing.  A city can be a valuable resource if it steps up and provides effective strategies and tactics for connecting businesses with local customers looking for products or services.  This can be achieved easily when a city engages a few online viral marketing experts to provide tips and advice with a few case studies on how other businesses have engaged with viral marketing.  Civic 180, a non-profit council that guarantees a 180 degree change in business communities, provides a powerful viral marketing program for cities to take their communities out of the Yellow Pages and into the powerful Internet world.

Local viral marketing isn’t just about search.  Customers also turn to social media to find out about nearby businesses.

People trust word-of-mouth and recommendations from family and friends, which makes social networks and review sites incredibly valuable to the community and to a business’ marketing efforts.  Desktop and mobile accessible apps like Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp! and Pinterest allow customers to quickly see what their social connections and other customers have to say about a business.  This makes them incredibly valuable.

Like tiny waves spreading ever farther from a single pebble dropped into a pond, a carefully designed viral marketing strategy ripples outward extremely rapidly.  An effective viral marketing strategy will include:

  1.  Give a way products or services;
  2. Provide for effortless transfer to others;
  3. Scale easily from small to very large;
  4. Exploit common motivations and behaviors;
  5. Utilize existing communication networks;
  6. Take advantage of others’ resources.

Some viral marketing campaigns work better than others.  Below are a few basic elements you should include in a local business viral marketing campaign.  A viral marketing program need not contain all these elements, but the more elements it embraces, the more powerful the results are likely to be.  An effective viral marketing campaign may include, but not limited to:

Yelp!:  Online review sites like Yelp! and TripAdvisor are crucial for location-based businesses.  “Claim” your business profiles on these sites to verify your information and be responsive.  Try to respond to every new review within 24 hours.  Thank customers for their business and attempt to remedy any negative experiences that customers share.  This encourages repeat business and shows how much you value each customer.

  • Facebook:  A new Graph Search feature allows customers to search for businesses according to both location and friends’ recommendations.  For example, “Restaurants in Irvine my friends have been to” or “Bike shops in San Juan Capistrano my friends like.”  Search results are based on how many people within a searcher’s social graph already “like” your business, as well as how much engagement your posts generate.  Cultivate your fan base with engaging content to help search results.  Keep your brand page on Facebook updated with relevant information and categorized correctly.  Are you an architecture firm?  Restaurant or landscaping business?  Specify it.
  • Foursquare:  This allows customers to find, check into and rate local businesses.  Keep Foursquare users engaged by sharing offers and tips that they can amplify with their network.  Try different offers on different days, occasions and for “milestone” check-ins to keep customers coming back.  Offer rewards for the most checked-in “mayor” of your business and consider soliciting feedback from your most loyal patrons.
  • Pinterest:  This is a social bookmarking site where users collect and share photos of their favorite events, interests and hobbies. One of the fastest growing social networks online, Pinterest is the third largest such network behind only Facebook and Twitter.

Social channels can drive significant new business for location-based businesses.  Be present, active and responsive on these networks to grow your fans, customer base and your bottomline.

Crafting a successful viral marketing campaign for a business is more difficult that it looks.  It requires careful planning, strategy and research.  Viral marketing campaigns are the most effective method of combining all of the powerful Internet resources available today such as:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO):  This includes Meta-Tags, Titles, Text, Keyword Density, Image Alt-Tags and more.
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM):  Every business should proactively submit their website sitemap to major search engines like Google, Yahoo!, Bing and others every two weeks.
  • Local Directory Marketing:  There are over 25 major local directories a business should place their company information, complete with contact information, hours of operation, map and directions, products, services, photos, videos and much more.
  • Local Coupons:  Every business loves to run promotions and promotions need visibility to succeed – a city, chamber of commerce or community should invest to help their members succeed by making it easy to share every businesses’ promotion through the most popular and highly visited coupon marketplaces on the web.

Three Books For Your Bookshelf on International Business

Yes, I know this is the age of the digital book. But there is still room to have a few essential books within reach. Besides the pleasure of having a physical book with an index page that you can scan with one glance, there is the other recognition that Mr. Google doesn’t always give you the right answers. So, I recommend that professionals in international business keep these three books on their shelves behind their desks:

Kiss Bow or Shake Hands by Terri Morrison and Wayne Conaway (Adams Media 2005).

This is the bible for anyone in international business. The book lists business etiquette for more than 60 countries. A typical chapter includes information on history, politics, business culture, protocol and negotiating styles. This will help you understand where your business partner is coming from and why they do the “crazy” things they do. More importantly, it will help avoid making major gaffes. I remember the instructor I had in protocol when I joined the US State Department saying “A good diplomat is never unintentionally rude.” The same is true for a businessperson – you should always be the welcoming and correct partner.
Is this foolproof? No, there are always subtleties to another culture that just can’t be summarized in a book. But I’ve read closely the countries where I have lived or work and the information is pretty much right on.

Dictionary of International Trade by Edward G. Hinkelman, (World Trade Press 2010)

This is another essential book to have around. It not only defines commonly used INCO terms, it has information on topics like:
• Shipping information (air and sea)
• Documentation requirements
• International standards (ISO’s)
• Security requirements by country
• Key terms and words in eight languages
• Resources for shippers, and
• Much more
The Dictionary should be in every shipping office of every company.

The Little Red Book of China Business by Sheila Melvin, 2007, (Sourcebooks, Inc.).

As the Chinese market continues to open up in the West, the opportunities for you and your business are endless. But so are the opportunities for making the wrong move, saying the wrong thing and unknowingly jeopardizing your business in this market. I recommend The Little Red Book of China Business because it provides a unique approach to understanding the Chinese business culture by unlocking an essential key: The current generation of Chinese businesspeople grew up with the lessons and teaching of Mao’s Little Red Book, and these lessons guide their action in business and culture. If you don’t understand Mao and the Little Red Book, you don’t understand China business.
Sheila Melvin walks you through the key lessons of the Little Red Book, unlocking business and strategy secrets along the way. There are a number of books on doing business in China, but this one is unique in making the complex world view of the Chinese businessperson understandable to us in America.

— Chris Lynch

Getting the most out of international trade shows

Trade shows take on a much larger importance in international business. Not only can you meet prospects but it is the one place where you can meet customers from around the world. Here’s my recent article in the February 2013 edition Export Magazine from the Riverside County Office of Foreign Trade (see pages 10-11)

John W was seething behind his booth at the US pavilion at the massive CEBIT expo in Hannover. “No one is coming by my booth. Coming here has been a complete waste of my time and money.”

I was the US Consul General in Hamburg and John was directing his complaints at me as an American official. “I’m not getting the leads I was promised.” Now I knew that the US Commercial Service never promised him specific leads when he signed up for the booth but I listened to his story. He had shown up the day before the event, his marketing collateral was tied up in customs and he was behind the booth all day waiting for customers. He was so tired that he skipped all the evening networking events.

John made many common mistakes that led to his poor results. Here are five tips to avoid those pitfalls and get the most out of a trade show:

1. Set Your Goals. You should think about your ideal customers and identify the best shows to reach them., the US government website to help exporters, has a list of trade shows and resources and your local Commercial Service office can also advise you.

2. Assess Your Participation Level. You have many options – go to the show as an attendee, participate in the US pavilion or have your own space. You can also sponsor events or have special advertising in the catalog or the show website.

3. Make Sure You Have the Appropriate Look. The show will have specifications on display size and content but make sure your follow the guidelines, particularly for shipping. (Hint: use a professional freight forwarder for trade booths – it is worth the extra cost.) Also bring along LOTS of business cards!

4. Map Out Your Strategy. Don’t spend your time behind the booth. and don’t wait for visitors to come to you. Figure out a strategy to visit all of the relevant booths (particularly in the mega-shows like CEBIT with dozens of pavilions). Set up appointments in advance.

5. Build Relationships. Don’t be a wall flower – attend the evening social events, even if you are bone tired. Also be a respectful visitor – learn phrases for welcome, please and thank you. (Resource tip: “Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands” by Terri Morrison has business etiquette for more than 60 countries.)

So don’t be like John and lose out on an important market development opportunity. Do attend those trade shows but plan ahead of time to reach the right customers!

by Chris Lynch

Welcome to CiViC 180

We’re excited to launch CiViC 180. Traditional practice in economic development has been turned on its head with the Great Recession. In California, funding streams from Redevelopment Agencies were eliminated. Elsewhere, state and local revenues were battered by sinking property values. The use of incentives has also fallen under intense scrutiny as the long run ROI of incentives is being questioned.

At CiViC 180, we’re going back to basics — real economic vitality comes from a healthy local business community. We believe that communities need to focus on retaining existing businesses, support the growth of small and emerging growth companies and help business be successful in a global economy. Based on our experience, we offer a series of programs to address those needs. We support those with viral marketing and fundraising strategies.

We will use this blog to highlight best practices. We look forward to having a dialogue with you, so please add your comments!

Bob Maples and Chris Lynch