Photo by Priscilla du Preez.
David: Hi Mike. A lot has happened in the past two weeks! Not the least of those events, maybe THE Masters of all time, but a diehard sportsman like you might care more about the NBA playoffs 😉
Mike: We are in an ever-changing field. That’s one of the reasons I like it so much! Although for me, these sporting events barely hit my radar. 🙂
David: By now, I should have internalized your “all local, all the time” mantra, but I had to at least try to sneak into a Trail Blazers reference. Too bad.
So let’s talk about our domain, then. I know you thought more about broadening our discussion last month of exams.
Mike: In our discussion of reviews, we explained how reviews are a joint conversation between the company and the consumer that defines the brand. It got me thinking about local branding at a higher level: what it means for a local business, what it means for Google, and how to “operationalize” some of that.
Seth Godin defines mark as “the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, explain a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.
And while I think that’s very true, it’s all very soft and fuzzy for most companies.
David: Interestingly, my brain is already jumping to what the ideal digital vehicle(s) might be for each of these attributes (expectations, memories, stories, and relationships). Not to negate the emotional side of branding, but you know that’s way too “woo-woo” for a Google engineer to put into an algorithm.
Mike: Exactly. When I relate them to what is actually happening in a local community, I break them down into functional relationships that a business might have. That is, customers, the community, other businesses, and the media are all fundamental pillars of who and how a business is perceived. And these “pillars” are things that can be translated from the offline world to the online world.
David: These are all valid foundations to pursue when trying to build a brand, but I would say they are relatively uneven pillars, especially for local businesses in major metropolitan areas. Customers and community are the two I would probably focus on first, where you can make a real brand impression (and build a business) by focusing on your neighbors.
The business community in major metropolitan areas (at least the two I’ve lived in, Oakland and Portland) is often too fragmented or skewed towards big business, for moms and pops to get the same kind of value they get out of it in a small town or suburb. It takes some serious creative networking, perhaps in vertical organizations, for the business community to provide the kind of clout that customers and the community do.
Mike: Well, it certainly varies from city to city, but if a business can’t join the Portland Business Alliance, they could very well join the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce or NAWBO (National Association of Women Entrepreneurs).
David: I would always say that customers and the community would be a faster path to building a brand, although you’re absolutely right that these smaller/niche business groups can be a great source of referrals. It just looks like the most flimsy pillar of your set above, especially when it comes to branding.
And while the media pillar is strong, the chances of a major city media mention are extremely low, especially for non-commercial businesses, unless you spend the money on a media agency. good faith public relations. You do not think ?
Mike: Although I divide them into separate pillars, there is a lot of overlap between them. Certainly, each pillar should be scaled to make sense for the business.
The community is, as you note, a strong community, but it is also an avenue to media coverage. If your community group support helps you stand out, there’s every reason you could benefit from media coverage that would appear both offline and in your local market AND be visible to Google.
David: Good sequel. So our typical readers are probably wondering – if they agree with our mutual thesis that brand is becoming increasingly important for local marketing – what software or services can I offer that helps influence this what constitutes a brand?
I’m not entirely comfortable taking Seth’s word on the brand as gospel, but I’ll continue the thought exercise.
- Expectations are set by both your own marketing message and consumer reviews.
- Memories should be triggered by some kind of proactive loyalty program (SMS or email being the cheapest and most natural way).
- Stories are, well, storytelling – Instagram and YouTube being some of the more visual mediums. This includes insights into the people behind the business, motivations, etc., and small businesses are theoretically advantaged over corporations. But storytelling can also be much more concrete when it comes to shared case studies or customer experiences.
- Relationships are obviously the key letter in the acronym “CRM” and are closely tied to GatherUp. continued focus on NPS.
However, none of these really look at how you acquire customers, which is a million miles from how the average digital marketing agency or SaaS company positions its services.
Mike: And if you do the same analysis from my Customers, Community, Business and Media pillars, it would look like:
- Consumers: Instagrammable Stories, Reviews, Loyalty
- Community: Support your local community groups directly or nationally through a product like ZipSprout
- Business: Join and participate in organizations that allow networking and bonding offline and in your local market that you can afford. Maybe the BBB or the House of — if not, then something more appropriate for your size.
- Media: Keep an eye out for stories of any or all of the above that are worth featuring and sharing with local bloggers, news media, and TV stations in your market.
But everything is done in order to reinforce the brand perception of Seth Godin AND Google.
David: Unfortunately, the prevailing trend when it comes to Google specifically is that their algorithm becomes abused by spammers left and right. And in many cases, even legitimately successful small businesses are do not the most important brands in a local market; they are just the ones that execute the more traditional SEO techniques best.
I admit it’s premature to give Google credit on this: they still have a long way to go in their quest to use brands as a means of “sort out the internet cesspool.”
And until Google does that, I’m not sure the average small business will care to buy a “branded” package from a vendor. So I guess my feeling is that it’s a little early to start selling things with an eye on the brand like the North Star.
Mike: We disagree on this point. I think it makes more sense for a small business to buy “brand building” that includes community events and link building than for that same business to buy SEO.
And any business should definitely be able to grasp the idea of brand building as a way to get more phone calls or whatever their primary KPI is.
David: I wish that was the case for more companies, and we totally agree on that. should be on the mind of a business owner when buying a marketing package or implementing a marketing plan. (And companies like GatherUp and ZipSprout are helping to shift that narrative in positive ways.)
I just need to be convinced that when things come to fruition, the average business will prioritize long term brand building over discrete short to medium term tactics that lead to rankings higher or more conversions from Google.
Mike: For me, I like to think in terms of a framework that would create congruence between the short-term needs of the business – Google and customers – and the long-term needs of corporate branding and all that which Google then comes up with as they try to improve their algorithms. These should all work together to improve the customer’s perception of the business.
It seems imperative to me that the main thing we sell is something other than SEO, link building or ranking. Business owners need to be able to understand the need for this long-term view.
After more than a decade of local research, David Mihm now serves as vice president of product strategy at ProsperHive, leading the direction of the company’s research-related product offerings. He is also the founder and CEO of Newsan email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their daily social media activity, and its own weekly newsletters, minute and the Agency Insider. He is the former founder of GetListed.org, director of local strategy at Moz, and with Mike, he is co-founder of Local University.