When it comes to achieving a level of visibility and name recognition that's on par with their chain store rivals, most independent retailers face pretty stiff odds. Add in a few confounding factors, such as current economic uncertainties and the prospect of marketing yourself effectively, and independents start to feel like they have an insurmountable challenge.
If you need to get your store's name out there and not sure how you can afford to do it, don't despair. Effective marketing doesn't have to be expensive. In fact, some of the best ways to make a splash in the local or regional market can cost little or nothing at all to pull off. Following are some ideas for inspiration, which can be adapted to individual retailers' own local market needs and circumstances.
Think hard about how to reach your target market. Many independent retailers cater to a small group of customers. As such, small scale, but narrowly focused marketing efforts are more likely to pay off than big, splashy, overly broad campaigns.
If you run a store or website that sells supplies to model train enthusiasts, for example, a small ad in the hobby's premier publication will have a much greater return on investment than a highway billboard that costs tens of thousands more, or in a print medium that reaches a majority of people who are not interested in your products. Make a list of the niche groups you want to reach, and then brainstorm cheap ways to get your company's name in front of them.
Be your own ad. If you're really dedicated to lodging your store's name in the brains of as many potential customers as possible, take it upon yourself to become a one person marketing machine. Wear company T-shirts wherever you go. Have your store's name and location emblazoned on your car.
Get a special computer-safe logo screen printed onto the back of your laptop. Add a website link and motto to the signature line of all your emails. Even everyday chitchat and errands around town can pay big marketing dividends if you use this strategy wisely.
"Go Dutch" with other businesses. A great way to get more bang for your advertising buck is to band together with other likeminded independent retailers in your area. Form a group with other stores in your neighborhood, or team up with similar or complementary businesses across the entire community, sharing the expense of advertising efforts. That way, you'll get all of the exposure for a fraction of the cost.
Actively engage in the community. Most locally focused independent retailers depend on their connection to their neighborhood or town as a major source of business. Leverage these relationships on a micro level by sponsoring local groups and performances, volunteering visibly at annual festivals, or giving your time or in kind donations to local or regional charity events. Don't forget to wear your store's T-shirt!
Cultivate the loyalty of a team of, "brand evangelists." The most expensive marketing campaign in the world isn't worth the word of mouth referral spread by one passionate customer. Make a habit of going above and beyond the call of duty.
Establish truly world class service as your personal trademark. Chances are, you'll inspire the die hard loyalty of a small group of evangelists who will sing your praises wherever they go.
Information in this article was edited from a story on The Retail Blog: Selling in the Shadow of Walmart, by Erik, a frequent blogger at www.theretailblog.com.
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