By David Quinlan, Vice President of Marketing at BBB Northwest
In today’s BBB Northwest podcast, we take a look at how small businesses can build brand awareness and sales by simply giving back to the community. Listen below or continue reading for a full look at how to utilize these partnerships.
As more small businesses turn to social media and digital marketing to build their customer base, the need for sponsored local events seems to disappear into the background. Many fail to realize that every small business has a huge advantage in marketing and sales at their feet: community. Community can be developed in a number of different ways, from solid branding and word of mouth to great product and dedicated customers, and is becoming one of the biggest influences in inbound marketing today. But while building an expansive online community is important, it should never be done at the expense of cultivating the most important community available: the locals.
Local customers are often the most loyal, and they respond positively to community presence. Presenting a name and face to the locals shows that a small business is dedicated to their customers and actively cares about what those customers want and need from the business. This community isn’t easy to build, and it won’t happen overnight, but with some commitment, creativity, and a few awesome events, it can prove to be the most effective form of marketing available by turning even the smallest business into a local landmark.
The What and Where
First it’s important to decide what kind of event to sponsor and what the desired outcome will be. The event should be relevant to the anticipated audience of the company and should never leave anyone questioning “Why is this guy here?” like Captain Morgan sponsoring a kid’s soccer team. Think about what type of message to deliver to the local community and then how to get that message out there. This could be an investment banker giving a seminar at the community center on long term investments, a cooking class for single parents at a restaurant, a city wide chili cook off sponsored by a grocery store, or even a classic car show put on by the local mechanic and an insurance agent. The key is being creative and taking the time to really question the needs of the community as well as the business. If selling products is the goal, host the event in house or at a relevant event. If it’s about thanking the regulars, then maybe host a dinner at a local restaurant. Be smart, be creative.
The When and Why
To make an event effective it needs to be held at the right time and for the right reasons. Hosting an event during the day when everyone is at work or on a busy holiday when they’re tied up with family is not the smartest way to maximize an audience. Consider other events in the area to avoid any conflicts or use them to your advantage. Also keep in mind the purpose for the event. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of hosting a business mixer at a bar, but don’t forget the purpose of being there in the first place: exposure. Work the room, make introductions, and let everyone know who the face of the business really is.
Once a location and time have been set, it’s important to think through any red tape that may arise. Does the location you chose require a permit? How many people are likely to attend and will RSVP’s be necessary? Are there enough products on hand? What kind of budget is available? Will extra staffing be required? The more logistical issues that are dealt with before they come up, the smoother the event will run.
Once Murphy’s Law is taken care of, start promoting. Reach out to the community with flyers, social media, word of mouth, store signs, online ads, local bloggers and media outlets, etc.
Reach Out, Follow Through, and Read the Results
It’s important to capture as much potential customer information as possible both before and during the event. Have a clip board handy for guests to sign in on or drop everyone’s business card into a hat or fish bowl. Hand out flyers asking about guest experience or with a coupon code for joining the mailing list. But be sure to follow up. Make the calls, send the emails, and get in touch with future customers again after all is said and done. Then take a moment to sit back and understand the results. Was the event successful? Why or why not? What can be changed for next time?
Putting in the Time
Supporting the community doesn’t always produce immediate money, but the long term benefits far outweigh the costs. A Saturday here and there may need to be sacrificed, and there may be the occasional late night, but once people in the community start to recognize you by name and start asking how business is, it’s easy to see that every event was all worth it in the end.