What are the real world pillars of local brand-building in a local market, and how do they relate to digital?
This is our Deep Dive Into Local from April 3rd, 2017. In our Deep Dive series, we take a closer look at one thing in local that caught our attention and deserves a longer discussion.
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Mike: Welcome to the Deep Dive for the week of April 3rd. I was not sleeping the other night. And as happens in the springtime my brain is very active, and I came up with this idea. I hope everybody can see my hand scratching.
The basic idea is this: “What are the real world pillars of local brand-building in a local market, and how do they relate to digital?” The foundation in local business is business name. Once you have a name, location and a phone number, there are essentially four pillars that you need to build on in the local market. Your customers need to be happy and satisfied. There’s community, you have to be perceived as a good fellow in the community. There are business relationships and various certifications. And there’s the media, where you need both a good relationship and possibly an advertising relationship. Unlike a national brand that needs a higher-level of emotive recognition of the brand and the product, in local, it’s very much about — these relationships build the brand. I started thinking about these four as pillars of this process, and how Google, to a large extent, uses these same basic ideas as ranking signals. What do you think of that idea?
Mary: I totally agree with you. Whenever I get a new client and explain to them how I think about local, I have to go back to the beginning and say Google is trying to model the real world and that the algorithm was just awful. But over the years it’s gotten better and better and better. And now it’s modeling the real world so well that we can concentrate on doing more real-world marketing, which Google will interpret the way we want them to interpret it, and reward us online for it.
Mike: I looked the other day and found that there are 54,000 engineers at Google working on these problems! As Will Reynolds said “real-world shit.” So, I broke down these four pillars; customers, community, business relations and media.
With customers, the critical issue is that you do quality work and that you get good word of mouth, because the biggest source of your business is going to be that word of mouth. That then translates very well into online and the votes online of reviews. So, good word of mouth is reviews. And similarly, with customers, it’s important that you engage with them, become friends with them and you interact with them. When we look at what Google uses as ranking signals on Google Plus, we see engagement, not how many friends you have, but whether you engage with them on Google Plus. Those two metrics related to customers are very similar to what goes on in the off-line world.
Mary: And email is also another really important form of engagement that we have complete control over.
Mike: Exactly. That matches very well to almost any form of communication. And it’s sort of dark. One of the beauties of it is it’s one of the areas that’s both inexpensive and totally controlled by you as a way of digitally interacting with your known customers without paying Google or Facebook for the privilege, and it’s very powerful.
Mary: One of the things that I encourage my clients to do is sign up for your competitors email newsletters.
Mike: Oh that’s an interesting idea.
Mary: Yes, because, then you know what’s working for them, what they think appeals to their customers, and it might give you some really good ideas about things you can do.
Mike: And then community, the other pillar. We’ve talked about this in the past. Most businesses are already sponsoring the Little League. They’re already supporting the hot dog sale for the Girl Scouts and the car wash, etc. They’re already doing those things, and in this article we talked earlier about the woman running a hair salon who wanted to know what good was it verifying at Google if she didn’t show up. One of the ideas I suggested to her was every Saturday partner with some not-for-profit, and offer free hair styling for women who are trying to move out of poverty into the workforce, for example. So, partnering. But it’s not just those acts, it’s getting those acts recognized online, so that you’re sure the local not for profit website talks about what you’re doing and maybe gives you a link. That’s another vote for your business that your business can see online. Community is the second pillar, I know you talk about that a lot.
Mary: And at the same time, you let the local media know that this is going on, that you’ve teamed up with a non-profit, and you both get some recognition for this in the media.
Mike: You even perhaps write a press release on behalf of the non-profit and get it over to the media so that we’re sure that the media recognizes the non-profit and your work for them.
Mike: Next is business relationships, knowing that you’re acknowledged within the community. You’re a member of the Chamber, you’re a member of the Better Business Bureau, you have whatever permits the state or the city requires. And you have a seal of approval from your industry association, those translate very directly. We know that Google uses Better Business Bureau membership as a strong trust basis, and they give you a link. Same with the Chamber of Commerce. It’s a recognition that you are engaged and involved in the local business community. Plus I believe that Google looks at state…for example, in the locksmith industry, we know they do look at state certifications. So, all of the things that happen in the offline world, again, you want to be sure that you’re taking advantage of them in the online world and that you are appropriately and accurately recognized for both your name, your brand name, your address, and a link to your website.
The final pillar is media, which you’ve mentioned. It relates back to all of these other pillars, that you could be doing ads with them, both offline and on. You could be doing sponsored content with them. You could be writing an article every month if you’re in the construction industry about construction trends, or what to do this time of year indoors or outdoors. For example, you could get a regular article and those articles would be published online and Google would look at those articles and tie them to you. We’ve seen in Google Maps that they take news reporting, and whenever they can associate it with a business entity, they do that. And we’ve seen that in Google Maps as well.
Mary: I think that the days of PR Web really ruined a lot of SEO agencies and small businesses, thinking that they can put out any old piece of crap and that somehow it will do well for them. And the key behind media now is you really have to have news. It’s not like you’re trying to create news. You have to have something newsworthy in order to get attention from the media.
Mike: Right. And it could be an event. It could be your relationship with that not-for-profit. It could be something special you did for your customer, or the customers did. Or it could be a regular article in the local newspaper. Local newspapers are dying for content just like every online environment, and you can become the local authority.
Let’s go back through these pillars. The foundation is your NAP info. We know Google looks at name, address, and phone number. There, you want to use a tool like Moz to be sure that your name is at the critical places, possibly WhiteSpark to get citations a little more broadly.
Mary: And you don’t want to just change your name. I’m totally amazed by how many times I hear, “Oh, yeah. The boss wants to change the business name,” as if that is not some really significant thing, that it’s like putting on a different colored shirt, or something.
Mike: Right. Well if they could look at that, at the craziness that goes on online when you try to change your name, “It’s like, whoa, dude. Think again.” So, we have name, foundation and then the pillar of customers. I would look at David’s new tool called Tidings. Of course, I’m biased about Get Five Stars, word of mouth. MailChimp is free up to 2000 customers. There’s three tools. Great tools. Community and interacting with community. What’s Megan’s company?
Mike: ZipSprout specializes in developing these relationships even at scale. Business relationships, I’d suggest joining the Chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau and your industry association. And then, media, like you said, I don’t think it works at scale with PR-type dispersions globally. I think you have to have a focused effort with your local newspaper that makes sense, targeted locally. And it could relate to any of the other three. I think the foundation of the name, the pillars of these four all not only lead to brand prominence, but they also lead to rank. This goes back to the idea that these 54,000 engineers at Google are doing a good job.
Mary: Yes. And when we talk about the three pillars of the local algorithm, proximity, relevance, and prominence…that this is the one where we can have the most impact, is with this brand prominence.
Mike: Yes. Well, the media articles create as the naming project at the beginning, creates relevance to categories and category expansion. And the media project can create further relevance and understanding, as does your website. So, I think that some of it falls in the relevant side, some falls on the prominence. So, it ultimately contributes and fits very neatly into those things. So, any other things about brand prominence and the four pillars of building brand in a local market?
Mike: All right. Well, with that we’ll say goodbye, and we’ll see you next week. Thanks for joining us.
Mary: All right. Thank you. Bye.