Some of the businesses that emerged from the Depression as market leaders did so by upping their marketing game while their competition couldn’t afford the extra expenditure. During the current recession, many businesses are not in a position to throw much money into this strategy, but some smart community marketing can accomplish the same result without much out-of-pocket commitment. Local businesses nationwide have gotten local media attention, social sharing power and front-of-mind awareness with a variety of low – and no – cost methods.
The First One’s Free
Mark Donovan’s Home Addition Plus and Bas Rutten’s self defense series are two YouTube examples of this concept at work. Both provide simple tips and advice at no charge to anybody interested in the topic. When those viewers want more detailed information, services they can’t themselves learn to perform, or to buy something those businesses offer, it’s not hard to guess who they think of first.
At the community level, businesses offer small workshops to bring in potential customers. In some cases, the workshop includes an immediate upsell opportunity. In others, the value for the business comes in name recognition/brand awareness. In recent years, it has been especially powerful when promoted via a “daily deal” website like Groupon.
For some businesses, free giveaways aren’t as effective as programs that cost a small fee. It’s a matter of perceived value. One way to “double dip” in such a case is to donate the earnings from the workshop to a local charity. Bushido Martial Arts of Oregon did this by charging $10 for a series of karate lessons given at local elementary schools, then donating the proceeds to that school’s PTA or PTO.
They say charity begins at home, and martial arts industry consultant Tom Callos couldn’t agree more. He instructs the schools he mentors – located throughout the United States and Canada – to perform small charity events to build goodwill, gather contact information and get local media attention. Some outreach events from Tom’s organization include:
- A free tire fill-up station to help improve mileage and reduce gas costs in the community
- Planting trees and cleaning litter at a local park
- Gathering gifts of toiletries and art supplies to send with medical emergency teams bound for disaster areas
- Collecting cans of food in the community for donations to the local food bank
Events of this sort are the most successful when they gather media attention, Tom notes. However, Tom also recommends taking pictures and video as a matter of course. If the paper doesn’t show up on a particular day, he encourages his member schools to post images and video on the web to create their own buzz.
Competition can be fierce in a struggling economy, but no business is in competition with every single other company in town. Stars Dance Academy of Hillsboro, Oregon used this fact to multiply their marketing dollar by partnering with several local businesses with similar – but not directly competing – customer bases. Early in the spring, they held a local wellness fair, inviting a martial arts school, nutrition supplement company, gymnastics academy, health club and personal trainer. A day of inexpensive prizes and classes from each participant drew hundreds of interested locals and resulted in improved sales for months. By summer, the attending schools worked together to create a series of high-energy, high-profit summer camps – turning a typically slow season into a much-needed income generator.
Guerilla marketing starts with the “three steps rule” which states that you must give your business card to everybody who gets within three steps of you when you’re out in public. American Family Karate Academies take this concept a step further by encouraging staff to wear their uniform shirts – or even full karate gi with belt – when out on appropriate errands. This visibility is a real attention-getter and gives all staff members extra opportunities to talk about and grow the businesses. They combined this policy with commissions for anybody who brought in new customers using this method, providing incentive for all team members to participate. Even when “dressing out” didn’t result in direct conversations, the visible community presence added to front-of-mind awareness and led to inquiries days and weeks after starting the program.
Article by Jason Brick