Building Brand through Local Store Marketing

Local store marketing (LSM) strategies can go a long way in boosting a brand's growth and nationwide image, says Sandy Lechner, president and CEO of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Synergy Brand Management, which provides turnkey branding solutions for franchises. "The real focus in marketing has to be on the local level," he says. "What we talk to our customers about is the 'war zone'--that one- to three-mile radius around their location. They have to win that battle every day." Here are six strategic areas Lechner says will help build your brand at the local level.

1) Direct mail. It's not as sexy as social media, but still delivers. Lechner considers direct mail to be the best, most cost-effective, and traceable way to reach prospective and existing customers - and says it should be the largest component of an LSM campaign. Use saturation direct mail campaigns for grand openings, new product launches, and limited-time offers. Targeted and personalized mail work for specific messages, such as "Happy Birthday," "Welcome to the neighborhood," "We miss you," and "Thank-you" programs. A database mail campaign also allows companies to select specific criteria and focus dollars on the targeted prospects to communicate specific messages at selected times.

2) Day and day-part promotions. Specific day and day-part specials, used frequently by and foodservice businesses, work to build loyalty and traffic for selected groups, individuals, organizations, and cultures. Parents will drive across town to dine or shop at a place that benefits their child's team, group, or club. By singling out segments of a prospect or customer base, your system creates an emotional bond and sense of loyalty that cannot be replicated. Some examples: Military Night, Kids Eat Free, Teachers' Night, Student Night, Senior Night, and special nights for local teams.

3) Loyalty programs. A strong loyalty program is one of the easiest, most productive ways to create long-lasting relationships with customers and better understand their habits. Programs can be based on the number of visits, dollars spent, specific products, and selected days or day parts. When Lenny's Sub Shop (a client of Lechner's) converted its loyalty program from a stamped card to an electronic format, nearly 120,000 customers opted to receive an email newsletter. This also provides an for the company to send a free birthday sub coupon or an automated "We miss you" message when a customer hasn't visited in 30 days.

4) School and programs. Fundraising programs create both emotional customer bonds and community loyalty. These programs, aimed at Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, churches, synagogues, Little Leagues, school bands, and school sports teams and clubs are traditionally inexpensive, and outside groups can become part of your marketing team. Strategies include coupon books with weekly or monthly offers and special nights when a percentage of sales benefits a group, team, or charity.

5) Social media. While the ROI from social media marketing is still a target, Facebook, Foursquare, or Twitter, can be an important part of the mix for promoting new locations, new products or menu items, day part specials, and events. While social media is about engagement, it can lack customer acquisition or the ability to distinguish between prospective and existing customers. The deal-of-the-day discount website Groupon, for instance, may attract new customers, but it also offers an unnecessary discount to those loyal to the brand. Lechner says the use of email and social media is smart, but it should be used for "customer loyalty, retention, and brand awareness - period."

6) In-store, four-walls marketing programs. Your best prospects for loyalty and up-sell opportunities are those already in your location. Walls, tables, counters, shelves, ceilings, floors, and sound systems all present opportunities to build customer loyalty and increase sales. For instance, brand customers should never leave without to-go, or information. Limited-time offers should be promoted on window clings, table tents, counter cards, ceiling dangles, menus, bounce-back coupons, and employee uniforms. Customer data should be gathered at the tables, registers, and POS terminals. This information is invaluable and allows for targeted marketing messages and spending. In-store programs should also include bounce-back coupons, flyers, and brochures aimed at increasing loyalty and driving return business.

Helen Bond is a freelance writer based in Dallas, and a regular contributor to Franchise Update Media Group.

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