Before a business can think about expansion, it needs to establish firm control over its home market. While this factor is less important in the digital era than it once was, the value of a loyal customer base located nearby can’t be overstated. With this in mind, businesses should actively work on winning the confidence of their neighbors through any means at their disposal, since good relationships can easily be translated into direct benefits at a later stage in the growth process.
There is no secret formula for forging organic ties inside the local community, as circumstances dictate how this process will unfold. However, there are some techniques that have been used with success across a large number of industries, and they might at least provide a source of inspiration. Perhaps one of the following ideas could be effective in your business and community environment.
- Emphasise local roots. Nothing elicits as much pride as a clear declaration of local allegiance by a successful brand that has long overgrown its initial market. It doesn’t matter that you have a chain of offices around the world; if you highlight your place of origin in the marketing publications, it will give you a greater sense of identity. The narrative is especially powerful for companies that start out in small towns and aren’t ashamed of their humble beginnings. Mom-and-pop shops add a touch of mystique by insisting on their geographical location as a central part of their marketing. It’s easy to cheer for the home team, and businesses capable of assuming this role in the eyes of the public stand to benefit in a big way.
- Hire local people. The most meaningful way to create a bond is to open your doors and let some of the community members join the company. A willingness to look in your own backyard before searching for out-of-town candidates is a declaration of loyalty to the place where you live and a sign of respect towards homegrown cadres. This measure is especially important for companies that open new facilities in another locality, as they have plenty of incentives to shed the “outsider” label and gain wider acceptance among the inhabitants. It only takes a few hires to acquire a reputation of a job-generating benefactor and a harbinger of progress, especially in towns where the level of outside investment is low. On the other hand, ignoring people from your environment and bringing in new workers whenever there is an opening could be seen as arrogant and greedy, and needlessly poisoning the community relationship.
- Advertise in the local media. While local ads may not have a dramatic impact on sales, they can endear your company to a population that has a significant say over its fortunes. Spending a little bit on money on media campaigns that run on the local TV station and in daily newspapers could be a wise investment after all. The price of a front-page ad will be just a fraction of the sum you’d have to shell out for a national publication, while the impact may be more long-lasting. A locally-focused campaign is likely to stand out and cause people to start talking as it spreads the news about your business for free. Boosting local sales is nothing to frown upon either, especially for companies located in fast-growing communities.
- Be flexible about pricing. You don’t have to squeeze every little bit of profit out of your community – after all, those clients could be with you for the long haul. That’s why it’s savvy to provide discount deals and special offers available only to customers who physically visit the store. There is no better way to create a buzz than offering savings, and you can count that news travel fast in the neighborhood. If your business becomes known for fair prices and convenient service, you’ll have no shortage of customers in the foreseeable future. That kind of stability justifies making a short-term financial sacrifice and is especially important for up-and-coming brands that are still in the process of growing their circle of loyal buyers.
- Distribute branded gifts. It’s not necessary to rent out billboards in order for your logo to be prominently displayed around town. You can accomplish the same objective on a much more modest budget by handing out personalised gifts that have a practical application. Presenting your customers with personalised tote bags, t-shirts or umbrellas won’t require a huge financial commitment as this is a cost-efficient promotion method that works in almost every context. People who receive free gifts will be appreciative of your company and might recommend it to their friends and family members. Even if most of them are not actively promoting your brand, the mere fact that they are parading your logo on the streets is enough to return great value on your investment.
- Support valuable causes. Being involved in local matters is a part of corporate responsibility – and companies shouldn’t try to avoid it. While it may be tricky to recognise which initiatives to support without offending anyone, taking a stance about social issues will be seen as a proof of integrity and an honest concern for the community. Respect won in this way will eventually translate into new sales, particularly for B2C companies that cater to a broad range of target groups. Of course, it’s entirely possible to lose a few clients because they disagree with the position publicly endorsed by your company, but this is irrelevant if you believe you are on the side of justice. While this concern is real, in a typical case the issue won’t be so polarising – there isn’t much risk in sponsoring a local hospital or paying for top students’ scholarships.
- Get to know your neighbours online. With social networks and other online communication tools, it’s now possible to make introductions faster after arriving in a new town. By running locally-focused online ads and encouraging potential customers to follow your Twitter or YouTube posts, you can expand your contact list at a steady rate. Once you establish contact, you can devise an engagement strategy that suits your company image and area of expertise. Reacting to ongoing events and interacting with customers can be done in real time, so it’s necessary to approach this channel with a different mindset than with traditional PR. Many companies are hiring full-time community managers to take care of online communications, and this could be a wise decision for enterprises lacking the know-how to do it internally.
- Proactive crisis management. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s the reaction that really shapes public opinion. Skillful handling of embarrassing blunders is just as important as projecting a positive image, if not more. First of all, the company will have to assume full responsibility for the consequences of its actions and publicly apologise whenever a disturbing event occurs. Transparency and honesty are more likely to elicit a positive response than empty promises, while direct action to remedy the problem is the way to go when it’s practically possible. It usually costs much less to clean up your own mess than to try fixing your reputation after the community decides to turn its back on you.