For nearly a year I didn’t step foot inside the local places I love, and I have a newfound appreciation for these resilient businesses and the marketing strategies that kept them alive. Not even online retailer behemoths or a global pandemic could stop the rebirth of downtowns across rural America. Marketers should take note of their local entrepreneurs’ fortitude and ingenuity because many of us have lost sight of the simplest principles that guide our most effective work.
1. Solve a specific problem.
In just one block of our small downtown, I can play pool at a dive bar or sip craft cocktails in an underground speakeasy. These vastly different experiences are able to thrive because they solve specific problems or address specific needs of their customers — neither business attempts to cater to everyone or everything.
Marketers should always start by understanding the specific problem their product or service aims to solve and create advertising that speaks directly to that. Hail Mary ad campaigns that attempt to communicate every benefit and reach every target audience will get lost in the noise.
2. Talk to people.
Downtown entrepreneurs have direct access to their customers almost 24/7 and can hear feedback first-hand. At any given time they know exactly what customers do or don’t like and make adjustments accordingly.
Marketers often get caught up in the need for “data-driven insights.” Quantitative data can help diagnose problems, but people will explain why these problems are occurring. The “why” is what leads to meaningful change that is valuable to both the target audience and the business, and honest conversations are the simplest and most effective way to uncover it.
3. Take action.
The pandemic forced downtown businesses to take immediate action to survive. Many of our restaurants now have outdoor dining platforms and take out or delivery services, and retailers have new online shopping options.
Marketers can be slow to respond to the needs of their target audience, implement new technologies, or take a stand on cultural issues for fear of backlash. Silence and stagnation are no longer options, and if brands are engaging in steps one and two, then acting quickly and thoughtfully isn’t difficult to do.
If marketers feel stuck and are looking for inspiration, it’s important to remember the fundamentals that have sustained our communities’ economies for decades. Define the specific problem, understand why it’s occurring by speaking to people, and don’t hesitate to take action.