There are 28 million small businesses in America, and Locable considers all of them candidates for its expanded “Main Street for the 21st Century” marketing services. Since its founding in 2009, Locable has focused on its network of local and hyperlocal websites, which number more than 80, and uses Main Street for the 21st Century to help them build community around their brand. Now Locable is reaching out to those millions of small businesses through its IMPACT Marketing Suite, and has launched a $50,000 funding campaign through crowdsourcing platform Indiegogo to cover the costs of an educational tour designed to bring marketing tools and know-how to local businesses.
I wondered: Has Locable decided to compete against its network publishers, many of which offer their own digital marketing services to small businesses? To find out, I went to Locable founder and CEO Brian Ostrovsky with these questions:
More and more local publishers are offering marketing solutions as part of their suite of services for local merchants as a way of broadening their revenue. Does the IMPACT Marketing Suite clash with what some publishers in your network already do for SMBs?
There are some great platforms out there, to be sure. In fact, we fully plan to play nice with most of them. IMPACT is something publishers can offer — another arrow in their quiver of marketing services. That said, IMPACT is unique in three ways:
First, usability and user experience. Many platforms aim to be the most comprehensive “whatever;” we aim to deliver actionable marketing solutions that anyone can effectively execute. You can see a review from Dave Moyer of Benjamin Moyer Furniture in Sunbury, PA. It speaks to IMPACT’s ease of use. We requested his feedback using our built-in Customer Reviews Automation tool, which makes it easier to collect and show off verified reviews without requiring the reviewer to create an account.
When it comes to marketing, local businesses need action and effectiveness, not perfection. So we cherry-pick features that can be easily used by non-technical local businesses. IMPACT is priced for mass adoption, with the core monthly subscription at $24.99. If someone is looking for the “enterprise” solution, they’ll go somewhere else.
Second, when publishers work to help local businesses and organizations adopt IMPACT, they get more than just revenue — they get access to new content and insights. If publishers use Locable’s Community Content Engine, they get access to content created by local businesses, which can appear on their site automatically. Integrations also are available for publishers that use different content management systems. Think about the value of having local nonprofit, high school, organization, and business events, for example, all funnel into a publisher’s website automatically. IMPACT helps publishers cement their role as an anchor tenant in the community.
Finally, our Alliances feature is going to be transformative for local businesses and communities. Everything from our core technology architecture to user experience is designed to enable collaborative marketing at the local level.
How do merchants know that your IMPACT Marketing Suite consists of best practices?
We built the IMPACT Marketing Suite as a sort of “digital marketing starter kit” for local businesses because we got fed up with the existing options out there.
My businesses partner, Ryan Frisch, and I both have uniquely relevant backgrounds. We hold MBAs from prominent schools, grew up in small towns with friends and family as small business owners, and have family ties to local publishing.
Rather than solving abstract problems, we’re very pragmatic and have drawn on what works in the real world. For example, Alliances is a digital representation of the collaborative marketing that happens locally. Think about that pin board in the local coffee shop, the flyers in a merchant’s window, the referrals businesses make to one another — all powerful, all effective.
IMPACT standardizes as much as possible and provides various built-in prompts and guidance in addition to our do-it-with-me approach with killer marketing support (which sits squarely between do-it-yourself options and paying someone to do it for you) so that local businesses are never alone in their marketing. The Local Marketing Fundamentals educational series we’ve just introduced in our crowdfunding campaign is a complement to IMPACT. Too often businesses make detrimental decisions because they don’t have a solid marketing foundation. We aim to rectify that problem plaguing our communities.
Are you already providing IMPACT services?
We soft-launched IMPACT about two months ago, starting with our own website and related marketing. We’ve been working with our network of publishers to improve how we collaborate to introduce IMPACT and the various solutions it presents to local businesses.
You describe IMPACT as a kind of Facebook for local merchants. But since most merchants already use Facebook, why do they need another?
We aim for IMPACT to be as easy to use as Facebook but not to replace it. Local businesses need to tell their story and reach the right audience, but with digital that means their website; Google and Bing; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever’s next in social; and Yelp, YP, and Houzz, etc. plus their local publishers. That’s a lot! IMPACT ties all of these together for businesses so one action, say, creating an event, results in an authoritative blog post on their website, is shared to social media, appears automatically in their local publisher’s calendar, and much more. It’s is about helping busy business owners make a real marketing impact without significant effort or expense.
How did you arrive at your $50,000 fundraising goal?
We primarily looked at the cost of doing the Local Marketing Fundamentals tour. The opportunity to visit 25-50 communities and, in conjunction with local publishers and chambers, run marketing workshops to educate and empower local businesses, is our primary driver.
You serve businesses that are “Main Street”-based. From your experience, how are they doing against national retailers and restaurants who go local and can mount massive branding campaigns?
Local businesses have never faced greater competition from national and local competitors. All local businesses are affected by these threats, albeit to different degrees, depending on their industry and the strength of their local economy. Another challenge is that most local business owners are bad marketers, and digital has only made their task more challenging.
Staying top-of-mind in our instant-gratification, Google-searching, review-seeking world is not easy and doesn’t just happen by itself. A great local plumber who is a poor marketer is going to have problems, and many local business and service providers in that situation will fail as effective marketing becomes more important. This isn’t just bad for the plumber and his family but also the community in general and customers in particular.
What are some examples from IMPACT Marketing Suite that show local merchants how they can better compete against national retailers?
Think about local businesses. Most of us view them as commodities. I need a plumber: Who has the best rate? My A/C is out: Who can get here first? We don’t really appreciate what makes a local business unique but that uniqueness — the skill sets, values, community involvement, etc. — matters and should affect our purchase decisions.
IMPACT helps local businesses tell their unique story and get their message out. We don’t view the world in terms of national vs. local so much as needing to help each local business differentiate.
Looking at community publishers, you say they are uniquely positioned to become the “anchor tenant of their community,” but you also say “they’re letting the opportunity slip through their fingers by adapting new tactics in a haphazard way.” What do you mean by that?
Media is about engaging a great audience and solving problems for advertisers. This is the case for print as well as online, so publishers should fundamentally understand the strategies and tactics they employ as well as the causal relationship between editorial, sales, audience development, and the like. It’s not a technical issue as much as it is a practical one, regardless of the delivery method.
Fundamentally, digital requires an efficient, systematic approach, whereas publishers seem to like band-aids and duct tape. It’s also the case that many publishers adopt shiny objects they don’t understand or really consider the ramifications of using. I’d add that viewing anything one-dimensionally is a problem. We like to say that if something a publisher does only results in getting paid or in a single benefit, then that publisher is not getting enough out of its efforts. Don’t get me started on paywalls….
Somewhere along the way publishers became ad sales organizations rather than problem solvers. A salesperson needs to be able to meet with a prospect, discuss the prospect’s needs, and be able to say, “We can help with that.”
What are some community publishers that are seizing the opportunity?
We’ve been working with Mansfield Magazine for quite some time and they’ve adopted sponsored content and social promotions, their Pumpkin Patch Guide from last year is a great example of fun local content that generated revenue and grew a relationship with an advertiser.
Style Media Group, in my backyard here in Folsom, CA, has started to pivot from just print to offer a wide range of client services. They’ve had great luck introducing businesses to our IMPACT Marketing Suite. They may reach 10 sites by the end of September and offer broader services as well, including photography and copywriting. They’re solving problems for clients.
You say your IMPACT will help local merchants “engage in the collaborative local economy.” What does that mean?
Referrals, testimonials, recommendations — word of mouth has always been powerful. It’s also been incredibly inefficient.
I recently visited a LeTip lead group comprised of some 20 energetic and enthusiastic local businesses that proactively seek opportunities to generate leads for one another. But look at their collective digital presence: How effectively do they link together? They don’t. What about the large percentage of local businesses that aren’t even part of a group like this — do they make collaborating a part of their efforts? Most don’t.
But they would if it were something they could do so easily and simultaneously spotlight their real-world involvement in the community. Equipping businesses to collaborate effectively with each other and with local organizations is critical. It’s part of what has always made local businesses a part of the community.
Tom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of hyperlocal news network Local America, and is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.