One of the biggest selling points for any small business is its local connections - its role and appeal within a specific geographic community. That's why many owners still count word of mouth as their biggest marketing ally.
The Internet has rewritten those rules, helping small-business owners scale that historical advantage. And naturally, there are many startups falling all over themselves to offer entrepreneurs or small companies tools that help amplify their local marketing efforts. Here are five developments I've read about in the past month alone:
KnexxLocal - The Toronto-based startup, which just received $1.1 million in seed funding, has created a mobile iPhone application called Instamonial that small businesses can use to market themselves via social channels, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest. The app has a very specific purpose: you take a photo of a product or item, and then send it to specific customers to get real-time feedback. Once the feedback is received, the image is posted to the company's Web site, and disseminated via social media.
"Word-of-mouth referrals are incredibly important in the catering business," said Michael Novak, owner of corporate cravings. "So it is important to take a proactive approach to ensuring that the experiences of your happy customers are reflected online. But in the past, the process has been complex and time-consuming. Instamonial has changed this."
edo Marketplace - In December, I wrote about four tools and resources that help small business reward loyal customers by creating promotions or offers triggered by their activity. edo Marketplace is another service that helps small companies create very hyperlocal deals, by linking offers to consumer transaction data. The promotions are sent to the prospective customers' credit card, debit card or mobile device, where they can be credited immediately. Small-business owners pay a commission on the offer only when it is redeemed. The video below provides more insight into how the platform works:
Glassmap - I hadn't heard of this mobile app until I read in that Groupon had bought the location-based social app startup in late January. There isn't much detail, but the daily deals pioneers is expected to use the Glassmap technology to make offers much more local - and potentially much more relevant. "Our goal when we started building Glassmap was to help people find what was interesting and relevant around them," the startup wrote about its buyout. "But in plainer terms, we just really wanted to mold all these fancy ideas and innovations of Silicon Valley into a simple and useful tool for the real world." So, expect Groupon to try to improve its location-based relevance for small businesses in the very near future.
Signpost - Funded by Google and the same venture capitalists who built up Twitter, Tumblr and Foursquare, Signpost is is a marketing dashboard focused on very local outreach and marketing automation. The service helps distribute campaigns through 1,200 partners including Google, Amazon and Yellow Pages, by providing templates that small businesses can use to create offers and asking questions about where they should be distributed. Its big pitch is the ability to help generate new customer leads that turn into repeat clients. "They will never be overwhelmed, but what they should see is a really steady stream of new customers every month," said Jacco de Bruijn, vice president of marketing. The company claims 95 percent more views, visits and sales than local campaigns on Google AdWords or Yelp. There are approximately 6,000 businesses using the platform; the monthly fee is $149, plus a fee on transactions completed as a result of campaigns.
SpotOn - SpotOn is another digital loyalty network specifically focused on local merchants and their customers: so far, it has signed more than 5,000 companies, including more than 1,000 since the beginning of 2013, according to the company. The service's HotSpot dashboard enables small companies to improve revenue in off-peak hours or target customers that haven't stopped by for a while. Small-business owners can interact with the service using a tablet-based application. "Our entire focus is on simplifying tasks that help merchants improve customer acquisition and retention," said Zachary Hyman, co-founder of the company. "In just a few clicks, a business owner can send special birthday rewards or an offer to win back lapsed customers."
For more coverage about SMB marketing options and tools: