Once upon a time, all advertising was local. If you wanted to trade a clay pot for your neighbor’s sheep or drum up excitement about a new meat pie recipe, you only needed to rely on physical proximity to your target audiences to spread the word.
However, innovations such as the printing press, broadcasting technology, and, most recently, digital marketing tools have all made it easier to advertise your business across broad geographic areas. It’s so easy, in fact, that small business owners might be tempted to forego local advertising altogether.
Resist that urge, though. Whether you’re a small ecommerce or brick-and-mortar business, local advertising still plays a critical role in your business’s marketing strategies.
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What is local advertising?
Local advertising is the process of advertising a business such as a brick-and-mortar store or manufacturing or distribution hub close to its physical location. It is the promotion part of local marketing, which more broadly includes product, price, placement, and promotion. Local advertising refers to the specific local marketing tactic of promoting a company’s products or services through traditional and digital tools. This can be in the form of free or paid advertisements, such as radio ads, billboards, print ads, or local digital ads, used to reach a target audience.
Why invest in local advertising?
Like national advertising, local advertising can help businesses increase brand awareness, boost website traffic, and increase sales. However, local advertising offers some unique benefits by comparison. Here’s an overview of a few reasons to invest in local advertising:
- Encourages local market dominance. Local advertising can allow you to outpace the competition in a targeted geographic area. For instance, becoming the No. 1 name in garden supplies nationally is likely a cost-prohibitive goal for many small businesses, but ranking top in garden supplies in Brainerd, Minnesota, might be within reach.
- Offers highly targeted possibilities. Targeted advertising focuses on reaching people with certain traits or characteristics, including location. Because local advertising targets a smaller target audience than a national ad campaign, businesses can leverage the knowledge of local slang, customs, and habits to craft and distribute highly effective local marketing messages.
- Increases brick-and-mortar store foot traffic. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, advertising in the vicinity of the store can increase brand awareness in your region and bring more local customers in the door, helping you increase sales and build customer relationships. National ad campaigns are a less effective means of driving traffic to a local storefront because the majority of the customers you reach won’t be located near your storefront.
- Provides audience insights. Building relationships with local customers can help you gain a better audience intelligence, or insight, into how your customers use your products, what they value, and how else you can meet their needs. Although you can also use customer surveys to gather this information from a national customer base, building ongoing in-person relationships can provide a greater degree of specificity and support ongoing learning about your customer base. You can then use local audience information to extrapolate information about your national audience and make changes to your products or services to better meet customer needs.
- Elevates brand reputation. Local marketing can elevate your reputation in your community and outside of it. For example, soliciting reviews from loyal local customers can help validate your product or service quality online and also support national sales efforts.
- Increases local referrals. Building a loyal local customer base can also generate word-of-mouth advertising and support sales both inside and outside of your local community. Many customers are proud of local establishments and are excited about making ecommerce referrals to friends or family in different locations.
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10 Local advertising ideas
- Run local digital ads
- Seek local sponsorships
- Invest in local social media
- Optimize your Google Business listing
- Join local business directories
- Speak on a panel or give a talk
- Host an event
- Encourage word-of-mouth advertising
- Publish a column or an op-ed
- Run traditional ads
Local advertising can help small ecommerce and brick-and-mortar businesses alike attract customers. Here are 10 ideas for a local advertising strategy—including five free local advertising options:
1. Run local digital ads
A digital ad (or online ad) is any ad that is displayed through an online channel. Many types of digital ads, including Google’s search engine advertising and display advertising, can be targeted to a specific location. Both local search ads and local display ads can increase local brand awareness, and local search ads can also help nearby users with a specific intent find your business. Digital ads are a type of digital marketing that can be less expensive and allow for more demographic targeting than traditional marketing.
Google Ads charges using a pay-per-click (PPC) model in which businesses are only charged when a user clicks on an ad. Google recommends that beginners start with a budget of between $10 and $50 per day.
2. Seek local sponsorships
Sponsoring a local event can help you raise brand awareness in your community and build relationships with current and potential customers. For example, you could sponsor a local running race in exchange for recognition in marketing materials and a booth at the event.
To maximize relationship-building potential, look for an event that is relevant to your product industry. For example, a running apparel store might sponsor a local 5K, and an ecommerce company that sells bottled sauces and condiments might sponsor a community barbecue.
Event sponsorship cost varies by event, city, and sponsorship level. In general, be prepared to spend at least $250 to have your name included on marketing materials and at least $500 to host a booth.
3. Invest in local social media advertising
Many social media platforms offer location-based social media ads. For example, businesses can target Facebook ads to users based on their city of residence or run local awareness ads, which are a specific type of Facebook ad delivered to users based on proximity to a set physical location (such as a brick-and-mortar store).
Like Google Ads, Facebook advertising uses campaign budgets instead of assigning a fixed price to a specific set of deliverables. Users set a budget for a particular period of time (such as a day, month, or total lifetime of the ad), and Facebook determines how and when to display your ads to achieve the best possible results within the given budget. Facebook recommends not setting budgets lower than $1 per day.
4. Optimize your Google Business listing
Google offers free local advertising in the form of Google Business Profiles, which are business listings that control how businesses show up in Google search and Google Maps results.
Start by adding or claiming your Business Profile and requesting verification from Google. Once your profile has been verified, you can add or update your address, phone number, website, and hours of operation, write a description, and upload photos. You can also add frequently asked questions (FAQs) and answers, collect and respond to customer reviews, post updates, and enable messaging to allow potential customers to contact you directly from your profile.
Adding and optimizing your Google Business Profiles can support your business’s search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, which are tactics that can improve the quality and quantity of visitors to your business website. Specifically, optimizing your profile can improve your local SEO performance by making it more likely that your business will show up for users in your local area.
5. Join local business directories
Many local business organizations maintain free local business directories, which are printed or online listings of local service providers and retailers. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce and review national organizations that host free online listings by geographic area, such as Dun & Bradstreet and Yellow Pages. You can also use a search engine to look for other local options by querying your location and the term “business listings” or “business directory.”
Joining a directory for local businesses can help you increase brand awareness. It can also be an effective way to boost sales because customers browsing local business directories typically have high intent (such as, they’re ready to take the next step in a purchasing cycle, such as contacting a business or purchasing a product).
6. Speak on a panel or give a talk
Check with local business organizations or educational institutions for conferences or speaking events in your areas of expertise. By elevating your personal profile, you can increase brand awareness and boost brand authority for your businesses. For example, if you own a small business that sells stylish vegan leather rainboots, you might speak on a panel about becoming an entrepreneur or give a talk about sustainable fashion design. Typically, contributing to an event in a speaking role is free of cost.
7. Host an event
If you want the benefits of giving a talk but can’t find the right one, you can also consider hosting your own event. If you have a brick-and-mortar shop that is large enough, this can provide the added benefit of bringing more potential customers into your store. Consider events that add community value, show off your products or services, and give customers opportunities to make purchases.
For example, a local community coffee shop or bookstore might host a reading, open mic night, or concert for a local band. A company that sells luxury pet shampoos might host a DIY dog-grooming workshop. A queer-owned board game store might host weekly game nights and a monthly affinity group for local business owners who are members of underrepresented populations.
The cost of hosting an event varies depending on event type and location, but it’s possible to host for free or keep costs low. If you’re planning a workshop (such as a DIY picture-framing session), you can also consider charging a nominal fee to offset the cost of supplies.
8. Encourage word-of-mouth advertising
Word-of-mouth advertising occurs when a consumer promotes a company to their personal network. Businesses encourage this practice using word-of-mouth marketing tactics, which are tactics designed to encourage word-of-mouth referrals. Here are a few to try:
- Start a customer loyalty program or referral program
- Solicit and respond to reviews
- Provide excellent customer service
- Exceed customer expectations with personalized thank-you notes
- Run a local social media contest or giveaway
Word-of-mouth advertising can increase awareness of your brand, build customer trust, and help you attract new clients. Many word-of-mouth marketing tactics are free—and if you send thank-you gifts or design a loyalty program, you can choose the level of investment that makes sense to you.
9. Publish a column or an op-ed
Query local newspapers or trade publications about publishing a regular column under your name. For example, the owner of a garden supply store might run a monthly update on planting conditions and seasonal garden activities, while the owner of a sporting goods store might run a monthly feature on fishing tips.
This strategy is an example of content marketing. Although you won’t directly promote your products or services, you can provide value to a target audience to increase brand recognition and generate goodwill. You may also be able to include a short bio that identifies you as a business owner and includes the name of your business or a backlink to your site. Some local publications charge a fee for business contributors, but many don’t.
10. Run traditional ads
Traditional advertising is any type of advertising that uses offline media such as print ads, billboards, or television and radio commercials. If your target demographic is your local audience, traditional advertising can still be a cost-effective way to raise brand awareness and increase sales over digital ads. You can reach your target audience even when they’re offline, with opportunities for wider reach depending on ad placement.
Running traditional ads can also be an effective way to cut through the digital noise that consumers are used to. To choose a traditional advertisement type, consider your business goals, advertising budget, and target audiences and select a media type that is appropriate for all three.
For example, if your primary goal is to raise brand awareness and you are targeting all adults in your local area, you might design a series of eye-catching billboards. If you want to promote an upcoming event or sale to men between 40 and 65, you could research local radio station audiences and purchase a 15-second radio spot on a local station popular with that demographic.
The cost of traditional advertising varies based on ad type, media outlet, and location, but a one-month billboard run in a small to mid-sized city can average between $1,500 and $2,000, and one 60-second radio spot can cost as little as $5-$10 (though your spend will increase significantly for prominent time slots on larger local radio stations).
Local advertising FAQ
Why is local advertising important?
Local advertising can help you achieve local market dominance, which can generate positive reviews and referrals that improve your business’s reputation and increase the effectiveness of broader national advertising and marketing efforts.
How can you advertise in your local area?
Here are some popular local advertising tactics:
- Local digital ads
- Locally targeted social media ads
- Print ads
- Radio or television commercials
- Event sponsorships
What are some popular digital platforms for local advertising?
Social media platforms, online business listings, and Google Ads are all popular digital advertising platforms that allow businesses to target specific geographic areas.