Is all Advertising and Marketing local?
I work in the self storage industry. This may be the most unglamorous and simplistic business in the world, but like every other business, it has developed a complicated and multifaceted advertising and marketing ecosystem. I am making plans and preparations to present some of StorageMart’s marketing practices at PubCon, which Forbes Magazine has called a must-attend event for online and social marketing. Conferences like these are a great way to show what you are doing to peers, and study what other peers are doing. My sessions are normally about local and niche marketing. I thought this blog would be a good opportunity to organize some of my thoughts before I put together the presentation and start to rehearse for the session.
It has been said that all politics is local. The thinking is that people vote for candidates based on how the candidates feel about or act on issues of local importance. I am not so sure this is correct. On the one hand I can understand that you might vote for or against city council candidates or even state representatives based on how they feel about the new stop light you’d like to see by your kid’s school or how they feel about expanding parks and green space in your community. Perhaps the financial situation of your local school system or the cutbacks in your city’s fire department might cause you to swing one way or the other for national candidates. But on the other hand, I think we all have our preferences for a particular world view, and that informs all of our decisions, including political ones.
What does this have to do with advertising and marketing? Many businesses are similar to self storage in that they draw their customers from a defined geography. The shoe repair shop does not have many customers mailing shoes from the next state over to be repaired and mailed back. The shoe repair customers come from a rather small area, perhaps ten minutes drive-time, perhaps ten minutes walk-time. There may be reasons you would chose one shoe repair shop over another, and you might go an extra ten minutes to get far better service or because that shop’s staff are particularly pleasant to deal with. But would you go an extra fifteen minutes further? Twenty minutes further?
Grocery stores are similar. How many grocery stores would you drive past or walk past to get to the one you like best? Would you go twice the distance or spend twice the time to shop at the place you really like? Perhaps you will get the basic staples at the closest store and make a special trip to your favorite grocer to get those few specialty items that you really hold dear. Grocers draw from a very tight geography as well. This is one reason you hear about the existence of “food deserts” where neighborhoods lack access to full service grocers.
I suppose the world view qualifier that I believe affects politics also affects shopping. If you only eat gluten free organically grown locally produced foods because that is what you believe in, you may pass many other grocers before getting to the one that meets your qualifications. If the local shoe repair shop uses leather repair patches made of Kangaroo, and you are opposed to making leather from Kangaroo, you might travel some distance to find a shoe repair shop that only uses cow leather.
I guess my point is that advertising and marketing is local, because your most likely prospect is the person who lives closest to your place of business. If your business practices or business niche caters to people of a certain world view, then your geography suddenly widens tremendously. If your business does not have a physical location, then your place of business is the mobile device, tablet or pc of anyone in the market for your product or service anywhere you able to complete a delivery. If your business does have a physical location, you are competing online with companies strung across the globe for the potential customers in your local area.
Advertising and marketing is local and it is not local at the same time. For Storage companies in general and for StorageMart in particular, the focus has become heavily dependent on reaching local consumers. There just aren’t too many ways to differentiate between storage places so that one can create a niche market that will draw from a very wide area. There are not too many world views that would work for or against a storage operator to help make local advertising and marketing less of a factor.
We do look for differentiators that will help convert more shoppers into customers. A clean storage facility that smells fine is what consumers want, but they don’t always know that until they get to the storage place and take a look around and experience the smells there. It would be odd and probably counter-productive if StorageMart advertised itself as the best smelling storage place in Brooklyn. It might work, but the chances seem pretty slim.
It is difficult to appeal to other niches. How do you promote self storage as an environmentally friendly, low carbon footprint business? In some ways it is exactly those things. We encourage people to save, reuse and repurpose, because we all about keeping things rather than throwing things away. Storage places use a fraction of the electric power buildings of similar square footage use, because we only run lights when people are in the aisles and in their units. We use a lot less heating and cooling because people’s belongings are fine being a lot warmer in the summer and a lot cooler in the winter than you would keep your home, office or hotel room. Wouldn’t it seem a little weird to promote self storage as an earth friendly action that will save the Snow Leopard and the Tiger? Maybe this would be the perfect way to promote storage and I just don’t believe it yet.
StorageMart has several properties in the greater Toronto area that are being outfitted with solar electric power generation panels on all of the roof space. Each of these properties is large enough that hundreds or even perhaps thousands of homes can be powered while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But how many people are shopping for an environmentally friendly storage facility? Even if people were shopping or such a thing, we wouldn’t know it, because Google no longer reports on keyword data. Google anti spam professionals like Matt Cutts and others don’t want StorageMart writing articles that mention environmentally friendly storage facilities fourteen times as a way to game the search engines into showing StorageMart listings every time someone with a world view that promotes solar power is looking for a storage unit.
Part of the challenge is that people generally don’t think about storage until a need comes up. They might enjoy watching a version of the Storage Wars franchise, but I have never heard of someone going to a StorageMart and saying, “Hey, I just saw your StorageMart logo on the opening credits of Storage Wars Canada and I thought to myself that a storage unit would sure be convenient and affordable, so here I am”.
Most people find out they need storage within a short time of needing to make a decision about whether to use storage and which storage place to use. If they drive by or walk by a StorageMart every day, it is easy. They stop in and get a unit. Or if they have a question or two, they find the phone number online or in the yellow page book and call.
But many people within ten minutes of a StorageMart may not even know the StorageMart is there. How many businesses to you drive by or walk by without paying any attention to them whatsoever, because they just don’t apply to your life at the moment? People may pass one of the Storage Marts and know it is a storage place, but they might not remember the whole name or exactly on which intersection it sits. These people search. These people are the ones we hope will find us easily and quickly when they search. We know when they search they will find all sorts of listings other than StorageMart.
If StorageMart is competing with all sorts of companies from outside of its many, many little geographic trade areas, and if it is difficult to fit storage in to a particular world view, how do we go about local advertising and marketing?
Distribution is the first item of importance. Look at the world’s most successful companies and you will see that they master distribution. By this I mean they are easy to find everywhere. In how many places can you find Coca Cola, Pepsi or Budweiser? We take this same approach in a local way. Any outlet that is local in nature in one of our trade areas is important to us. Google Maps, Yellow Pages, city directories and local business listing sites get a lot of attention. These activities are the foundation for building other local tactics. Any local business should be spending a lot of time managing and tweaking these tools.
Local relevance is the next item of importance. I don’t mean relevance in the way internet marketers used to use the term relevance before Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird. I mean relevance in real life with real people in real situations. Is your customer service top notch? Do you support local events, local organizations and local charities? This local relevance generates positive online reviews and positive real-world word-of-mouth, which all influence how powerful a local brand you have. The more powerful your local brand, the easier it will be for people to recognize you when they search and to the easier it will be for search engines to identify you and show you to people who are searching.
Online social engagement is the next item to consider. There are many social sharing sites that are powerful influencers and allow those people who find you relevant to speak well of you and to be a part of your wider network of support. StorageMart is active on Facebook, Twitter and other sites reaching out to people, providing some commentary and entertainment and listening for comments and signals that we get in return. There are those who scoff at social engagement and say that it does not produce definitive returns on investment. I would answer that when people are checking in at your place of business on their favorite social site, that when people like, share and comment on your postings, you are getting valuable referrals, recommendations and affirmations that others in the geography you work in will notice. This is powerful stuff.
Video is another very important part of the mix. People love to watch video and they love to watch interesting, funny, entertaining or informative video. It is tough to make storage be all of those things, but you have to try and have a little fun with it. StorageMart produced a series of videos we call “Dr. Know” or “Secret Agent Man” with help from our friends Steve Twitchell and Clyde Ruffin. You can see one at http://youtu.be/j6xyRUxbCQ4 . It is pretty silly, but effective.
We have also done videos with a local children’s’ theatre group, TRYPS. Some of these are pretty fun, too. Look at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmEvXFV8-F0&feature=share&list=PLlrj5yBKr8NvSTsyeEnFutf_Lp8AWErPr . You can’t fault us for taking ourselves too seriously anyway.
Mobile is the fifth piece of the puzzle. We have tried to make the mobile version of Storage-mart.com user-friendly and easy on the eyes. We use many advertising partners to serve ads to mobile users when those users are in our geographic areas. When you see how quickly people are changing their use habits and now spending most of their online time on their mobile devices it makes your head spin. We plan to spend a lot more time working on ways to make it easier to find StorageMart and easier to find a storage unit in the mobile environment.
We don’t pretend to have all the answers to the advertising and marketing questions. In fact, I am not sure we even know all the questions. I expect that if we continue to focus on local distribution, local relevance, social engagement, video and mobile, we will find a way for enough people to find us easily.
If all advertising and marketing is in fact local, then we are on the right track. In the mean time, we might discover the one world-view twist that makes storage a must-have item for cool people everywhere.