Going local seems easy enough. You live locally right? So customers should come right to you... Not so fast. All businesses need to market their goods and services, and odds are, your best and most loyal customers are likely to be nearby, not spread out across the country. Obviously this is especially true if you run a brick and mortar organic operation, such as an organic farm, co-op or restaurant, but reaching local customers can be equally as important for organic business with a wider sales market. For example an organic soap, wine, candy or baby clothing company may have a naturally wider reach, but targeting locals first can build a solid base.
Why target locals?: Organics appeal to folks who are also interested in green living practices, such as using less emissions to gain goods. Organic consumers also are the consumers most likely to attach themselves to local shopping practices, such as buying local, fresh and handmade goods over mass produced items. Additionally, becoming popular locally can turn your company into somewhat of a local legend (think Theo Chocolate or Bubble and Bee Organic). In turn, becoming a local business super star can eventually help you build a wider national customer base.
With the above in mind, if your products are made or grown locally, it's okay to try to expand outward, but you should also be seriously targeting the locals. Keep reading to learn how.
No matter how you communicate your goods to consumers, via email, blog, website or Twitter, make sure to reward the locals generously. A simple 50% off an organic meal at your restaurant or a coupon that's good for a bunch of free organic spinach can entice new customers and keep current customers happy.
2. Consider Direct Snail Mail
Print mail won't set you apart as a green business, unless you make sure to use recycled content paper, but print mail does offer some benefits. Right now, email and web deals rule, but print mail has somewhat died out. This means you'll have less competition via snail mail, plus some people do still like and read paper mailings.
A downside of paper mailing is cost. Consider trying to send a paper mailing to one specific geographic local location before instituting a costly and time-intensive paper mail campaign. If the first mailing pays off with new customers, then expand your reach city-wide.
3. Target Geographic Specific Emails
Various direct marketing companies like USADATA or Melissa Data can help you build a local email base, but often it's simply a better business practice to gain emails organically, so to speak. For example, at your store, or at events you attend, set out an email sign up sheet.
You should also place an e-mail sign-up box in a prominent area of your website. Make sure you note that local deals will be part of the email deal.You may also consider partnering with other like-minded local businesses to form a more brilliant e-mail campaign. Exchanging e-mails with other organic businesses can be a fairly effective way to target potential customers. To keep email exchange on the up and up, consider co-registration email pages on your website, so say, if someone signs up for emails, they're also offered a chance to sign up for a complementary email list from a partnering business.
In the Pacific Northwest we have the Re-Direct Guide, a guide featuring eco-friendly, local and organic offerings from businesses. This is a great guide to be featured in if you happen to be in the area, as the guide is offered year-round at local grocers and other venues, plus they have an online site. Most green families I know get this guide each year, so the reach for a local business is substantial.
Your local city likely has plenty of local publications worth being featured in. Sometimes publications will offer free listings, and other times you'll have to pay, but if it draws in enough business, the right locally placed ad can pay for itself. Also check your local grocery store. For example, in Portland, Oregon, my hometown, Fred Meyers is a popular grocer and they offer a monthly Natural Choices magazine in their store. Other stores offer like-minded publications.
Research local publications and choose inclusion in ones that cater to the type of folks most likely to purchase organics. For example, any local green guides or parenting guides are a good bet.
5. Add Your Business to Online City Guides
You can add your organic business to local online city guides and databases, often for free, thus reaching many potential customers who like to search online. Check out the following sites below and add your business to them.
Do a Google search online for other local online databases.
Beyond local city guides, there are a number of excellent national guides that feature green and organic businesses that you may want to consider getting into. While these aren't local specifically, the locals do read these guides and some are even divided by location. See the following ideas below, or search on Google for other options - just type in "National organic guides" or "National green guide."
Your business website and other social media experiences should always reflect local flavor, especially if the bulk of your customers are locally based. Also, locally made and organics tend to go hand-in-hand for consumers, so playing the local angle is in your favor.
For example, at your website or blog, post local organic and green community news and highlight cool events that local folks will appreciate. Post visuals that reflect your area, such as photos directly from your business or other local businesses on your website, Pinterest or Facebook. Offer special deals that correlate directly with living locally. On Twitter, use the location link to add your city to your tweets. It's fine to also please your national customer base on various social media sites, but smaller businesses can more easily build a following locally.
All cities offer any number of local events annually that offer you chances to get the word out about your business. There are big events that cater to green and organic businesses, such as conferences and shows (think eco-food shows or green wedding shows). There are also some smaller event ideas you can implement, for example:
- Offer to run some local school tours at your farm or store. Or simply visit a local school and discuss your business - make sure to leave some sort of take-away item with the kids, who in turn will take the news to their parents (potential customers).
- Visit other local businesses and do a presentation.
- Celebrate Organic Harvest Month at your business.
- Hold special holiday events such as a Halloween carnival, an Earth Day party or Christmas tree lighting.
As noted above, you should be involved with events in your community, but it's also smart to simply be a good community member. Being a decent member of your local community will get you noticed for the long-term. Some ideas are below:
- Offer decent wages for employees and institute some green business practices. How your business appears to employees and customers does make an impact - make sure that impact is positive.
- Participate in community gardens and community revitalization initiatives.
- Sponsor a local school or camp with goods or time.
- Teach a class at your local community extension service.
- Make friends with like-minded businesses and help promote their goods. You don't always have to compete. Sometimes it's better to build alliances.
- Volunteer if time allows for community clean-ups and other events.