Advertising in the Information Age: Local

Advertising in the Information Age: Local


Philadelphia Magazine – December 12, 2011

College students in the Philadelphia area should get ready to rely on GrouponLivingSocialGoogle Offers Stoupons for discounts on their commercial needs. Next semester, the startup will start offering daily deals on items popular amongst the city’s collegiate demographic. The city called for a go-to, online destination to score 50 percent off on Forgetting Sarah Marshall Blu-rays and pony buckets at Mad River—Stoupons has answered that call. Because $3 Sailor Jerry drinks just taste better if they’re a part of a BOGO deal from the Internet. (Source)

Stoupons was my idea. I was roasted, a fried prawn, a bruised ego, a moping mollusk after reading this one, though I understood the truth of it. I was numb from rejection elsewhere anyway. But as Patrice O’Neal said, “Love and Hate are the same energy”. If I could just ride that Hate until it turned to Love I’d be happy, the students would be too, and the city’s businesses would be giddy with campus cash (or parent credit). Things never did turn. Local shop owners share a proprietary rationale for marketing & advertising that isn’t conducive to Stoupons. The company was dissolved in 2012. It should’ve been sooner.

I’ve worked alongside small shop owners all my working life. Here’s what I’ve observed about their approach to advertising:

  • They’re threatened. Maybe not by you, but by at least one customer this week who threatened a bad online review if a problem isn’t fixed. Review sites aren’t evil, but they enable customers to hold small businesses hostage. Even if you don’t, your server can’t know that you’re not silently fuming and readying your app to scourge them back a full star. Paranoia pervades the mom & pops.
  • They only start to buy into new platforms when people in their personal network start to use them. 6 Billion people might use Facebook, but if nobody in their world does, it’s doubtful you’ll convince them to.
Slack’s Hoagie Shack. Where I discovered Capicola.
  • Best Of accolades and reviews from popular city reviewers are most prized. For good reason – a rave review in PhillyMag might keep your house at near capacity for weeks after its publication. One manager told me, “A bad review won’t sink you, but a great review could make you.” Representatives of the magazines are always treated kindly and advertising packages are at least sometimes bought for no reason other than to keep a good relationship with the magazine leading up to the Best Of awards.
  • They don’t yearn for marketing metrics. “Did it work or not?” They won’t get worked up about click-through-rates. Their favorite metric is probably Total Facebook Likes.
  • They’re “too busy for that s***”. Local shop owners are often the operators, the accountants, the marketers and the service leads. In most shops, the staff cavalry calls the owner when the register explodes or the kitchen sink catches fire. They are bombarded by advertising solicitors in-store and by phone, and so they write off the lot of it as a lesser concern. It is. I’d rather their ads suck than their burgers.
Southern Cross Kitchen, during college.
  • Their customers are often complicated. I’ve worked in sandwich shops, delis, restaurants, and bars for enough shifts to know that a local shop customer is often more than that. A number of customers will fall along the “familiar face” <-> “trusted confidant” scale. Marketers would call them evangelists and staff call them regulars. These are people who open up – whisper confessions or admit to indiscretions in confidence. The whole marketing & advertising field largely doesn’t contribute to this type of relationship.
  • Candles in the Wind: Reputations are fragile and the internet is full of wildfire. The popular approach to marketing local shops in 2018 is always do your best, somebody is surely watching. It’s difficult to be a local shop – constant turnover, low margins, low bandwidth. I do think that in general they all do the best they can. As a customer, it’s nice to cut them a break whenever possible. I think more people feel this way in 2018 than they did in 2015 or 2011.
Gypsy Saloon, also during college.

A few years ago I wrote about why local shops probably shouldn’t have to advertise anymore (except to please the Best Of magazines, that is). My basic point was: if 29 out of 31 restaurants in my neighborhood are tweeting updates every day, everybody could reference twitter to find out what’s happening now. It wouldn’t cost the shop anything and it’s simple. But it would require that everybody used Twitter, which they don’t, and it would require shops to update every day, which they don’t. We’re close, though – or at least we were when I wrote that article. Since then there really hasn’t been any progress in standardizing the information flow from local shops to communities. Everything can be found on Yelp or Google, but as far as promotions or updates there is no standard platform for neighbors to reference.

Still, although the neighbors can’t get their specials without memorizing them or calling in – easy enough – visitors can find the best local shops without an issue or at any expense to the business. In major cities and probably just as much off-the-beaten-path where there are fewer local options, the review sites and online indexers do a good enough job presenting the true best of without the shops having to invest a dime.

Gran Caffè L’Aquila, where I received my Ph.D. in Italians.

I’m not implying that a shop shouldn’t invest a dime, but I am suggesting that their screw it, I don’t have time for this approach works well enough in this environment.

I guess all this is to say that not much has changed since I wrote that article in 2015. The owner rationale hasn’t changed since 2011 Stoupons, either, and I doubt it ever will. Personally, I like the spirit of the bigger-fish-to-fire approach. The Information Age has made our neighborhoods small enough.

I think the next steps in this era for local will be:

  • Enable “customers” to promote local shops. Somebody will think up some creative twist to lend some promotional power without making it too business-y. Some people really really care about their everyday coffee shop. They want to contribute more than tips and referrals.
  • Make it easier for staff to promote on a shop’s behalf. Often times staff are incentivized to promote the restaurant. For example, servers want traffic to earn more tips.

In most local shops it’s still largely the responsibility of the owner/operator to do the daily promoting (reputation is in the hands of the customers). I don’t think this dynamic will remain much longer.


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About the Local Business Package

Local Businesses should have full control over their company profiles on review sites and social networks. This package is for small businesses that serve a small area – like a restaurant or retail shop – and need somebody to sweep through every network, setup and claim their profiles with accurate information, and show you how to manage it all long after we’re gone. When we’re done, you’ll have access and login information to all of your accounts with knowledge of how to manage them moving forward. Once the profiles are set up and you understand the ecosystem, it’s up to you to manage each profile as you see fit.

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