While getting friends and neighbors to shop local is one problem, on the flip side of that is letting those potential customers know what businesses have to offer. This interrelated problem has been steadily growing as online shopping and marketing tools have taken off. No longer are the locally owned businesses competing against neighboring large cities; they are competing in a global market, making every advertising dollar spent having to count.
By Melissa Anderson
To take on the global market, rural businesses need to market smarter to the areas they serve. Glenn Muske, a retired NDSU Extension agent who has a Masters of Science in Business and a PhD in Family Economics, used his education as the key to understanding and developing small businesses in rural areas. He also wrote for years on how small business can survive the globalization of rural economies.
“Visibility, community involvement, service and competitive pricing,” Muske said.
It takes money to make money, but for rural business, more than money is needed to be successful. By making sure customers know what is offered and what you are willing to do to help is vital to keeping them and, hopefully, expanding the customer base. This extends to making sure customers are updated on new items that are at your business that might interest them. Local businesses like those in Langdon can be just as competitive as the advertising algorithms found online since they know their customers well and are constantly seeking new products to offer them.
“I just am always trying to think ‘what doesn’t Langdon have and what do we need locally?’ Sometimes trying some of those things works and sometimes they don’t, but you never know what will work unless you try,” Barbara Crockett, owner of Glitz & Glam Beauty Bar, shared.
While finding a perfect product or service is important, it is even more important to inform customers of that product or service and also to simply remind customers that businesses are still open. North Dakota Newspaper Association Executive Director Steve Andreist is very familiar with this battle. For most marketing campaigns, the key is to reach as many potential customers as possible.
“Typically that means using a variety of outlets. Sometimes budgets limit how many you can use, but because the newspaper is the most universally used it should be the last one to cut from your program,” Andreist said.
Muske agreed that even with the ever-changing landscape of potential advertising platforms, the one constant that all can appreciate is that of the hard print ad found in community newspapers.
“Hard print ads have lasting power. Social media is here and then gone. Email lasts slightly longer, but a print ad I can keep for days, weeks and months,” Muske said.
A 20 year veteran of the advertising world, Lori Peterson of the Cavalier County Republican can attest to the changes she has witnessed in advertising over those short decades. The constant and important piece of advertising she believes is the hard print ad for more than one reason.
“You have something you can always go back and look at. If you hear it on the radio you have to listen to it at that exact time; you can’t rewind the radio. Same with social media. Unless you know exactly who posted it, you will have a hard time finding it again,” Peterson said.
There is no question that hard print advertising has the lasting power needed in this short attention span world. The traditional advertising media has its place, especially in rural areas such as Cavalier County, as the paper and local radio stations are important community links. The area is fortunate to have not only a local radio station but also a community newspaper- something many towns in North Dakota cannot boast of and wish they could.
“Having a paper in a small community is a big thing, so businesses in that community need to support the paper by advertising in it,” Peterson explained. “You have your bigger market newspaper, but they don’t focus on the small communities or what actually is in those small communities. Those larger papers are not going to make the effort to highlight small community businesses or events.”
Everybody knows how to use a newspaper. Some love their local newspaper, some love to hate it, but most recognize it as the community’s go-to medium for local news and advertising information. Andreist cautions those looking to spread a message about their business or event that they can miss a lot of people if they limit their message to just social media.
“You miss very few if you limit it to the newspaper. In rural communities especially, any marketing campaign will be less effective if it doesn’t include the newspaper,” Andreist said.
Many area businesses try to accomplish just that by utilizing every advertising venue they can. Business owners up and down main street and everywhere in between the Cavalier County lines has used social media in some way to promote their business. The varied success that these owners encounter is proof positive that advertising should never depend on just one type of media. Peterson explained that the algorithms used by the social media platforms can be useful to promoting a business, but they can also hinder promotional posts as well.
“The general public doesn’t understand algorithms so what I see on my Facebook feed, Twitter feed, or Instagram feed will be much different than what someone else sees. It is not even possible to reach everyone you potentially can through social media alone,” Peterson said.
Andreist agrees that social media platforms that are popular with some people like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat can all be amazingly useful. However, just because some like these platforms does not mean everyone. And at an increasing rate many are swearing off social media altogether or may have never used it in the first place.
“Many people don’t use any of them. In fact, there are still many people across the country who don’t even have the internet or don’t know how to use online platforms,” Andreist noted.
Muske does note that one thing that radio and print do not have that can be exceptionally useful in online or even instore marketing is the use of video. With the use of technology and a tablet or laptop, a business owner can have in-store testimonials playing or demo videos on certain products going at all times- a handy feature to have at one’s disposal, especially when short-staffed or working solo. These videos can also be released on the social media platforms for customers to view at home and hopefully bring them through the store door.
“Online also is a great way to capture what your customers are saying about you and pictures and videos of your customers,” Muske said.
What everyone can agree on is that, like every other local business in a community, the newspaper pays taxes, employs people, and wants the community it resides in to thrive. The people that produce a local community newspaper spend their money at other local stores. They help community boards, but most of all they contribute to the lifeblood of the community.
“Last time I checked, Facebook and Google didn’t employ people in North Dakota nor do they donate to the local fundraisers and benefits,” Muske said.
When it comes to advertising, there is no one correct path. So it is up to the local businesses to use the local media as their tool to reach local customers and let them know what they have and those in the area know what is available close by.