West Michigan is a fantastic region. In fact, Grand Rapids is one of the fastest growing cities in the Midwest. The city and surrounding communities are economically diverse and there is lots of great talent here. But Grand Rapids will never be Detroit. It won’t be the next Austin, nor the next New York, or Chicago. Thankfully!
Grand Rapids is its own thing, with its friendly, down-to-earth people and entrepreneurial spirit that are the foundation for this thriving community. To avoid stalling out as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the West Michigan business community needs to step up its marketing game, which is the recipe behind other booming cities.
I work with dozens of West Michigan businesses, and here are some key aspects I recommend business owners should keep in mind:
- Step back to move forward: Integrated marketing is the sustained, comprehensive analysis of a brand. It means delivering consistent messages about the brand through a comprehensive study of the brand. Before addressing a symptom (such as an outdated brochure or clunky website), consider implementing a brand audit. This will allow you to make the most of your marketing resources and investments.
- Invest in a cohesive marketing strategy both online and offline: Many companies still rely on word-of-mouth and established relationships. It’s worked for decades, but what happens when leadership changes or when a client doesn’t have time to go through their rolodex or supplier contact list? They google the service. And if your business is not ranked at the top, you might not be the client’s first call. For example: Chances are your business has been serving West Michigan customers at an unrivaled value for decades. However, some customers may simply not be aware of your suite of services. Why is your company not able to get the message across to local businesses? Does your website effectively communicate all services? Once it does, you will see the benefit through increased sales.
- Avoid a Band-aid fix: The “easy” solution is to hire one of the hundreds of digital marketing firms offering quick (and expensive) fixes in hopes of getting customers through the door. But unless a company takes a holistic view of its brand, strengths and value proposition, the company would be wasting money on a short-term fix. The script is always the same: The digital marketing firm overwhelms business leaders with jargon and gimmicks, and since the goal is to sell, not to serve, the firm inevitably becomes a source of disappointment. Try going beyond the easy data-driven digital solutions to target customers. Good leaders understand that they need assistance to manage their digital marketing efforts while also creating clearer communication strategies that allow their customers to better understand their product and service offerings. Through an integrated marketing analysis with a marketing partner that’s focused on a long-term strategy, a company’s investment can lead to massive results beyond their short-term goals.
- Stand up to the big box stores: Local businesses face this challenge throughout the country: How to stand up against larger corporate competition. Start with an extensive brand audit to understand what advantages you offer that a big box doesn’t. Leverage that to define a brand strategy and revisit your marketing efforts to support the organization’s growth. This may include a combination of new brand strategies and marketing material creation. In addition to product offerings or services that only you can provide, if you have multiple locations with unique local audiences, be sure to personalize your strategy and tailor it directly to them.
- Launch a customized landing page: At some point, all businesses need to rebrand and relaunch their websites. It’s part of ensuring your brand stays fresh and up to date. Large corporations go through this process regularly. That being said, redesigning a website is a bill that most small and medium-sized businesses cannot afford to pay. A proven way out of this conundrum is developing a customized landing page, a standalone web page designed to increase the success of your online presence while avoiding a complete overhaul of your website. Unlike a website, which encourages exploration, a landing page is optimized to drive visitors to complete specific goal conversions (book a session, purchase a ticket, or rent equipment). This tactic will save you money, deliver results, and allow you to tackle the bigger project down the road.
Grand Rapids no doubt will continue to grow. It’s in its DNA. But to fight strong competition and stand out as a region, businesses need to address some important marketing issues hindering them. Before you hire a digital marketing firm, consider an integrated, holistic approach, which will look into your company’s whole brand ecosystem and offer recommendations based on your specific needs, as opposed to cookie-cutter products and hands-off service.
Tom Blanck is founder and creative director at TMBPartners.