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Engage With Your Local Community: Marketing Yourself Part 3

Throughout these blogs I’m going to look at everything from publicity stunts to search engine optimisation to brand collaboration. But let’s start with the basics – community engagement.

It sounds obvious but start on your doorstep. Get involved with local markets, fairs, businesses and festivals. If you’re an artist, exhibit your artwork in a cafe. If you’re a photographer, offer to cover a local music festival for free– you’ll have something for your website/ portfolio and something to sell to all those taking part. Build a local clientele. We’ve talked endlessly about networking in this blog but I’ll say it again – join local business networks, join relevant Facebook and LinkedIn groups, talk to other small business owners and freelancers, and go to as many networking events as you can.

Building up a local clientele is what will stand you in good stead when you eventually tackle social media. Self-published children’s author James Sykes hits the nail on the head with this caution: “The most important lesson for me was to physically interact with individuals and companies that may be able to support and promote your product.

Genuine human connection still holds far more value than email and online interactions ever could, with people far more likely to support you as a friend as opposed to a stranger.

It’s very important to make sure there is already a buzz about your product within your family and friendship groups before putting out competitions online in order to attract customers, as it can look a little desperate if you are offering to give a product away for free and nobody interacts with it.”

This advice comes from experience for James… “I have had this problem once through Instagram; an app which, though sometimes useful, can be filled with people that will superficially like your product in order to promote their own page.

I learned the hard way that, just because hundreds of people appear to like your product in one post, those people may not interact with your work beyond that.

With family and friends sharing and supporting your work online, you can create a buzz which will attract more people to your work. For certain new products, competitions in which an audience can win things by liking and sharing your work may not only introduce custom and interest towards you, but can also show what demographic are most likely to interact with your products, allowing for more targeted marketing in future.”

Where social media comes into its own is when you build your base first through family and friends, as nothing looks more desperate than trying to engage with your target market without a base of friends/followers first. As Amy Christer, Theatre Programmer and Producer at Leicester’s The Y Theatre, shares: “With regards to 14/48 we used our own social media contacts and the contacts of The Y to build a bit of a following and then encouraged the many participants to do the same.”

And when you’ve built a clientele, reward people for supporting your business, whether it’s referral discounts (aka ‘recommend a friend‘) or inviting your client base to a champagne evening to celebrate an anniversary. If possible tailor your rewards to your clients (eg. Tesco and Boots send customers discount coupons based on individual spending habits). On a smaller scale, if you are a furniture restorer and you have a client who loves 1930s chairs, make her your first port of call to offer a special price or her choice of colours if you are about to restore another one.

And when you’re engaging with those humans out there, remember to have fun. Be creative. Into this category falls guerrilla marketing. Not for the faint hearted but a damn sight more fun than drafting an ad for the local paper. Performance poet Rob Gee certainly knows how to do guerrilla marketing with aplomb.

“I’ve not done anything Guerrilla-ish in years, and it was always more for chuckles than marketing purposes,

he laughs, sharing a particularly inventive example…. “In the late 90s and early 00s, we used to conduct para-literary raids in banks. Basically a team of three would walk in (sleeves rolled up, hands empty – cashiers would immediately look at your hands) and shout “Nobody move – here’s a poem!” Then we’d entertain the folk in the queue, usually for about a minute, before running off to the next bank. Generally the audience always enjoyed it, and we’d be gone before the duty manager was able to mount a response. Then everyone got twitchy after 9/11 and we stopped doing it. We all got older too. Not something to be tried in a North American bank, obviously.” When it comes to word of mouth and making an impact, you can’t fault Rob’s confidence. I only wish I’d come up with that one myself.

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