Improve Business Visibility – Be Found Online

How many times during a conversation with someone new, once they learn of your business, they reply “Wow, I work/live just down the street from your business but didn’t know it existed.” This response can be very frustrating to a business owner.
Frustrations aside, the reality is that a customer will never buy from you if they don’t know you exist. If you, as a business owner, don’t address this problem, growth can be stalled — or worse, you could run the risk of going out of business.

So, how does an owner overcome a lack of brand awareness? Based on my experience, there is no magic formula, but if you follow a basic framework you’ll overcome this issue over time.

Before I delve into the details, let me first give my philosophical perspective on branding. This may sound like craziness, but when I’m branding I don’t care how many new clients walk through my door. My sole focus is to address the “I didn’t know you existed” problem. Truly good branding will ultimately cause new clients to walk in the door for the first time, but that’s not the primary objective.

I like to categorize my brand awareness strategy into the following categories:

  • Good old-fashioned street visibility
  • Being friendly to the search engines
  • Being listed in online directories
  • Paid brand ads

Street Visibility

The fact of the matter is that if you’re currently in business, your street visibility is what it is. Either your storefront can be seen from the street or not. Even if your business is visible, that doesn’t mean drivers passing by will notice.

The methods you can use to draw attention aren’t fancy, and maybe not legal where you live; bear with me.

Physical options include wind or feather flags, yard signs, human (or mechanical) sign spinners etc…  What will be the most effective is anyone’s guess. Given this unknown, I like relatively inexpensive options that don’t complain. Sign spinning involves labor cost, and spinners may complain. Inanimate options like wind flags and yard signs are the best bet. Each is a fixed cost option and doesn’t complain. So, say no to sign spinning and yes to wind flags and yard signs.

What are the downsides of these tactics? The first is that your landlord may not approve. Unless you successfully negotiate your lease to allow this, you almost must assume it doesn’t include such items. Read your lease carefully or you could end up making your landlord angry. A very serious downside, however, is that your city and/or county zoning regulations may not allow these. If you violate zoning codes, you won’t just be making your landlord angry. You’ll actually be paying a fine that may be substantial. The simple solution is to just call your friendly code enforcement group and ask what the regulations allow.

Befriend the Search Engines

While not the only search engine, Google is the dominant option. The good news is that if you make Google happy, you’ll make all the other search engines happy.

What do I mean when I recommend making search engines (e.g., Google) happy? It’s simple. Search engines are committed to giving the most accurate search results possible.

Why do I consider this important? Imagine the scenario when someone moves to a new city. Today, when someone moves, they often know very little about their new community. So, what do they do? They use Google to search for products and services. It is the simplest and most effective way to scope out local neighborhoods. If you don’t show up in Google search results, you don’t exist to these folks.

This is an extreme example, but a real one. Guess what? Almost everyone uses Google to find products and services.

Being friendly to search engines (search engine optimization) is a discipline in itself. In my book, Online or Flatline, I recommend, from a business owner’s perspective, how to approach SEO in a methodical way.

Online Directories

Discussing online directories with my clients usually generates the most “ah ha” moments.

First, let me define what I mean by online directories, or online listings, by giving you examples you’ll probably recognize. Major technology players like Google, Bing, Yelp, and Yahoo all have ways for you to list your business on their websites. A listing will contain the business name, address, phone number, etc.  Just imagine a digital version of the physical yellow pages.

Whether you use any of these directories to research products and services yourself doesn’t matter. Some people do. So, if someone uses Yelp to research where to buy products or services and you’re not listed in that directory, you don’t exist to that potential customer.

I’m sure you’ve seen those nice Google search results where they show a map to the business, hours of operation, reviews, etc. Google actually pulls most of this information from the Google online directory. If you’re not listed with Google, Google can’t display this nice and very useful information for your potential clients.

You’re probably thinking I’m skewing my recommendations to making Google happy, which is true. Giving Google what it needs to give its users the most accurate and relevant search results will reward your business. Likewise, Google will punish your business if you don’t make it happy.

Brand Advertisements

I’m going to close this discussion with your most costly tactic: Placing ads intended to raise brand awareness.

In today’s world, multiple mediums that would love to devour your marketing budget are available. You can buy a newspaper or magazine ad. You can pay for a radio or TV commercial. All of these options will meet the objective of improving brand awareness.

But are these options economical for you? It’s difficult to answer this question because the effectiveness of those approaches is very hard to measure. Regardless of effectiveness, however, those options might not be affordable for you.

Digital ads, like Facebook ads, are affordable for any budget. I like to carve my digital brand ad budgets in $50 increments. I’ll run a $50 brand ad for a week every month or so. Do I reach folks as a TV commercial would reach them? Probably not, but I can guarantee my digital ads are seen by my target market in a specific radius around my local business. The digital ad doesn’t break the bank and it’s being delivered to a higher quality potential client. So, I’m happy.

In Closing

I’m convinced that a business owner absolutely needs to address a lack of brand awareness. You succeed by crafting a marketing strategy (using the above framework) solely focused on reducing this lack of awareness. Over time, and as your brand becomes better known, you can scale this strategy back. But the new mover scenario will always exist, and if you want to capture those clients,  this strategy will remain indispensable.