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Small businesses have an unprecedented opportunity because of mobile marketing; for the first time in history they have access to a marketing channel that is plentiful, cheap, targeted, and effective.

As recently as ten years ago, small local businesses had few options for drumming up business. They could take out an ad in the yellow pages, hire a few kids to hand out flyers, send some coupons by mail, and for those with cash to spare, take an ad in the local newspaper. These options were expensive, completely untargeted, impossible to measure, and frankly, ineffective. There is a reason why almost every marketing medium locked businesses into long-term contracts and still had incredible year over year turnover.

Then along came online marketing with the promise of a new era. Small businesses initially were giddy with the possibilities of finally being able to find customers on the cheap, but ultimately came away disappointed. They were competing with huge and savvy companies for impressions, which quickly drove the prices up. The geographic targeting was terrible forcing companies to advertise in an entire city and pay for people 30 miles away. And lastly, it was for the most part ineffective at getting folks from a computer and into a real non-online business.

But everything has now changed. People across the country are upgrading to big shiny phones with huge screens that can browse the web and load up apps. This is creating huge number of potential ad impressions. They are cheap too because big advertisers don’t like the idea of a tiny ad on a portable device. They are very targeted; you can buy ads that only show within half a mile of your store. And most importantly mobile ads are effective at driving customers into stores.

So why aren’t all local businesses buying mobile ads and jumping for joy about how busy they are? It turns out that mobile marketing is not easy. So here are some tips for navigating this new incredible opportunity.

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1 – Always buy impressions that are hyper-local. This means that the ad can be served only to people near and around your store.

2 – Only pay per click and don’t get sucked into paying for impressions. Not all mobile ads are created equal and some will result in lots of customers and some in few. Think about the likelihood that someone playing a game on his or her phone will drop it and come to your restaurant or the chance that someone searching for food on Google will. Paying by clicks evens the game and helps ensure you only pay for performance.

3- Set-up campaigns to advertise only when you need customers and avoid spending money to bring in customers when you are already busy.

4 – Spend the time to tweak, optimize, and target your campaign. Mobile marketing is not easy and the more time you put in the more you will get out.

5 – Add a discount or call to action to your ads. Give folks a reason to come to you other than how great your name is. Incentives really do work.

6 – Set-up a nice mobile website or landing page that has lots of information about 5our business and make sure it loads fast.

OR you can use a service like www.ThinkNear.com (full disclosure: I am the CEO) and let them handle everything to make sure your campaign is a success.

The bottom line is that mobile marketing can transform your business and staying on the sidelines is a massive wasted opportunity.

Eli is the CEO of ThinkNear, which helps local businesses efficiently drive customers with mobile marketing. Eli was most recently at Amazon. Previously he was a successful entrepreneur and was named one of the “Top Young Entrepreneurs” by BusinessWeek, the “21st Coolest Young Entrepreneur” by Inc. magazine, and a “Top Entrepreneur Under 30″ by NY Daily News.
Eli earned a BA in International Relations and Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Read more at Eli’s blog, eportnoy.posterous.com or follow him on twitter @eportnoy

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