“The hard truth is that companies providing digital marketing to local businesses have come under fire lately,” says Sharon Rowlands, CEO of ReachLocal, in a recent op-ed. “We’ve seen the articles, read the reviews, heard the customers’ complaints: “online marketing companies overpromise,” “they lack transparency,” “they’re expensive and don’t deliver ROI.”
Why do local businesses distrust online marketing?
According to Rowlands, they’re suffering from a lack of transparency, an inability to spend the time monitoring firms they hire, and a dose of b.s. from some firms who value the short-term ability to bamboozle local merchants over the long-term goal of improving the bottom line.
“So what’s driving those sentiments and, most importantly, what can we do to change them?” asks Rowlands.
It starts with education, notes Rowlands in her must-read Forbes piece.
“The digital marketing industry’s “perception problem” is rooted in multiple issues. On the most basic level, it’s an education problem. The plumbers, doctors, auto mechanics, and others that comprise the local business community are experts in their own business sectors: NOT in digital marketing. These local businesses are already starved for the time required to simply run their businesses day-to-day, they don’t have the bandwidth to become digital marketing pros.”
Rowlands believes digital marketing firms need to help customers understand the basics of what they are purchasing and how it can drive sales for their businesses.
What else helps?
“We can also help customers better understand our goals and services if we use plainer, more consistent and transparent language in discussions with them,” advises Rowlands. “Steer clear of jargon, me-too claims, and statements without substance. Most local businesses don’t know why it’s important to “optimize website metadata” and they can’t knowledgably choose a marketing provider when everyone claims to be an “all-in-one” solution. Let’s do a better job of explaining terminology and differentiating our offerings. What are the benefits of optimized metadata? What specific services comprise an “all-in-one” solution?”
Some honesty would help, too.
“For example, we know that customers in certain verticals and geographies need to spend a minimum amount on search, display or other efforts to achieve results,” says Rowlands. “If they don’t have the resources to achieve their desired results, we need to offer an alternative, or we may even need to say we aren’t the right partner for them.”
The entire essay is excellent reading — for both small local businesses and the companies that claim to serve them.