All retail is local: Four marketing strategies from your local politician

By Mike Hayes,

Well, it’s election week. This year, as with many non-presidential election years, the story has been about control of Congress. Though this is presented on the news networks and political websites as a national issue, Congressional districts are, in truth, relatively small areas with clearly defined boundaries. The winning party, therefore, must solve the trick of being relevant to the local voters in many different and disparate districts. The maxim “all politics is local,” is more relevant now than ever before. Politicians need to know what’s top-of-mind, understand how their target thinks and craft messaging that resonates in a way that inspires voters to act.

Sound like a familiar process? It should, because politicians are masters of local marketing; constantly driving to a specific action at the local voting booth. Just like the local political arena, the game of retail is won block by block and store by store. This fall, I’ve gathered a few pointers that retailers can take away from our local politicians to translate into greater success at the register.

Strategy One: Focus your dollars where they matter most: Whether they be Congressional districts or Aldermanic wards, politicians have clearly defined boundaries where they focus campaign efforts. They know precisely the areas that they must invest in to win the election. They also know the areas that they’ve got in the bag. The questions they need to answer are: Where can I pick up undecided votes? How much time should I spend shoring up my “base?” And is it worth it to spend money in areas where my opponent is solid?

Retail marketers also must make these choices. If you’re a major retail marketer, you should be making strategic investment decisions based on where you’re strong and where you’re not. With budgets the way they are, which 200 store neighborhoods do you need to win to hit your national holiday revenue goals, and which ones are a lost cause? Are you thinking about where you should turn up the heat for Easter? With new targeting and insight technology, national marketing can work even harder when paired with a performance-driven, geography-based store strategy.

Strategy Two: Be In tune with neighborhood realities: Nothing hurts a politician more than being considered “out of touch” with voters. The same holds true for marketers and their customers. Politicians, no matter where they’re running, focus on the hot button issues for their electorate, and those issues are likely to be different for each local neighborhood. In the Bay Area of San Francisco, people are hotly debating the issue of medical marijuana and gay marriage. While in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, people are concerned about tax hikes and corruption.

Retail marketers also need to be in-tune with the local customer realities. It’s extremely important to know -- with absolute certainty -- the issues that are important in each area (which can vary greatly, neighborhood by neighborhood). These variations can range from micro-economics such as recession status, job market and home sales, to demographics and psychographics such as lifestyle, family structure and brand affinity. Retailers have the opportunity to craft marketing messages to align with those local differences to gain a competitive advantage. Missing that critical information, a marketer runs the risk of sending out the wrong message, at the wrong time, to the wrong people. They’ll appear out of touch, and they’ll lose sales at the register. There are over 2,000 data streams available for every zip code around your stores. Using available local market insight to enhance performance is what gives marketers (and politicians) a leg up.

Strategy Three: Layer local tactics based on response. Once you’ve defined who’s going to make the register ring, how do you inspire them to act? Even within a single neighborhood, Politicians layer a myriad of strategic grassroots efforts that they know will collectively shift the vote. Politicians have figured out that a personal appearance might drive the vote for some neighborhood voters, while a social media effort on Twitter and Facebook might inspire a different set of voters. They have the art of local marketing perfected, with all local tactics working in alignment to drive voters to their local polling station.

Advanced technology now enables marketers to understand the media receptivity differences by neighborhood and by target. Just as different voters are swayed by different media (one may appreciate a booster going door-to-door while another just views it as an annoyance), shoppers take action based on different media triggers. One shopper may respond to direct mail; another is more receptive to social media outreach. Marketers must consider the optimal media outreach, down to the neighborhood level.

Strategy Four: Create (and use) brand evangelists. Every successful politician is backed by an army of supporters and true believers who work to get the message out. They go door to door, they tell their friends, family and neighbors about whom they’re supporting in the upcoming election. And, by expressing their point of view, they create other supporters, who evangelize on their behalf.

In marketing, as in politics, consumers are swayed most by their friends and family, whom they consider to be trusted resources. Marketers need to find their own evangelists and ensure that they’re helping a retailer get its message out on the local level. Find the passion groups for your product within the local arena and get them to talk about you. Even if it’s through virtual communications -- social media, blogs, texting -- research shows consumers don’t differentiate. A trusted source is a trusted source.

All politicians, even the ones competing for the highest office in the land, use these local tactics. In the last presidential campaign, Barack Obama used them like no one before him. He identified his target market (the disaffected), and crafted a message that resonated with them (change). He knew his likely voters (Democrats), and how to reach them. He focused media and message on those places where it could do the most good; he used a mix of national, local and new media tactics to reach those voters. And especially, he employed a team of evangelists (particularly those attuned to spreading the message via social networks) to spread their enthusiasm for his candidacy. The result: a decisive victory two years ago. As we near the end of this year’s political season, whoever wins the most votes will likely have employed the similar tactics to similar success.

Politicians know their races are won and lost in the neighborhood. Retailers, it’s time to recognize that you have the same opportunity. Right location, right media, right message is a tangible reality for retail chain stores, no matter how many different neighborhoods you call home.

Mike Hayes is the chief strategy, development and operations officer of Geomentum, one of the largest hyper-local marketing agencies in the United States. Hayes advises some of the nation’s largest retail chains and marketers on how to leverage store-level geographic information to customize and enhance marketing for thousands of stores across the nation. He can be reached at

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