All Marketing is Local Marketing

Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the House, once famously said “All politics is local.” It was a lesson he learned in his first political loss: unless you connect to the needs and desires of the folks near you, you won’t be successful. In this emerging era of branding, I think all marketing will be local marketing.

I grew up in a really small town. In the local diner, the owner had posted a sign:
“If you like our food, tell a friend. If you don’t, tell the owner.” That’s local marketing: direct, face-to-face, immediate. No BS and no hiding. It’s where marketing is headed. (Or headed back to: an era of branding and marketing that is more like Mesopotamia than it is like Mad Men.)

The last 70 years of big brand marketing has been the mass media era. TV commercials, print ads, direct mail: all directed at faceless masses of ‘consumers’ by faceless corporations. Recently, everyone is talking about how marketing is changing. “One-on-one marketing”, “permission marketing”, “relationship marketing”, “social marketing”… primarily as a reaction to the worst of the mass media era of marketing. Everyone agrees that mass is out, individual is in. The fact is, ‘individual’ has always been in for a certain segment of the market: what some sneeringly call ‘small business.’

I took this picture where I get my hair cut. (I’m loath to call it a ‘salon’. ) It’s a relatively small place. Not a global mega-haircare brand. In their changing room, they’ve posted what is clearly a desktop printed sign – not a slick 4-color printed communication. Now some marketers may roll their eyes at such a low-tech approach.  But I think the sign embodies the truth about 21st Century marketing: 21st century marketing is going to be local…whether you’re talking to people around the corner or across the globe. Their sign made me smile, made me think and then made me appreciate what great marketers they are. (Jackson Square Salon, if you’re in San Francisco.)

Here’s why I think the sign is smart and indicative of where marketing is heading:

  • “Helping” – marketing is, in fact, asking for help. “Try our service.” “Buy our product.” “Tell a friend.” Ultimately, marketing is ‘an ask’. The salon is very clear on their ‘ask’: It’s personal, action-oriented, engaging, easy. Who wouldn’t want to help? Are you as clear on your ‘ask’?
  • “Almost all our new clients come from Yelp.” How many brands are that smart about where their customers come from? Actionable knowledge is the first step in great marketing. Do you know how your customers find you?
  • “We are building clientele”- marketing is focused on the long term as well as the short term. It isn’t just about the sale, its about building the relationship…a client, not a purchaser. Is your brand building clientele or selling products?
  • It’s appreciative. They ask for something and appreciate you for acting on it. Twice. I think that’s a good ratio – two “thank you’s” for every ‘ask’. Do you genuinely say “thank you” to your clients twice as often as you ask them for something?

Commenting area

  1. Russ,

    I love this post, but I hate that you sort of beat me to the punch here. I’ve been planning on doing a piece on my own blog about the barber I go to. 🙂

    What is it about barbers? I go to a little hole in the wall shop in the most unnoticeable corner of the most nondescript strip mall. Happened to find the place because they also have a tailor (which is a great value-add) on site, and I was in need of a tailor, and found them online.

    These guys are great. Stan and Rick, a couple of Jersey transplants to Arizona. Every Jersey-Italian cliche and stereotype you can think of, these guys have fully embraced. Totally old school barbers, nothing fancy, but always the perfect cut, shave, hot towel and neck/head massage. Plus, if you need a “good price” on an expensive watch, and don’t need to know too much about where it came from, or, say, you need a “date” for the evening, they’ve got you covered. The “know a guy” for everything. I couldn’t make this up.

    Now, to be clear, I’ve only ever taken advantage of the haircuts and tailoring 🙂

    The shop is decked out in signed photos of athletes, Godfather and Scarface movie posters, and yes, dogs playing poker on black velvet. It’s cheesy, but intentionally so. TVs playing the latest game, big couches to sit on while you wait, car, sports, and “guy” magazines to peruse. The conversation is always honest, R-rated, and hilarious.

    It couldn’t be more of a cliche or stereotype, but it’s authentic, and it’s totally fantastic. And, the place is always packed. It’s a guy’s hangout, and the word has spread throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. When Stan got married recently, they threw a party in the shop, and the place was stuffed to the gills with guys from all around who came by to toast him and wish him well.

    The moral of the story is that they’ve created a better experience that connected with guys, especially ones who typically see getting a haircut as something annoying. Word of mouth is their strongest marketing. It helps that they can cut hair like DaVinci.

    Thanks for sharing.


    • You should completely go ahead with your post. Was chatting with another colleague at work who blogs and we’re all talking about the same things – its our own unique perspective and thoughts that make it interesting, not the discovery of some magical new thought.

      That being said, your question really made me think…what is it about barbers? I think they get some fundamentals that other ‘brands’ don’t get:
      1. Customer intimacy: hard not to know someone when you’re sticking your hands on their head. They know who they’re customer is and what gets them going.
      2. Differentiating an undifferentiated product. Every barber does exactly the same thing. Low barriers to entry with more ‘stylists’ being created every day. So, if they’re smart, they’re thinking about how to make what they do different.
      3. Customer experience. Great barbers realize the cutting of the hair is the bare minimum. It’s the surrounding experience that can make you stand out.
      4. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Barbers know they live and die on repeat customers. New customers are nice, but if you can convert them into regulars, you’re golden. So they focus on what will get folks to come back. (See points 1,2,3 above.)

      The really funny part in all this is I don’t know if most barbers are that calculating when it comes to marketing. Not even sure they think any of the above IS marketing. They just know what they need to do to keep people happy and coming back. And in that regard, they’re ‘branding’ in a way that is more like what I imagine branding in Mesopotamia was like 8000 years ago. Not ‘branding’ in the 1990’s slick image way. And I think as we move to a world where more brands need to think like barbers (see above), the small businesses are the folks to look to for learnings.

      Guess maybe I have another blog post here! Thanks for the comments – always makes me think more and harder!

  2. I like that you wrote (and that Ken Peters commented) about this because it’s been my mantra lately, for clients of any size. I love the big city and everything it conjures, but don’t think I’m alone in wistfully wishing for the strong, self-sufficient neighborhood entities of yesteryear (and it wasn’t too many yesters, either).

    In many ways, the smaller guys are not only more nimble when it comes to continually pleasing their clientele, they’re more willing to do it. Not only because it will help their ‘brand’, but because they are their brand. Think about it, when you recommend your salon, don’t you usually also share the name of the specific person who cuts your hair? In case that’s something only women do, I’ll go for the most guy thing I can think of: mechanics. My mechanic owns his shop and has many other mechanics working for him, but I always remember Jeff is an awesome mechanic because many years ago he continually nursed my hoopty back to life—and I tell people to ask for him by name. I do this because not only is he the owner, but he is the one who calls to deliver the good or bad news to all of his customers. He doesn’t delegate that task to his employees, he always delivers it himself.

    I can’t think of better examples than stylists and mechanics for local—and viral—marketing.

    • Agree with your thoughts, Jen. You’re spot on: I used Yelp! to find not just the salon but the stylist! She was highly recommended as being great for men’s hair. I think small businesses like barbers/stylists/mechanics, etc. are great a this is because they understand every sale is an individual sale – there’s no such thing as a ‘mass market’ when you’re a small business. Big brands need to learn that too – there’s no such thing as a ‘mass market’ sale…every sale is to an individual person, not a ‘consumer’ in the abstract.

  3. Enjoyed and appreciated the simple truth of this post, and I think it unlocks a more fundamental one for people who are stewards of brands: they’re narratives. In the age of mass media, we could easily convince ourselves that every day in a brand’s life is a clean sheet of paper. It felt like a command-and-control model, where the definition of a brand was whatever its owner decided it was going to be. Enough has been said about why and how that’s not true anymore, but I think we’re only just beginning to face what that means. I, too, grew up in a small town, and I still spend half my time in one… in a tight community, everything you say and do is understood and judged in the context of everything you’ve ever said and done. Good, reliable people are forgiven mistakes, where sketchy people’s mistakes merely get added to the evidence against them, just the way one airline can break a guitar and lose 10% of its market cap, while another one can have the roofs peeling off its planes in flight and barely make the news. Brands are narrative, just like personal reputations have always been. The competent marketer knows his equity is built through a million little transactions like the ones you describe; the brilliant marketer knows his equity is built by his story.

    • Great point. Love your analogy about your deeds being added to the sum total of your deeds before – exactly right. “Brand equity” is built over a long time and is a sum total.

  4. Aw, this was an extremely nice post. Taking the time and actual effort to create a really good article… but what can I say… I put things off a lot and don’t seem to get anything done.

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>