My Request to Local Businesses: Keep Complaining

As CEO of a digital marketing company, I know all too well that local businesses are not happy with the online marketing industry as a whole. I’ve heard the complaints: “online marketing companies lack transparency,” “they overpromise,” “they’re expensive and don’t deliver ROI.” My response to local businesses? Keep complaining! (Please).

The online marketing industry realizes it has to make changes and its members are working hard to address the criticisms from our customers in the local business community. But I want to hear more complaints, because if local businesses continue to be vocal about their issues, we can respond more quickly and effectively. So, as we work to effect change, I’m asking local businesses to hold us accountable to these expectations:

Clarity & Comprehension 
The men and women that make up local business communities everywhere are electricians, dentists, lawyers, realtors, etc. whose expertise is rooted in their individual sectors, not in marketing. It’s time-consuming and difficult running a business 24×7, and though local business men and women may be interested in teaching themselves about online marketing, they usually don’t have the time to do so.

Local businesses should expect clarity from online marketing providers. They should count on vendors to provide a detailed explanation of online marketing offerings and how those solutions can work to drive sales. Vendors should describe their services in plain language, not technical jargon. Most local businesses don’t know why it’s important to “optimize website metadata.” Vendors should explain what that really means and why a business needs it. Online marketing companies should also differentiate their offerings. A quick web search will turn up dozens of digital marketing companies with “all-in-one” solutions. I can tell you first hand, we don’t all offer the very same thing.

Goal-Based Campaigns
Businesses should expect vendors to sit down with them, learn about their objectives and needs, and set campaign goals based on those needs. Online marketing is an ongoing investment, but businesses don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars annually for a campaign that will grow leads and sales. Vendors should explain how campaigns can vary based on objectives, location, type of business and media mix. In some instances, digital marketing requires businesses to spend a minimum amount on services — such as SEO, display or lead management — in order to achieve any measurable results. Local businesses should expect vendors to explain when and why a particular methodology (such as search) is a poor choice given the business’ budget limitations. If an online marketing provider can’t offer alternative solutions to meet the desired result, he or she should provide the local business with referrals to a provider that can.

Transparency & Measurement
Today’s online marketing providers have tools that can provide rich data, and businesses should expect that information to be used at the outset of a campaign to establish baselines for performance, and then be revisited for comparisons and recommendations. Local businesses spend their hard-earned profits on marketing to gain customers and increase revenue. Businesses should expect online marketing vendors to offer real-time reports that provide complete transparency into how their investments are performing. These reports should give insights into campaign results, the types of leads campaigns are generating and whether or not the leads convert into customers. (Some vendors are now able to also provide the source of those leads — calls, emails, forms, chats–as well as cost per lead.)

An Industry Effort
The online marketing industry knows it needs to focus more on what local businesses truly value: offerings that are more easily understood, more transparent and more measurable. As vendors work to address these issues they’ll continue to look for feedback from local businesses around what’s working and what isn’t. And in the meantime, I encourage local businesses to keep complaining!


This article also appeared on The Huffington Post.

Sharon Rowlands

Sharon Rowlands was named CEO of ReachLocal in April 2014. Ms. Rowlands has more than 20 years of experience leading multi-billion dollar companies serving small- and medium-sized businesses, financial markets, and enterprise customers. From 2011 to 2013, she was CEO of Altegrity, which she transformed from a holding company into three independent business units, each with its own growth strategy. From 2008 to 2011 Ms. Rowlands was CEO of Penton Media, and prior to that she was with Thomson Financial. During her over ten-year tenure at Thomson, she held a variety of executive-level positions, including President and CEO from 2005 to 2008, and established the company as one of the most innovative partners to the global financial community. Ms. Rowlands received her Postgraduate Certificate in Education from the University of London and her Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Newcastle, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.

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