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Small firms can generate brand loyalty through community outreach

Outreach efforts don't have to be expensive to be effective, experts say. Results may not be immediate, but will trickle in over time.

Turn of the Corkscrew co-owner Carol Hoenig at

Turn of the Corkscrew co-owner Carol Hoenig at her Rockville Center bookstore /  cafe. The store has an events room that is open to community organizations at no cost.  Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Big brands can spend thousands of dollars on sponsorships and community outreach.

Little brands, not so much.

But that doesn’t mean small businesses can’t create goodwill on a grass-roots level and give back to their communities, and reap some of the benefits of local outreach including increased brand awareness and customer loyalty.

“I would look at community outreach as a marketing and sales undertaking,” says Alice Bredin, president of Bredin Inc., a content marketing and research firm in Somerville, Massachusetts. “You’re getting potentially new customers, and you’re being a good member of the community.”

In turn, you would hope to reap some of the ancillary benefits, but she says it’s not a “one-and-done” undertaking.

Results trickle in slowly. “It’s a slow drip,” says Bredin, meaning results may not be immediate but rather trickle in over time.

Unfortunately, community outreach is something small-business owners often don’t even think about, says Jack Mandel, an East Norwich-based marketing consultant and a professor of marketing at Nassau Community College in Garden City.

“They’re naive as to what a strong impact an outreach promotion can have,” he says.

Or perhaps they think it has to be some sort of grand gesture.

Key off your capabilities and budget. You can identify small, medium and large outreach efforts based on your capabilities and budget.

For example, it’s easy enough to reach out to local clubs or groups affiliated with a local church or synagogue and offer to host their next meeting, Mandel says.

Carol Hoenig, co-owner of Turn of the Corkscrew Books & Wine in Rockville Centre, has an events room downstairs that she opens to various organizations, including nonprofits, at no cost.

Host events. The store also hosts community meetings, including those of a local chapter of Toastmasters, which helps members improve their public speaking skills.

Hosting these events has generated goodwill for the store and translated into sales of either books or light snacks from its cafe, Hoenig says.

“A lot of people come in and say, ‘I didn’t know this place was that big,’ ” she says.

Similarly, Lisa Lowe, owner of Vines and Branches RVC in Rockville Centre, a gourmet food store specializing in olive oils and balsamic vinegars, has opened her store for community meetings and book clubs.

She’s also done free after-hours tastings at the store for certain groups, putting out samples of her favorite appetizer recipes using products from the store. People usually buy once they see how to use the products, she says.

“It helps me reach people I probably never would have met before,” Lowe says.

Perhaps offer freebies. Aside from using your facility to host groups, you may opt to provide free food or food at a reduced rate at a local fundraiser or sponsor a local Little League team, Bredin says.

Keep your eye out for opportunities that align with your business mission and goals, she says.

“You want to be somewhat strategic” about your outreach efforts, she says. For example, if you own a running shop, you probably would want to get involved in a high school event or a 5K versus, say, a preschool fundraiser.

Serve as a volunteer or sponsor. Other outreach ideas include volunteering, as well as sponsoring a “congrats,” such as giving a few pizzas to a school after a National Honor Society induction, Mandel says.

Reaching out to your local chamber of commerce is a good start to identify opportunities, Mandel says. If you find out someone is having a cleanup event or race, you can offer to set up a table and provide hot coffee and donuts, he says.

Meet-and-greets can be a great way to interact with the community, he says. You might host one if you’re opening a new food store; provide samples or invite the community to an anniversary celebration with food and beverages.

“You’ve got to give to get,” Mandel says.

Fast fact

71%

Percentage of survey respondents who said they would spend more money at a small business if it supported a positive social or environmental cause

Source: 2018 Cox Business Consumer Pulse on Small Businesses

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