For Local Marketing Nothing Beats the Simplicity of a Business-Card Drawing

When we’re hired to help develop and implement a neighborhood marketing program, the first step is a business-card drawing. This simple tactic provides several key pieces of information that they can use in executing many of their promotions during the following six to 12 months.

A business-card drawing helps you conduct a little bit of reconnaissance about your marketplace so you will get maximum return on your efforts. Knowing in what part of town your customers live and work can be a real advantage when developing special promotions. Or, more to the point, knowing which areas of your neighborhood don’t seem to patronize you is equally as important.

No doubt you’ve seen businesses set out fishbowls for dropping in your business card for a free drawing of some prize. You’ll do the same, but you’re going to use the promotion for more than just creating a mailing list. On the poster above the fishbowl, specifically make the drawing a “business card” drawing. Don’t provide entry forms. The reason is that business cards provide you information you will want later. Plus, for this promotion, you want to gather the names of businesspeople who happen to be your customers.

Related: Five Low-Cost Local Marketing Ideas

The prize you select for your free drawing should be just valuable enough to motivate your customers to enter, but not so valuable that people “stuff” your fishbowl.

1. Create a push-pin chart.
After several weeks, you’ll draw a winner and give away your prize. Now you have a fishbowl full of business cards. The information on these cards is invaluable. They tell you where your customers work. So your first task is to do a "scattergram" on a street map of your trade area around your business. Plot the address on the map with pins with colored heads. Once you start plotting enough of your customers on the map, you'll begin to get a picture of where your customers live and work. You might be pleasantly surprised where you get business from.

Now, take a step back and see exactly where your customers work. With this information you can plan an attack for those geographical areas where you have a weak concentration. For example, if the reason a certain area draws few customers is because there is a park or a lake located there, then you know nothing can be done. However, if the map shows a very weak pull from an area where you have stiff competition, you’ll want to attack that area with aggressive promotional offers or focus your advertising media efforts to local suburban or weekly newspapers.

2. Build a database.
The obvious benefit of a business-card drawing is using the information you gathered to build your database. You can use the addresses for mailings and the phone number for calling. Since they’re already your existing customers, you can ask them if they would like to get on your “hot list.” So when you have special offers, you can give them prior notice of it before your ad breaks in the newspaper.

Related: Three Affordable Ways to Get Celebrities to Promote Your Brand

3. Arrange cross-promotions.
The biggest challenge in neighborhood marketing is having the time to meet with other area merchants and set up various cross promotions. We were challenged by a client -- a major quick-oil-change franchisor -- to come up with a way that an overworked store manager could get the opportunity to set up these promotions, even given the demands already on his time. The answer was sitting in the waiting room.

We noticed a gentleman in a very nice suit reading a four-month-old copy of Time while waiting for his car. We started chatting. It turned out that he was a recent transfer to the area and headed HR for his employer's large distribution center about a mile down the road. This was his second visit to the shop, after bringing his wife’s car the week before. He was really pleased with the quality of service on his cars. We asked him if he would like to provide his 300 employees a new benefit program at no cost to his company. This got his attention.

We then offered to provide special VIP cards that allowed all his employees to receive a 10 percent discount on any oil change for a three-month period. The only caveat was that the piece had to be inserted in the payroll envelope to ensure that every employee received one. The VIP cards would be printed specifically for them and have his employer's name on the card. He thought this was a great idea and the promotion was executed.

That’s where your business-card drawing comes in. These cards tell you the names of the companies and titles of the people who are already your customers. Like this example, you can likely set up your first 20 or 30 promotions with your own customers. Your customer database is your secret weapon to making local cross-promotions work for you.  

Related: Low-Cost Ways to Market a Business and Make Sales (Video)