Neighborhood Brands

What is a Neighborhood Brand

Neighborhood Brands are Stories

This page is from the book Neighborhood Brands. The book addresses the fundamental issues of marketing a neighborhood business in a connected world.

A neighborhood brand is recognition among residents that a particular business excels at delivering a product, selection, service or experience. In other words a neighborhood brand means that:

  • When locals think of _____ they immediately think of _____ (fill in the blanks with your particulars).

More importantly, a neighborhood brand means that:

  • When friends ask about _____, people immediately mention _____ (again fill in the blanks with your particulars).

A neighborhood brand is defined by customers, not by the business itself. Some of the elements that that influence a brand include:

  • Information you provide
  • Your company’s staff
  • How customers are greeted
  • How often you communicate with customers
  • How you communicate with customers
  • Customer service
  • Products and services
  • Location
  • Store policies, hours, guarantees
  • Store or office appearance
  • The look and feel of your business or product
  • The smell and sound of your business
  • Community involvement
  • Niche
  • Advertising and promotion

These elements translate into stories that a person can use to explain your brand to someone else. For example, “I was rushed to put together a special dinner and the nice people down the street at Kuby’s helped me pick out four of the best steaks I’ve ever tasted.” Brands with great stories have an easier time catching on or gaining traction.

Neighborhood Brands Are Top of Mind/Tip of Tongue

When someone asks “where’s the best place to get ice cream?” or “do you know any good plumbers?,” the mental list that pops into the respondent’s head is called an evoked set. Some of the most telling evidence about whether a brand has traction among its target audience is to examine the content of these consumer responses. Not only do customers recall a handful of brands, but they rank them, whether or not they have ever said that ranking out loud.

Evoked Responses

Occupying space on these mental ladders that consumers carry around in their heads is the result of either personal experience, word of mouth, news stories or brand promotion. Nothing can trump personal experience with a brand in terms of customer attitudes, but not everyone has experienced your product. It is likely that many potential customers formulate impressions of your brand based solely on what they hear, read or see about you. Therefore, effective articles, messaging and stories in places where customers will see and read them is essential to your neighborhood brand’s success.

Neighborhood Brands are Niches

An important element of neighborhood branding is niche. A neighborhood niche is the product or service you offer, seen through neighborhood eyes. The smaller the niche, the better the brand and the easier it is for the neighborhood to remember your stories.

For example, the following categories suggest a greater level of niche or focus as you proceed from a general concept to a more tightly refined one:

Increasing Neighborhood Niche

As focus increases, a brand becomes stronger and the number of businesses or competitors at each level decreases in both the neighborhood and in the online world. This is an important point. At the health and beauty level, chains like Walgreen’s and CVS fit as do online merchants such as By the time you move to a higher level of focus you are now starting to think more about companies such as the local GNC or health food store.

The key here is that if you are trying to create a neighborhood brand by competing in a broader category, it will be more difficult. You’ll be a small player with a small neighborhood market share. But as you begin to create a niche for your business, you become a bigger player with a bigger market share and that’s easier for your customers to respect and remember.

Most large categories are already taken by one, or a small handful of big business names.

  • Best general bookstore
  • Best place to buy Apple computers
  • Best general drug store

However for every large or general category that is unavailable to the local business, there are many more category specialties that are easy to promote in a neighborhood such as:

  • Best Southwest style Mexican food
  • Best live jazz
  • Best place to have a beer with friends
  • Best place to go with a broken computer
  • Best realtor for selling a contemporary house
  • Best coffee house for meetings
  • Best bookstore for small kids
  • Best place to buy used Apple computers
  • Best drugstore for seniors

A neighborhood brand is about stories, and niches make it easier for people to remember and repeat the stories that ultimately enhance your reputation and your sales. For example, when was the last time you were asked “Where should I go for food?” versus “Where should I go for good Chinese food?” People think and speak about shopping, dining and services in terms of niches.

Refining your Neighborhood Niche

It seems safer to be all things to all people so that you don’t miss out on any sale. But when you try being all things you compete with more and larger companies for mindshare with customers. When you “niche down” your number of direct competitors decreases and it is much easier to create mindshare.

If you haven’t recently, you may want to consider what your ideal niche might be. You should determine whether your concept of your current niche is in sync with what your customers or prospects think. Then, you need to contrast your niche with that of your competitors.

  Does Well Does Different
Me * Taste and Freshness * Family Owned
* Multi-generation
* Seasoned fries
Competitor 1 * Clean
* Consistent
* Drive Through
* Playground
Competitor 2 * Broad Menu * Beer and Wine
* Sports TV

Use your own version of the comparison to refine your niche. The more you can differentiate yourself from larger and smaller competitors, both online and down the street, the more your customers can create stories that drive your brand.

Neighborhood Brands Dominate Share of Voice

Share of voice (SOV) is an important consideration for any brand. It basically means how visible or audible your business is in the marketplace. Are you being heard “out there?” Are you being seen and heard as much as your competitors? The assumption is that the more you communicate your business message, the more people will see it. The typical thinking is that the more you spend, the more times your message gets said and the more people will listen. It’s important to consider your surroundings when determining an appropriate ‘volume’ of marketing communications for a neighborhood brand. You don’t want your brand to be an annoying neighbor, but you do want to be seen and heard.

SOV used to be defined by the amount of dollars spent in places like newspaper, radio, television and magazines. You have experienced valiant attempts at increasing SOV when you see the same television commercial multiple times in a single night’s viewing. If you’re like most people, unless the message is extraordinarily entertaining, you start to tune it out after you’ve heard it a few times. Sometimes you wish you could say “shut up already!” But you can’t. Again, you don’t want your brand messaging to be like that, and it doesn’t have to.

As a small business, you have many more options for increasing share of voice in a way that doesn’t resemble a shouting match. The good news about neighborhood brands is that they don’t have to communicate all the way across a metropolitan area, state or country. The most important talking — and listening — you can do is within close range of your place of business — to your neighbors. And unlike traditional SOV that was amassed via enormous amounts of ad purchases for one-way communication, neighborhood brands don’t have to lay out vast amounts of money to communicate effectively with customers. When you do communicate, much of it is a dialogue rather than a monologue, thanks to social media.

Share of Voice

A good example of marketing share of voice occurs every time we attend a sporting event. The announcer “shouts” at us through the sound system so maybe we’ll be able to hear above the noise. But, we don’t need a sound system to talk to our friend sitting next to us. If share of voice is measured by comparison based on big media megaphones such as newspapers or television, we have to shout to be heard and we reach a lot of people we probably don’t even want to reach. When talking to those closest to us, those in the neighborhood, a conversational voice is actually much better.

What Happens When You Stop

Anyone who has ever watched children knows that you often worry more when things get quiet than when things are noisy. Noise means activity. Happy noise means happy activity. No noise means we don’t know what’s going on. It’s an unknown. Business SOV is the same way. Good noise means good things. Quiet means an unknown. When businesses are “noisy” and then go quiet, customers are left wondering what’s happening. A consistent effort in a reasonable voice helps customers know you are still around and “happy”.

Neighborhood Brand: The Formulas

You can understand neighborhood branding with two basic formulas:

  1. Neighborhood Brand = Name + Niche + Consistency + Engagement
  2. Neighborhood Brand = Stories

For the mathematically oriented, you can also express this as:

  • Stories = Name + Niche + Consistency + Engagement

Combining your name, niche and consistency (or quality) of product or service gives customers fodder for the stories they need to explain your brand to their friends. The Internet and social media give you opportunities to connect with your customers, which further connect them to your brand and facilitate their communication to others about your brand or in the presence of your brand message. Those connections and the increased involvement of your customers constitute engagement. When your customers pass along your stories to their neighborhood friends then you hold the distinction of a successful neighborhood brand.

It is estimated that the product or service you offer accounts for a mere 20% of what your brand is worth. Many aspects of products and services on the market are easily duplicated. The 80% of your brand equity that is in addition to and enhances a product or service in the eyes of your customers and potential customers is what we’ll focus on next. Now that you better understand what a neighborhood brand is, let’s explore how you can build or enhance your brand in months rather than over generations, using the Internet. We’ll start by understanding the Internet-enabled customer.


To read more, download the full book.