In the early days of my career, trips to Topeka and Decatur to Monte Carlo and Geneva and everywhere in between, would have classified me as a road warrior. Way before GPS, I spent many a trip consulting my Rand McNally road map and picking my way through unknown cities and towns. Then there were the hotels – whether it was a Sheraton, Marriott or Holiday Inn, it didn’t matter as it was a disappointing blur of sameness, each offering the standard amenities and mediocre dining options. In the rare instance I could carve out some time in the day, I would go explore and see the sights, to try and get more of a local perspective. However as a young woman traveling alone, I erred on the side of caution and found myself more often than not, back in my hotel room working.

Well we’re not in Kansas anymore. Today, with spa-like toiletries, built-in hair dryers, flat screen TVs and pillow menus are now de rigueur; hotels looking to make their mark have had to look beyond the in-room experience. Looking to differentiate themselves from their competitors and engage the community, hotels have taken the lead in getting involved by looking beyond their core customer, out-of-town-guests, to in-town clientele. Programs (open to both guests and non-guests) ranging from running clubs and author readings to craft cocktails and art shows are designed to draw-in the locals and make the hotels seem more attractive to out-of-town guests. It’s a win-win; hotels get incremental revenue from the locals and out-of-towners feel more of a local vibe and have an opportunity to connect with residents. Man, I would have liked to have a few of those choices when I was traveling!

In a recent New York Times article, David Loeb, senior hotel research analyst at Robert W. Baird & Company said, “The best advertisement for a hotel is the local community. “If you can get locals to have a good experience, however they spread that word, it’s a positive.”

So how can that model translate to other industries and businesses large and small? Beyond pure philanthropic efforts, how can businesses connect with their local community to heighten brand awareness and set themselves apart from others? There are numerous ways to raise visibility within your home community and turn that audience into evangelists and brand ambassadors. I suggest a mix of marketing, advertising, public relations and events – here are several examples that come to mind:

  1. Host an event: Appeal to your target customer, even partner with a non-competing and/or complementary business to design an event to appeal to your target. A grand opening party is a no-brainer but holding monthly events keeps the buzz going beyond the honeymoon period. Make sure the guests leave with a freebie, and a bounce-back to return. Gather their contact information and encourage them to connect on social media.
  2. Sponsor an event: Sponsor a local 5K, a park cleanup or citywide picnic. Or even sponsor a local sports team. Take advantage of every publicity, social media and advertising avenue possible supporting that sponsorship.
  3. Donate and volunteer: Joining a committee, volunteering and donating all increase your and your business’ visibility and sets you apart from the field. Encourage (and compensate) your employees to do the same.
  4. Get out and say hi: On a regular basis, get out and visit other businesses in your area, stop by the local coffee shop and visit with the employees and customers, stop by the community center or Chamber of Commerce. A hello and handshake can go a long way in establishing a top-of-mind presence and can put you a step-ahead of the competition.