Sequencing the Marketing Stack for Local Businesses

The Local Marketing Stack

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Perhaps it goes without saying, but digital marketing has become incredibly complicated and increasingly fragmented. Compare today’s environment to that of 20 years ago, when a storefront, some business cards, and a Yellow Pages ad were all a local business needed to get the word out to customers. Even 10 years ago, Facebook was just getting off the ground, and a few minutes spent in the local business centers of Google, Yahoo, and Yelp was enough to bring in boatloads of customers.

In today’s rapidly-evolving world, Facebook and Google rightly earn the lion’s share of attention, with Apple and Amazon waiting in the wings, and companies like LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Yelp, and Thumbtack trying to claw their way into the discussion.

But even within those platforms alone, the number of options to market your local business is overwhelming, not to mention the contexts in which, and devices on which, consumers are utilizing those platforms.

As a local business owner, you’re bombarded with near-daily calls from digital marketing vendors, but only about 6% of you actually want to outsource your marketing.

For the remaining 94% of you, I know from my 7 years on the Local University faculty, some of your most pressing questions are around what platforms and techniques to prioritize with your marketing, and how those platforms and techniques fit together.

These are important questions to answer even if you’re hiring a vendor or trying to coordinate multiple vendors.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Diagrams like this famous supergraphic from ChiefMarTec and this one from Lorren Elkins illustrate the variety of choices and capture the complexity and fragmentation of digital marketing extremely well, but don’t offer a prescriptive to-do-list.

In my research, Adroll’s visualization of its own marketing stack best illustrated the integration of multiple techniques, but it’s most relevant for other software companies, as opposed to local businesses.

The best visual response questions of prioritization and integration to date has been Mike Blumenthal’s Web Equity diagram, which he developed in concert with our mutual Local University series all the way back in 2011. It’s still very much relevant today.

Mike’s diagram documents the progression from owned to earned to leased to paid quite well, but it misses some of the order-of-operations required to be successful at actually building this kind of equity.  It was after a series of conversations with Mike during the summer and fall of 2016 that I decided to develop this sequential guide.

And of course, this presentation is significantly inspired by perhaps the most famous geographic data visualization of all-time: the London Underground map.

How to Use This Graphic to Inform Your Decisions

Generally speaking, you should read the graphic from left-to-right and bottom-to-top. Points lower and to the left are more fundamental to the overall success of your business than points higher and to the right in the sequence.

I’ve identified close to 60 of the most popular digital products, services, and tactics in the market today; each is called out by a circle. Some stops are particularly key integration points that contribute to the success of multiple marketing avenues.

For example, Reviews & Testimonials are particularly important for organic marketing (especially SEO and customer conversion), but they also represent an important endpoint/outcome of customer service.

Similarly, Social Media activity clearly lies on the presence line, but that activity will not be seen by many customers (especially on Facebook) without some form of paid marketing to accompany it.

I’ve categorized each of the stops into one (or two; see integrations above) of five major buckets: Operations & Customer Service, Presence, Organic Marketing, Paid Marketing, and Attribution.

Most stops lie on the same straight line, but you’ll note there are some spurs. This is because not every stop on these lines is essential to every local business. For example, some local business websites may not need Ecommerce capabilities (or the SSL certificates required to implement them). Community can be an incredibly powerful driver of business for private schools and personal care providers, but probably doesn’t make as much sense for plumbers or locksmiths.

I’ve also marked six major zones from left to right. For the most part, you should complete each stop that lies to the left of a given zone boundary (for example Website CMS and Web Analytics are just inside of Zone 1) before moving onto stops in zones that are further out (such as Content and Website UX).


The whole reason I started Tidings is to help small businesses like yours make the most of the time, effort and money you spend on digital media. From that standpoint, I hope you find the Local Marketing Stack a useful decision-making framework to help evaluate your options in 2017.

What’s Next?

Throughout the course of the next year, I’ll be building out this framework with more detail, including:

  • Definitions and criteria by which to weigh decisions at each stop
  • Specific vendor recommendations for each stop and integration point
  • An interactive version to help you decide what options are best for your specific business
  • (Vendors, I’ll also have some related analysis for you in the coming weeks–stay tuned!)

In the meantime, you might enjoy my 2017 predictions for the digital marketing industry, Parts One and Two.

Please feel free to comment below, or ask any questions you’d on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter!

–David Mihm
Portland, Oregon
December 2016

3 comments on “Sequencing the Marketing Stack for Local Businesses

  • David you are so right. I had to come up with my own model as well to organize the mess that is small business marketing. I’m excited for the vendor recommendations and the platform to help small business owners manage in house. I’ve subscribed because I can’t wait for every bit of development. And thanks again for your Local U training I received in Burley Idaho 🙂

  • Hey Jason, thanks for stopping by. Glad you think this model shows promise.

    Wow! Burley, ID–seems like a such a long time ago, but I guess in the grand scheme of things it really wasn’t!

  • David:

    Nice job. Quite sophisticated. Glad you explained it so as to help me get through it. Relying on your years of experience at LocalU, you worked to respond to the questions of so many smb’s. Where do I spend the money.

    I operate smb’s. That is the exact question we face and we’ve been taking calls and spending some money with some of those vendors over the years.
    The question is always “How do we get the most bang for the buck?”

    From our limited perspective we look at email vs remarketing in some cases and we look at both. Lot of overlap there. Both efforts work to attract old leads (old leads at least in our cases). We have found that different types of entities do better with one or the other. We actually operate two types of entities with entirely different demographics and with multiple locations.

    We have found over time that most of these expenditures should be treated as experiments. Its not only the expense but then the implementation to see how it works. If things work, continue them. If they don’t work, you better look at implementation a little to see if the results can be improved. If not, drop the things that don’t work and try something else. Give most of them some time, although frankly there are a number of crappy advertisers/marketers/ big promisers-no deliverers. If you run into one of those drop them immediately.



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