Telephone network O2 will help small companies to put their brands on the map using the power of digital, mobile and location-based technologies.
Rolling out its Priority Moments service to independent retailers from today, O2 said the service will help retailers reach its 23 million-strong customer network, even if they are not currently customers of O2.
Priority Moments for Independent Businesses has been launched with a £2.5m through the line advertising campaign, and is supported by the British Independent Retailers' Association.
Michael Weedon, deputy chief executive of the BRIA, said: "Footfall is falling, draining the vitality of our towns and making life increasingly hard for independents. There are over a quarter of a million small retail businesses in Great Britain, and while consumers continue to love them, they do not see them as clearly as...the big national brands.
"There is an opportunity, though, with the massive uptake of smartphones in this country - more than half of all adults now have one in their pocket or handbag - and the ability to communicate directly with local customers can provide a route to renewed vitality for small businesses."
Ben Dowd, director of business at O2, said the firm's research had shows it can be particularly tough for small business owners, who often lack the time and resources to make the most of their marketing, particularly in the digital world.
"Big businesses can play a key role in helping smaller players reach their full potential. Our network is our greatest asset and digital is what we do best – so with the launch of this new service, we hope to apply two of our biggest strengths to help some of these small businesses get a leg up into the world of digital marketing," he said.
O2's survey of more than 500 business showed significant numbers of independent retailers fear for their future.
Two thirds (65%) reported that in the last 12 months, the number of customers passing through their shop doors has fallen or remained static, and 16% now feared they may close during 2013 unless sales improve.
More than half (54%) of those polled reported that generating consumer awareness was one of their biggest challenges, with a third (31%) acknowledging consumers simply aren’t aware of the benefits of choosing to shop locally with them.
Reasons for potential customers not finding them ranged from insufficient marketing budgets (38%) and a lack of time or capability to make more of the benefits of shopping locally (30%).
A number of businesses have been trialling O2's Priority Moments for Independent Businesses ahead of today's launch.
Natalie Peters, owner and founder of fashion boutique Amabo said that despite having a strong and loyal customer base, it was a challenge to bring in new customers.
"I found the Priority Moments registration process straightforward," she said. "The simple interface meant I had no problems setting up my offer. I trialled £10 off a £75 purchase and now I’m eager to trial new promotions.
“I’m not a fan of aggressive marketing techniques, but I would definitely recommend Priority Moments – it’s simple to use, gives great guidance on how to get started and allows small retailers like me to make the most of new technology that otherwise would be beyond our reach.”
Adam Salvidge, general manager of the family-run farm Blackstock Farm said that unlike their local competitors, Blackstock was located away from the main road so it had to make an extra effort to drive footfall.
"We experienced one of the wettest summers on record this August and needed a way of enticing visitors to the farm that wasn’t going to cost. I’m a huge fan of Priority Moments as a consumer and as it’s free to set up, we had nothing to lose by trying," he said.
And Nadhim Rafiq, manager of Sheffield's Latin American restaurant El Paso, said he was inspired to try Priority Moments for his business after using himself as a consumer.
"The offer we trialled was 30% off food and it went really well - two-thirds of the vouchers we issued were redeemed and our restaurant was busier than normal whilst the offer was running," he said.
“Next, we plan to trial a free starter with a main course from Sunday through to Thursday, as we want to focus on getting people in during the week. We particularly want to reach out to students who don’t know about us so we’re hoping this offer will appeal to them."