I contend - then and now - that it doesn't matter if you're ranking #1 if no one knows your name, but the #9 guy is a household name. #9 guy will win 9 times out of 10 because people equate household names with trust.
If you focus on brand awareness, backlinks will naturally come because then you're the popular quarterback and people want to link to you to appear associated with you. And when traffic comes, Google SERPS will follow (but will be secondary because people have bookmarked your site on their browser bar.)
Of course, when people naturally come to your website directly (bypassing Google) then the site needs to be informative and coded like a champ. Optimize it for your city business niche because people will want to read about "desired service + city they are in" because convenience makes people feel comfortable.
SEOs (yes, I'm a fringe SEO also) don't like news out about backlinks taking a back seat to brand awareness for local marketing. However, I've seen it, embraced it and done something about it.
For clarity: Backlinks = blog comments, blog mentions, forum comments, social bookmarks, PDF shares, article directories, etc, etc.
Most of that will come when people learn about you through brand awareness.
Now, I'm not gonna give up the Colonel's secret herbs & spices on what I believe "brand awareness" to be, but essentially make people aware of your brand and you're on the right track.