Tech doesn't have to be a scary thing

One of the best parts about being a solo practitioner is the freedom to spend a few hours on a rainy Wednesday afternoon listening, learning and networking. On November 15, I did just that - and attended the Amplify Speaker Series produced by Contempo Communications.

Who wouldn't get sucked in by this relevant topic :"How Businesses Can Get More out of Tech" -- the magic potion sought out by all my clients. Hats off to Renee DeLuca Dolan for pulling together a great speaker roster. They were (clockwise from top left) Seth Pinckey, a seasoned technologist from Tri-C, Erika Port, owner of Erika Port Consulting, and an experienced search engine marketer, Paul Roetzer, founder and CEO of PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based content marketing agency and Nikki DiFilippo, president and CMO of Via Vera Group, a strategic marketing firm who shared an update on the Internet of Things (IoT). The presentation was skillfully moderated by Dr. Deborah Spake, (center photo) Dean of the College of Business Administration at Kent State.

I've always evaluated the ROI of a program on the basis of whether I walk away with three new insights. Mission accomplished: picked up the requisite three and brought home one bonus insight.

1. All businesses -- small or large -- need a website.

Ok - the obvious response here is "Duh!" However, it's astounding how many small businesses still believe that it's unnecessary because:

a. Their customers aren't online (Not true - 80-90% of buyers go online before ever contacting a company/consultant/service).

b. It's enough to market via social media. (Why do we want to give up you customers to FB or LinkedIn? Use social media to draw them to your website, and then you can nurture this lead with e-marketing, stay in touch with them and you can build up your presence via SEO and analyze what's working with Google Analytics. You lose all of this when you give up the reins.)

c. It's too expensive to build and maintain. (There are a plethora of good DIY tools. I like Wix which I used to easily build my own site. There's also Squarespace and Weebly. And many independent website builders and smaller agencies who can work well within your budget).

2. You must understand your customer before you can meet their needs.

I learned this lesson at Avery Dennison as my team and our agency Point2Point built customer personas before beginning to build a new website - but it's an important takeaway for smaller businesses as well. How can you build a website to "meet the needs" of someone you don't really know? The key thing to remember is not to keep it at a high level. Work with your folks on the phone, in the trenches - what are they hearing and feeling? Figure out your user intent - why are they searching? This way you can build a quality user experience - with content that adds value to your customers. Erika shared a great checklist that included knowing their pain points, short/medium and long term goals, biggest fears and change expectations and how your business can help them meet their purchase criteria. Take the time to do this right and you'll be rewarded in the end.

3. Your life is already machine-assisted and your marketing will be too. Think AI (artificial intelligence) is a trend of the future or a movie plot? So, when's the last time you let Amazon recommend products? Or Netflix guide your viewing choices? Paul Roetzer shared some other mind-boggling examples -- of AI here and now and impacting real people jobs. This one was the most surprising -- AI is already being used to write! It is creating, curating and optimizing content, including blog posts, emails, landing pages, videos and ads. The Orlando Magic uses "wordsmith" to generate custom email messaging to each and every one of their fans, boosting fan engagement and season ticket renewals. "Albert" is a tool that updates headlines and images, manages budgets and adjusts digital ad spend in real-time and makes the adjustments 24/7.

4. Keep your marketing eyes focussed on AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality). Last year, I was blown away when I had the opportunity to visit the new AR/VR studio at Capital Factory in Austin. The potential applications (training, promotion, story-telling) in b2b marketing seemed endless. With that still fresh in my mind, I asked the panel how real was virtual reality. They all felt that AR was a lot more accessible and in play today while common usage of VR - due to the cost and complexity of the hardware - was still probably 3-5 years on the horizon. I loved the example of a cadaver- free medical school that has been introduced right here in Cleveland, Ohio at Case Western. Apparently, Magic Leap is a company to keep an eye on as they are really trailblazing AR/VR technology.

So this was my first blog. Hope you got something out of it. Just like tech, websites, blogging, compelling events, social media don't have to be scary things for your business, regardless of size. Need some help? Just reach out ... let's chat.

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