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Marketing Your Main Street in the Digital Age

February 5, 2019 | Marketing Your Main Street in the Digital Age | By Ron Cook, distrx CEO and Co-founder
main_street_gone_mobile.pngPhoto courtesy of Ron Cook

As the great philosopher Bob Dylan reminds us: The times, they are a-changin’. For Main Streets, that change comes in many forms – downtown revitalization, changing demographics, modes of transportation, and on and on. As we struggle to keep up, visitors to our communities are also changing. Today more than half the world’s population is under 30 years old. Changes in technology bring both opportunities and challenges, and the most dramatic change of all is the way we access and consume information.

Last May I wrote an article for this publication, which stressed that we now live in a mobile world, a world where our prospective visitor/customer is no longer sitting at home searching for information about our Main Streets. Why would they? Today we hold a device in the palm of our hand that can access an infinite amount of information, from maps and navigation to recommendations on events, dining, shopping and recreation. And if as you are reading this, you’re thinking “Duh, I know that!”, my question is simple: Over the past year, what specifically have you done to make sure your Main Street story is easily accessible on mobile devices? Unless you can point to steps you have taken to make that happen, well… to return to Dylan: “Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone.”

Since I imagine you are reading this for helpful suggestions, not admonishment, let’s look at some simple steps you can take to better connect with today’s huge mobile audience.

Here are my Top 5:

1. To start, and repeating a suggestion from last year, make sure your Main Street’s website is mobile friendly. Search engine results today are based on your site’s accessibility for mobile users, not desktop computers. Just click here and cut and paste your website URL to see if you pass the test. Not only has Google made the test quick and easy, you will also get specific tips for correction and improvement.

2. Now that you’re mobile friendly, is your website content helpful and relevant? I have personally reviewed well over 500 Main Street websites over the past 2-3 years. As you may imagine, it’s like many so many things we know we need to do well, but we just don’t have the budget, so nationally we have a scene from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. As mentioned in the previous article and realizing budget and technical limitations, at least be sure your content is the story you want to share with your target audience. If your Home and About pages talk more about 501C3’s, boards and committees, you have missed the opportunity to tout your amazing local merchants and let visitors know where to eat, shop and be entertained. Remember that, in addition to your site’s mobile friendliness, your content determines your search engine placement. So if you want visitors to find you for attributes other than your non-profit status, make sure your home page includes what matters most.Looking_down_at_Phone.jpg

3. The buzzword du jour is storyselling” - communicating your Main Street story in fun and interesting ways, especially through video. Today the world’s second largest search engine is YouTube, and baby boomers are increasingly going there for info. Are you represented there? Sorry - static websites simply won’t get the job done! If you are thinking you don’t have the budget to create video content, think again. Collect video clips from your most popular events, select your best still photography and challenge students at your closest college, university or yes – high school! You will be amazed at what you can accomplish! Creating your own YouTube channel is free and easy, and you can create playlists for general info, featured merchants, events, and so on.

4. Managing all available social media channels seems so daunting. My advice? Spend your precious, limited time posting on the channels most used by your target market. If your audience isn’t big on Twitter but relies predominantly on Facebook or Instagram, focus on sharing posts of real potential interest, make sure your event postings are clear and compelling, inviting your Facebook friends to attend and making sure links to websites and ticketing are informative and easy to navigate. Especially for Facebook, setting up your Main Street page’s messaging settings and monitoring inquiries on Messenger means being responsive to page visitor questions and comments.

5. Finally, and while it may seem a bit odd, smart assistants and artificial intelligence are definitely a trend to watch. You should care very much what Alexa, Cortana, Siri and OK Google have to say about your Main Street. According to Adobe Analytics, 71% of smart speaker owners like Google Home and Amazon Echo use their assistant every day, and 44% use them many times throughout the day. Usage of smart speakers has increased 76% over the past year. If you have one, find out what it has to say about your community, and ask others to do the same.

There are certainly many more strategies to make the most of marketing your Main Street in the digital age, but starting with these simple but effective steps will get you off to a solid start. We live in an increasingly digital, connected and mobile world. The times... they are a-changin’…

About the author: Dr. Ron Cook is CEO and co-founder of distrx, a mobile marketing platform and application designed exclusively for Main Streets, with headquarters recently relocated to historic downtown Sanford, Florida. A graduate of Georgia Tech, Cook is a recognized expert in beacon technology and frequent presenter on the “internet of things." A former college Dean, he is a popular and dynamic speaker on innovation, entrepreneurship and launching a new business.