It may not have been a great year overall for local businesses, but one arena where businesses are still booming is online. A report by real estate brokers CBRE published earlier this year showed that Baltimore’s tech talent pool grew by an impressive 42% between 2010 and 2013. That’s a rate of growth second only to the San Francisco region, which showed 44%. Baltimore was ranked eighth best overall for its ability to attract and develop tech talent, and since 2012 early fall in the City of Firsts has been marked by Baltimore Innovation Week, with up to fifty events and thousands of attendees every year.
With Baltimore firmly established as one of the United States’ most tech-savvy cities, you’d expect our local businesses to be fully clued up on the latest developments. For the most part this is the case, but the flipside is dangerous because no business in the area can afford to be without a sophisticated digital marketing strategy if they want to remain competitive.
Baltimore-based digital marketing firm Digital Caffeine is fully aware of this fact. The local businesses they’ve helped out include plumbing, heating and HVAC providers AJ Michaels, improving their existing online marketing campaign with the result being an impressive upsurge in customer traffic. Other Baltimore digital marketers like Brave New Markets and R2i can cite hundreds of similar success stories, but the point is that it’s not enough to just have a vague online presence; you need to stay on top of all the latest trends and be constantly one step ahead of the game.
On the simplest level, digital marketing allows you to connect to your customers, your peers and to industry leaders, and to sell your brand in an innovative and engaging fashion. The internet has in some ways leveled the marketing playing field, as any company big or small with a bit of imagination can get their product noticed all around the world.
Customers are increasingly accessing your content via mobile devices like smartphones or tablets. Accordingly, your website or online shop should incorporate a mobile-friendly, responsive design. You can also use location data from customer check-in tools to refine your targeted marketing. A customer walking around funky Federal Hill may be looking for something quite different than a visitor from upmarket Guilford or Homeland, for example.
Content is key
Content marketing means taking online promotion to the next level. Basically, you’re selling your brand or product with marketing that tells a story, and hopefully it is an innovative, creative product in its own right as well. This could be a simple image, or it could be a video, or a regularly updated blog or news site. What’s important is that it should be something that an audience is interested in, enjoys for its own sake, and, most crucially, wants to share around.
Typically content marketing isn’t about overtly selling your product. It’s more about drawing the right kind of positive attention to your brand by associating it with something that’s funny, quirky, breath-taking or heart-warming. You’re reinforcing your brand image, but it should also be flexible, so that with a few tweaks your content can be targeted to different groups, some of which may not automatically be a natural fit for your product.
You need good, original content an audience can engage with, and you also need a powerful distribution platform. But the best result is when your message goes viral and your audience freely distributes your content among themselves.
Using social media
Having a strong presence across the full range of social media is essential, but you also need to recognize the strengths and advantages of different platforms. Facebook is great for humanizing your product or service and for interacting with your customers in real time. LinkedIn is more about doing business with your peers. Twitter is about maintaining customer awareness and communicating regular news. Google plus, Pinterest, Instagram and so on all have similar specific uses.
Remember that the impact of social media on marketing is precisely that it is social. This lesson applies to the full range of digital marketing approaches: customers want to be treated as individual people, not just as a faceless mass. Engage with them, and give them an opportunity to engage with you in return. That way you’ll build up a genuine online community with a definable feeling of loyalty to your brand. Interactive digital marketing will keep your customers coming back, creating an ongoing digital conversation that benefits everyone concerned.
(This article first appeared on the Baltimore Post-Examiner)
Claire Bolden McGill is a British expat living in Maryland, which means she still drinks tea, but now has it with a corn muffin instead of a crumpet. Coming from a full- time job as a communications and PR manager in the UK, Claire and her family made the move the States in August 2012 and haven’t looked back since. Claire is a fitness instructor and blogger. She blogs about fitness and what it’s like to be a Brit in the USA, as well as trying to find time to write her novel and short stories, make lists about things she should do like clean the house and bake things, and be an utterly doting wife and mother. @ukhousewifeusa