As someone who has been employed full time in the online marketing space since 1994, when some of the first businesses were popping up on AOL’s modem-driven platform as one-page, text based websites, I am absolutely amazed at today’s online world. Am I aging myself?
The first “successful” online business I personally experienced was a small button shop (yes, as in shirt and coat buttons) in downtown Portland, Oregon who bravely posted one of the first local business pages in our area, complete with contact info, hours of operation and one or two simple small images, sometimes posting a “special sale” price for their wares.
They were also one of the first local businesses who claimed to have clearly impacted their overall sales in one month to the tune of an extra $5,000 as a direct result of their web page. I must admit, I never saw any third-party verification of those numbers, but we’ll let it slide.
We are all aware of the fantastic (as in science fiction) changes the online world has gone through since then, but one thing remained the same – at least in my world. Local businesses recognized then and now, how blessed they are by the great leverage they can gain in utilizing the internet.
Over the years I have always had a heart for the small businesses and enjoyed helping local businesses to better understand the internet and its fickle ways (think Google). But until a few years ago, online marketing success meant doing everything to get placed on Google, page one. While I was able to accomplish that for several customers, the importance of that feat cannot compare to the impact of social media is having on today’s businesses.
With the growing importance of social media, one thing has become clear over the last few years – local businesses can now leverage the internet even more, but only IF they can grasp the meaning of one important element – what I call the Conversation Continuum.
I do not claim to have coined this term, but use it in most of my marketing consultations with local businesses now, because of its immense importance. Understanding the Conversation Continuum allows local businesses to align themselves with their community and capture even more market share – by engaging in online conversation at the right time, in the right place, with the right message (I tend to repeat that a LOT).
To better explain what the Conversation Continuum is in my world, and the value that a local business could gain, by recognizing and being a part of it, let’s look to the industry of Adult Care Providers for an example.
Facebook – Where much of the conversation takes place –
I have recently witnessed conversations by friends or acquaintances of mine, talking about their aging parents with us, their peers, asking us for insight and suggestions on how best to care for their aging parents. As mentioned, this conversation usually begins on Facebook as they seek out information, referrals and tips on how best to find a retirement home, dementia care centers, or other services. Other platforms are also used, but with much less frequency.
Historically, families used to undertake this journey, which most of us will be involved with at some time in life, as quietly and non-publicly as possible. It was not that families were ashamed of their near-senile parents, rather it was just a very personal issue that needed to be dealt with behind closed doors. At least it was in my family.
Today however, it is commonplace for boomers and adult children to reach out to their peers and friends who have gone through similar experiences, asking for advice and guidance. The journey no longer needs to be taken alone and in private. But the conversation is very apparent.
This is the beginning of the Conversation Continuum.
As these adult children gather information, tips and referrals on how best to handle the situation, one very important voice in the conversation is missing. That of the ‘professionals’, the care givers. The people best qualified to offer sage advice are often (if not always) missing from the conversation!
I cannot ever remember seeing any ads floating by in my Facebook timeline bringing up the topic of aging parents or offering any free advice or suggestions on how to handle the situation when it comes up. Nor have I seen any indication of the adult care industry even wanting to start that conversation with my age group (other than on their website). Odd.
Disclaimer – now this is not to say that some adult care providers do not have great Facebook pages, with great holiday posts and posts about the team or facility. But if the adult child searching for answers does not even know that their Facebook page exists, does it matter (to the seeker)?
YouTube – The Conversation Continues
The Conversation Continuum, however, does not stop with Facebook. Rather, my research shows that the next stop appears to be YouTube, where testimonial and referral videos are often searched for and viewed, with part of the self-educational goal being that of finding videos that portray various adult care facilities within their local area – after all, no one wants to drive for five hours to visit their parents in a care facility located one or two towns over.
Oddly enough, in various keyword searches I initiated myself on YouTube (with some powerful proprietary search tools), I found disturbingly few videos that were applicable to many of the questions the adult children were asking. Again, the conversation was still very one-sided with the professionals being missing in action. But the conversation, for the adult child, must press forward – the parents’ needs cannot be put on hold.
Finding Local Help – The next step in the Conversation
Leaving YouTube, having possibly found a few videos that have helped the adult child to self-educate themselves to some degree about their parents’ needs, they then resort to Google Local Search, to find those facilities that best match, or come the closest to matching, their newly formed picture of the ‘perfect adult care facility’. Again, they don’t want to drive far for visits in the future.
Be warned – this next step usually entails the mind-numbing clicking through of various ad-sponsored and organic links found on page one of the search results page.
Then, finally, a few of the websites show indications of the warmth and friendliness that they have been searching for – serving as a confirmation to the adult child that their parents will be taken well care of in that facility.
BUT… IT COULD HAVE BEEN MUCH EASIER!
But how much easier would it have been for the person searching, had that local adult care facility had been involved in the Conversation Continuum at a much earlier stage in the process?
Not only would the journey for that adult child have been easier, it would have been much shorter AND a great trust-based relationship with the care facility could have started so much quicker.
What if that adult child had been able to view and click on an ad on Facebook, opting in to receive important and insightful guides on how to begin the search for the right facility, how to prepare the aging parents for the transition to assisted living, or how to swing by for a free meal and overnight stay to get a feel for the place and meet the team, etc., etc. This sort of marketing, by the way, can be easily automated and adds no stress to the marketing team or their limited budgets.
This is why recognition of the Conversation Continuum is so important – it has a beginning, continuing on its trajectory until all questions have been answered – until all confusion or vagueness has been dispelled and the person doing the asking feels qualified to make a decision, either in your favor, or for another business who happened to be more forthcoming with help and direction.
Businesses who avail themselves of the importance and absolute need to be a part of the local conversation continuum will be able to dominate a large(r) portion of their local market. Guaranteed. Simply because they are there, at the right time, in the right place, with the right message – along the entire journey.
Remember our little button shop in Portland, Oregon? They were able to envision people in their area asking themselves ‘where they might be able to find that missing, matching button’ for their garment or sewing project. They decided to position themselves to be the answer – and the community responded with more sales and growth for their company.
Whether you are a local dealership, an adult care facility or a carpet cleaning business, getting involved in the conversation along the entire continuum is going to become even more critical as the impact of those conversations continues to affect where, when and how people do business.
But the most critical part of the this is recognizing what part of the conversation needs which specific supporting asset. Facebook is a great place for ‘nudging’ people to start thinking in your direction, with free white papers, or guides – showing them early that you have some, if not all, of the answers.
Then, building out a YouTube channel that is highly optimized so that it ranks high in search for your keywords, allows you to speak further and more in depth about your services and products, offering educational or insightful visual support assets as well as testimonials from actual residents.
Next, your website should be a continuation of those earlier voices they were listening to and interacting with. Here it is also important to note that the conversation continuum is circular in nature. Your website should continue to link out to, and reference, the online assets you have in place – Facebook business page, YouTube testimonial and educational videos, and those white papers and PDF downloads you have stored in various library-based websites (which also lend authoritative credibility to your online voice) such as the Linkedin-owned Slideshare.
And finally, one of the more important elements – Google Local Search. Optimizing your ‘Google My Business’ Page, Google Maps, and local Citation Business Information sites should be top priority. After all, it’s your local market that you want to serve – make yourself more visible!
If you can get a handle the Conversation Continuum, on this ‘circle of life’ for businesses (please pardon the pun), then you should be in good shape as the internet continues to impact our personal and business life more than ever.
In closing, this visual may also help to better explain the Conversation Continuum:
Randy Cole, recent VP of Marketing at DealerSuccess in Vancouver, WA, began his extensive marketing background as a business partner and owner in a direct marketing firm in Munich, Germany, for nearly 20 years. Returning to the states he has managed the global web presence of a Pacific NW billion dollar outerwear/sportswear company, to smaller, mid-sized firms where he hired, managed and trained marketing team members in Design, Web Dev, SEO/ SEM, Video, Podcasting, social and brand marketing. He was recognized in 2008 by Digital Dealer as the year’s “Most Creative Automotive Sales Professional”, for his unorthodox insights into the deployment and usage of standard and non-standard marketing tools and methodologies. Today he can be found helping local firms again from his home office in Vancouver, WA under the guise of being an online marketing aficionado.