communityfairAs anyone who knows me can testify, I’m a huge proponent of the marketing potential of thoughtfully planned, well-executed social media streams. This low-cost (usually pretty much just the time it takes to populate and manage a stream and some decent graphics) method, used appropriately, can be as effective (and often even more so) than a large, splashy, paid advertising campaign. It can actually allow a small, mom-and-pop, single-location store appear as professional as well-funded, established larger firms. As with many things, it’s not necessarily the quality of the tool but the skill of the user that determines quality of outcome.

But there’s always the danger, in our society that is all too fond of what I refer to as “the silver bullet mentality,” to imagine that social media will be that One Big Thing that will be the panacea for all our ills and challenges as marketers. Please allow that fatally flawed notion to drain rapidly from your brain. It isn’t true and it never was; not for social media, not for anything. There is NEVER a silver bullet. It’s an attractive notion, to think there will just be this One Thing we need to do to make everything better, faster, easier…whatever utopia we seek. The true solution, alas, is figuring out what smaller efforts we can make and how to make them in concert with each other to best effect. That’s really all we’ve ever had to work with and likely all there will ever be. And social is just one more tool in that kit.

So, now that I’ve disabused you of the social-media-as-end-game myth, where do we go? What, exactly, ARE those other tools we should be using in synergy with social?

Well, pretty much the same tools we’ve always had: print media, broadcast/cable/satellite, and face-to-face. No, really…that’s it. There’s no magic potion. Marketing is work. And lots of it. So let’s talk about one way we can work effectively. Let’s talk about in-person interaction with our existing and potential customers. Let’s talk about quality face time.

I’m not talking about the patented video messaging app on your iPhone or other Apple hardware. I’m talking about getting together, sharing real — not virtual — personal space, breathing the same air. Remember that?

I’m not urging you to have more client meetings, necessarily. Almost no one likes meetings, and they’re rarely the most effective way to get things done because attendees are usually too busy resenting having to be there and trying to make the time pass more quickly by distracting themselves from the conversation by doodling or texting. Sometimes you need those meetings, but what I’m talking about is something much more fun and engaging: exhibit opportunities.

Now, before you tell me how the convention industry is dying and environmentally unsustainable, etc., let me just say I agree with you. And since I specialize in helping small and micro-businesses, that’s not really even our bailiwick. What IS our sphere of operation and influence is local and regional service areas, and that’s what I’m talking about.

In our post-9/11 world where people don’t love to fly anymore, lots of folks are sticking close to home. And they still have to shop locally for groceries, personal care and home items. Yes, they may buy a lot of this over the Internet, but there are few people who solely shop online. For many folks, getting out to the local farmers market, flea market and community festivals and street fairs is not just a shopping excursion, but also an affordable form of entertainment. Add the appeal of the healthful effects of walking around and getting a little fresh air and exercise, as well as catching up on local gossip, and you’ve got the formula for a perfect afternoon out.

Now, wouldn’t you like to be in those people’s line of vision on those days when they’re happily engaged in these kinds of events? Sure you would! Happy people are open to new ideas and experiences. And you and your business might just be one of those new ideas. So consider the potential of becoming an exhibitor at one of these local venues to expose your business to neighbors and friends. Even if they’re vaguely aware of what you do or sell, you want to be driving that impression and clarifying your message, and there’s no more powerful way than to meet them in person. Talking, interacting, finding points of commonality on which to build a strong personal relationship — in the end, that’s what all of life is about, and business is no exception.

Of course, you need to do this in a strategic way. You need to make sure the venues you choose fit in with your overall marketing plan and will help you meet established objectives. You’ll need to budget and prepare a professional-looking display. We’ll talk next time about how to do that. In the meantime, do a little research to find out what in-person exhibit opportunities might be coming up in your area, and reserve a space for your business to represent. You may be surprised at the quality of leads you score from this small investment in your hometown and surrounding areas.