Web marketing attracts locals

Ripley says social media vital at least for now

Friday, Feb. 25, 2011

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Staff photo by EMILY BARNES
Chris Ripley gives a presentation during a seminar on Internet marketing at the Hilton Garden Inn in Waldorf on Tuesday.

Think locally, act globally.

This inversion of a bumper-sticker slogan could be the mantra of modern marketing strategies, which focus on using the Internet and cell phones to attract and retain customers.

Anyone with an Internet connection can access a Web page, but the worldwide medium is now the best way for companies, however geographically constrained, to reach clients, Chris Ripley, owner of Strategic Marketing Group in Waldorf, said at a seminar on social media that he gave Tuesday.

Social media such as Facebook are underused in Southern Maryland, Ripley said, which is unfortunate because people tend to gravitate toward other people, not companies. His own business Facebook page is "a great connection. Even for a short, fat, bald guy, it's a great connection," he said, and he's using it now to host a contest for customers of one of his marketing ventures.

But remaining effective requires paying attention not just to the technology that is available but to what tools a target audience is using. It's important not to race ahead of clients or to become wedded to a marketing strategy that in the digital age might soon become obsolete, Ripley said.

"There's certainly a need for [social media marketing]," Ripley said. "This goes back to, ‘You've got to ask your customer where they're going.' Don't make any rash decisions, [like] you're going to go to social media and text message marketing and your customers say, ‘We don't use any of that stuff.'"

Ripley himself has a new business using mass text messages to help pizza restaurants market themselves. But he acknowledges that the text message strategy "is only going to last so long" before something else becomes more effective.

Attendee Jennifer Pinto has merged global and local emphases in her own business, Corner Studio Artwork, which is online-only but sells the work of local artists.

"I am here to find out what I should be doing. Sounds like I could be doing more on Facebook," said Pinto, who also works as a property manager of apartment buildings for a company that she co-owns with her mother.

The discussion has motivated her to find new ways to promote her wares, for her own benefit and that of the artists.

"A lot of stuff here is actually very inspirational. I'm looking forward to getting back to marketing my business because these artists are really talented and I would like to do a better job" of marketing their wares.

It's possible to meld old and new media, as with QR codes, square, pixilated identification codes that can be read by the cameras on a smart phone, directing its Web browser to a specific Web page.

"As a county were behind on a lot of things. One of the things we're behind on is QR codes," but the region is starting to catch on, Ripley said. For instance, the Southern Maryland library system recently included a QR code in a newspaper advertisement, and companies could incorporate them into marketing postcards.

The approach has the advantage of demonstrating a command of modern media while still reaching consumers who use more traditional means of communication, he said.

"You give up a little bit of space on the card, but also it's positioning you as a technological leader," Ripley said.

One of the first Southern Maryland companies — and perhaps one of the first companies nationwide — to use the new barcodes is MyCause Water, said company founder Michael Fitzgerald II of Mechanicsville, who did not attend the seminar. He discovered the system while doing research on the Internet, and decided to use it "goes with our strategy of being tech-savvy. We are becoming … a more modernized world," he said.

Once his bottled water goes on sale, people with smart phones can view his website instantly if they are curious.

"It goes directly to your website, and we live in a modern society where people want information immediately," Fitzgerald said.

Alan Hays, a Web designer based in Mechanicsville, helps clients with "search engine optimization," or constructing a page to appear near the top of a list of relevant search results. But he has mixed feelings about new localization strategies used by big companies like Google, that determine where a computer is located and then return results from that area.

"That is scary. That is Big Brother stuff right there," Hays said. He works for a company called countywebsite.com, based in Alexandria, Va., that constructs websites that appear similar to county government websites, including links to information about essential government services, and then sell listings on the site to private businesses. His clients get some traffic from these sites, but most comes from appearing high in search results.

When he designs a page for a client he always includes a street address and local phone number so that local people will be most likely to find the page, he said.

"Let's say you sell John Deere tractors. Go to Google, [enter] ‘John Deere,' you might get the corporate page, but I've had clients come up right behind the corporate page" because of the keywords he includes, Hays said, including city, state and county names. "… If you just do ‘John Deere,' you might get somebody in Texas or somebody in Arizona" reaching the site.

Seminar attendee Sue Miller, customer service manager at Wildes-Spirit printing company in White Plains, said she's been neglecting social media but won't anymore.

"I am not committed as much as I should be. After this seminar I'm hitting [Twitter] at least two to three times a week," she said.

It can be easy to overlook the latest advancements in communication, said attendee Shane Donofrio of Mechanicsville.

"If you don't realize what you don't have, you don't see it as a problem," he told Ripley.