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Small biz starved for Internet marketing knowledge

This week I had the privilege to be a panelist at the first Local Marketing Exposition (LMX), held in Virginia Beach, VA. The idea behind this first-time event was to provide expertise in all areas of marketing (both online and offline) into one place so SMBs and the local business community could learn.

If pure numbers are any indication, LMX was a huge success. The benchmark for success had been set at 200 attendees but the final number fell somewhere north of 500. People came from as far away as Chicago to attend (there may have been even further treks but I didn’t hear of them).

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So what does this say? It says that the SMB in the local business community is hungry for information about marketing their business. They want to be treated like real business owners and have the same insight as those who work at larger companies. Why? It’s because they want success.
The event was the brainchild of Kurt Noer, the founder and CEO of Customer Magnetism, an SEO firm in Virginia Beach with some big name customers and a local presence as well. His event coordinator, Nicole Newsome, did a phenomenal job pulling everything together and the event went very well logistically. More importantly, the content was directed squarely at the small businessperson who was in attendance.
One trouble, however, is that while aimed in the right direction, it came at the audience like a tsunami—but more about that later.
Another nice aspect of this event was that companies that provide similar small business marketing services agreed to work side-by-side without worrying about being competitors for the day. For yesterday, we were all educators and I think there are a lot of local business owners that are better for it as a result.
Here are some overall observations from the event and the larger implications in the local marketing scene.
Main keynote speaker, Sam Feldman of Google’s National Agency Team for Adwords, was a great choice. Everyone knows Google. The lure of the Google name works as a draw and he was a very good presenter. What was evident, however, is that the SMBs know very little about what Google has to offer in total, gets easily overwhelmed by the volume of data, and wants the information in bite-size chunks. Feldman had an incredible amount of information in his talk, which was too much even for me to fully digest and I am in the industry! I could only imagine how the accountant, lawyer, professional organizer, realtor, and other local business people felt.
Suggestion to Google: Hire a team of people to take your Ivy League, Ph.D. speak and translate it for the masses. I’ll offer my services as your first employee in this area because if you open up this door correctly there is a lot of revenue ready to be had. Until that time, however, you are making assumptions that people already know Google 101, 201, and 301. Hate to tell you, but you are wrong and as a result you are missing opportunity.
Local online monitoring is needed badly. I talked about the power of listening for the local business and people were fascinated by the idea. It’s not so much that these people will have hundreds of reviews to manage (unless they are a restaurant) but it was the idea of how online listening can provide valuable market research, competitive insight, customer service opportunities, and so much more. They just needed a nudge and the light bulbs went off immediately. It was cool to see but just another indicator as to just how ridiculously under-served this market is in all areas of online marketing in particular.
Limited budgets are a reality but it doesn’t mean that this group is not willing to spend money for the right things. In the Internet marketing industry, we tend to push everything that is online as being right for everyone all the time. That is a bad practice that we should stop (but we won’t). SMBs are willing to spend money that makes sense directly to their business. It’s the idea that they have to “do it all” that makes them freeze up and reach to protect their checkbooks when the online marketer comes to town.
In conclusion, this was a great event yesterday and the Local Marketing Expo staff did a great job. I think they are on to something here. I hope to be asked back for the next one. I officially throw my hat into the ring for a Raleigh event in the future ;-).
Would you like to see something like this come to your town?

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