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Creating a Virtual Adirondack Community

December 6, 2011 - Ernest Hohmeyer
At one time or another we have all felt the adage “I wish I could be two places at once.” Perhaps, today it could be said instead “I am at too many places at once.”

Sometimes, I can't tell anymore what that line is between business and personal activity. I try to justify it by simply saying “all this online stuff is related one way or another to my business.” After all the world of marketing and advertising has gone way beyond the typical newspaper and radio spot. Social media has become the rage of the day so of course I have to check out my “friends” online as perhaps I should consider advertising there. Nowadays, we seem to define success based how many new “friends” we have versus how much we did in actual sales.

I am not sure that I need additional personnel to operate our business as much as I need a drill sergeant to keep me focused.

A Fine Line

I am wondering in this current state that no matter how good we are in our marketing or how disciplined we can be to stay focused on our mission, can we only grow so much in real-time sales - otherwise known as someone walking into your store and buying something?

Is it time for each of us to consider more of an online presence? Should our traditional retail, service and even our restaurants consider this? Many are doing so now individually but I would like throw out something further: a virtual downtown shopping center.

A Growing Opportunity?

According to an online article “Forrester Forecast: Online Retail Sales Will Grow to $250 Billion by 2014” by Erick Schonfield, “e-commerce sales in the U.S. will keep growing at a 10 percent compound annual growth rate through 2014.” According to the article, Forrester Research, cited as a “independent technology and market research company” estimates that “online and Web-influenced offline sales will grow to 53 percent by 2014, when the Web will be influencing $1.4 billion worth of in-store sales.”

In other words, don't just consider how your website can be a place where you can sell products but also how you can use it to influence customers to come into your store.

For many, even if we do have an “online store,” they tend to be very two-dimensional. They are often constructed or a replica of a newspaper ad: “Here is a list of my products, here is how much they cost and here is how you purchase.”

This type of methodology appears to run counter to the new thinking in marketing. To get your voice heard above the online smog, you may need according to the pundits, to tell a good story. Further, in this overabundance of marketing and advertising channels, you need to grab their attention at the moment when they have done enough research that they are ready to purchase - the new “consumer decision journey.”

A Virtual Community?

Is it possible for us to consider a virtual Adirondack “downtown” site? Many of us don't have the time, the expertise or the resources to consider this. Could we do this together?

For example, could we consider an “Adirondack Wellness & Recreational Virtual Community”? Besides this being a traditional site that lists all of the arts, there are ongoing, on-line interactive activities. Sort of like an online “Arts and Heritage Festival.” Through online media and technology like Skype and others, an online browser could virtually walk into our shops – and talk to us.

The central themes to this “Adirondack Virtual Community,” are stories and interactive educational pieces. Could we create an online schedule of activities? Besides virtual tours, could we also create times where there are educational demos on water coloring, cooking and fishing? Could these educational pieces be supported by good “stories” on whom and why we are here? Perhaps our “story” filled with educational activities could create a brand of our region becoming known as a knowledgeable “wellness and recreational center” which is not made up of chain franchises but individual and authentic personal experiences. The new marketing today claims you have to tell a good story, be known as an expert and then sell.

Many of us have watched the movie Avatar and how a handicapped person was able to experience a new world. It may not be long before virtual-reality will be commonplace in our marketing world. The marketing campaign in the future may be one where you can go onto someone's business site and virtually walk into their store. You may be able in the future to seemingly touch, feel and smell what that business is all about.

Community marketing websites of the future may be downtown tours where you can “sense” the crisp coolness of a winter day and “feel” the snow-cladden streets of our landscape.

A Different Sense?

Marketing in the future may not be so much about text and sight as virtual smell, taste and touch.

I suspect that it won't be that far off that you will be sitting at home and online with a local artist working on the same painting together - each contributing, changing and learning on that piece of work. My teenage sons have already purchased gaming programs where you can create your own “world.” They work on this together, at the same time but on separate computers with others who are not from our town but other parts the world. Together, they are creating their own “new art.”

Perhaps taking the first simple steps of a “virtual Adirondack community” may be one avenue to take advantage of the growing reality of the online world. Can we in these challenging times only grow our businesses in real-time?

The good news is much of the new marketing is affordable and accessible. Perhaps it will take a change of thinking in each of our own businesses and non-profits engaged in marketing. Successful downtown's in the future may be virtual utopias with no basis in reality but made up of shops that are buying and selling a brand based on a “community feeling” or niche product. You will be able to seemingly be there.

We have all the real time amenities, feel and essences that I believe so many want but so few are aware of. Perhaps it is time to create our own community “avatar.”


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