social marketing in the north

Social marketing is revolutionizing business, even in the Yukon. So many of the classic Yukon business strategies that earned our forebears their retirement homes in Kelowna just don't work anymore.

Social marketing is revolutionizing business, even in the Yukon.

So many of the classic Yukon business strategies that earned our forebears their retirement homes in Kelowna just don’t work anymore. You can’t be the only store in town if your customers are surfing Mountain Equipment Co-op’s website. You can’t jack up your prices when Amazon offers free shipping. Even desperate old-school tricks like scattering roofing nails on the road in front of your highway lodge won’t drum up business when your victims just use their iPhones to summon the nearest CAA tow truck.

Like so much about the internet, social marketing is fantastic for some and a major problem for others. And it’s here to stay, whether you like it or not.

Take Tripadvisor.com. In the old days, if a tourist didn’t like your service all they could do was go back to Arkansas and complain to their friends. Now they can flame you on a website with millions of loyal users. The key point is that many Tripadvisor users trust the comments of their peers more than traditional advertising.

Think about that when you read Tripadvisor’s highlighted customer quote for one Whitehorse eatery: “Stay away!!” Yes, that’s two exclamation marks for your future customers to think about.

On the other hand, social marketing is a big opportunity. One of my favourite lunch spots, The Kebabery, was ranked #2 out of 57 Whitehorse restaurants as of Monday afternoon. It doesn’t hurt a relatively new restaurant when foodies from Calgary write things like “Best Middle-Eastern in Canada.” A quick chat with the kebab gurus behind the counter revealed that more than a few local and Outside clients have come in mentioning Tripadvisor. One keen user of the website even called in advance to make sure the restaurant would be open during his brief visit to the territorial capital.

Unfortunately, for small business owners who hate computers and are still in hiding from Facebook, there is no escaping this phenomenon. There are 18 restaurants in town that haven’t got a review yet on Tripadvisor. That can’t be good for business.

Tripadvisor also highlights top-rated hotels and local attractions. For example, people checking out The Kebabery will be pointed to the nearby MacBride Museum only “0.3 miles” away. The MacBride is rated the second best attraction in Whitehorse. When I checked their page they had five-out-of-five ratings from tourists from Canada, Italy and Japan. That’s fantastic free advertising for a nonprofit.

The Yukon government also spends your tax dollars advertising on Tripadvisor, hoping that surfers will click on the ad for their TravelYukon.com website. Interestingly, they advertise on the pages of Yukon businesses where the viewers are, by definition, already aware of the Yukon and at least some of its attractions.

It would be fascinating to know how successful the government’s advertising spending on Tripadvisor is, and how Tripadvisor users behave when faced with the choice between traditional advertising and the raw opinions of their fellow-users.

Facebook is another marketing opportunity Yukon businesses are getting in on. Even our hide-bound political parties figured out how to use it during the last federal election, when teenagers updating their relationship status were served up opportunities to learn more about the candidates and their political beliefs.

Another example is the internet phenomenon Groupon, which has hit Anchorage. Groupon’s name is a combination of “group” and “coupon.” The idea is that a business uses Groupon to offer a major deal to a group of people. Last Monday’s deal-of-the-day in Anchorage was 51 per cent off microdermabrasion facials and lash extensions at Cutting Crew, a beauty spot in not-so-beautiful Wasilla.

Groupon emailed the offer to deal-seekers, telling them the normal price was $65 versus the Groupon rate of just $32. As of 4 p.m., 76 Alaskans had already paid up and downloaded their Groupons.

Groupon also employs a stable of professional writers to spice up your bland advertising copy. Here’s what they did for Cutting Crew: “Human faces experience a lifetime of wear and tear from gravity, driving into the wind, and pineapple-pie eating contests. Restore your cheeks’ original splendor with today’s Groupon to Cutting Crew in Wasilla.”

In return, Groupon keeps 50 per cent of the revenue from the arrangement. That means Cutting Crew only gets $16 per microdermabrasion. That’s expensive marketing. But at least you know you got new customers because of it, unlike traditional broadcast advertising. For a new business looking to get its name out there, it might make sense. Unless you lose a loyal client when her soothing hot rock treatment is disturbed by the arrival of 76 newbies looking for cheap eyelash extensions, of course.

These social networks are going to get even more important as more people use them on more devices. Most users today still sit at a computer at home or work to figure out where to go for lunch or get their facial. But a recent Ipsos-Reid poll tells us three Canadians in 10 already have a smartphone, and Bell Mobility reports that 55 per cent of its first-quarter gross phone activations were smartphones. This is a major development as the social networking sites figure out how to link a cellphone’s location with the businesses nearby.

Picture a world where the majority of your customers have a smartphone or iPad and are getting pinged by competitors. Not only will you have to offer good products and services at a good price, you’ll have to make sure the message gets through the clutter on the social networks your clients use.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels.

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