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Using Technology to Market Your Downtown

Where does information technology fit into a marketing strategy to build or revitalize a prosperous downtown?

Everyone agrees that infrastructure, events and arts & culture are critical to the success of a mainstreet. Unfortunately, just because you built it doesn’t necessarily mean people will come. A strong marketing and communications program is required to involve the community, and that’s where technology cannot be overlooked. Surprisingly, many downtown marketing organizations do not make use of modern communications technology despite their ubiquitous presence in society.  Many do not even have websites.

There is a tremendous opportunity for such communities to improve their fortunes.  One small step at a time can make a difference if the proper strategy is in place. Communications technology can provide the tools that pull your story together and channels to allow your messaging to reach your audiences.

Web-based communications range from websites to social media, and from email to mobile. These are the primary means by which all types of messaging, including downtown marketing messaging are being exchanged today.

A new wave of mobile communications, near-field communications (NFC), is a wireless technology that permits the two-way transfer of data between two NFC-enabled devices, or between a device and a sticker that contains a small microchip.  Many new smartphone models with NFC capabilities are being released this summer.  They are being touted as the future platform of mobile payments and banking transactions. For the moment though they permit users to touch an NFC tag with their phone and instantly download a document, or initiate a response such as a phone call.

Is this technology a must-have for every mainstreet development agency?  Not yet, but it illustrates how rapidly mobile devices and web-enabled communications are becoming basic tools for reaching people. It also provides a new way for visionary downtown marketers to get the attention of their visitors and their merchants by integrating NFC into their marketing initiatives.

Your Downtown Vision and Strategy Always Comes First!

Watch out for technology fads. Countless downtown marketing organizations have assumed that just by adopting a new technology they will attract business. They may have gone ahead and set up a Twitter account, for example, only to conclude after a couple of months that it was too time consuming and yielded no results – that it was a waste of time and money.

And maybe it was.  Technology alone doesn’t draw people to a mainstreet, idea or activity.  First there must be a shared vision that relates to people’s lives and engages them, addresses the desires of stakeholders and inspires easy-to-tell stories that convey desired values.

Who lives and works in your downtown?  What characteristics, services and attractions do they want it to have?  Who comes to visit your downtown, or would come if it had certain attractions?  What makes your mainstreet a unique meeting place, or would do so if it truly reflected the spirit of your community?

These are the types of questions upon which to base a downtown marketing strategy.  The role of technology then is to bring your strategy to life by actively generating involvement in the community through outreach, invitations, information sharing and other communications.

Community involvement — That’s what technology is all about from a mainstreet perspective.

Social media sites are today’s park benches where conversations and information are exchanged directly between downtown stakeholders, merchants, event organizers, and the larger community whose participation is sought.  Mobile devices are multipliers and amplifiers for such messages.  Everything should always refer back to the main street website as the central information resource. The website should function as the meeting place about the meeting place – your downtown.

Many communities have recognized the importance of technology in realizing their visions.  Look at Lawrenceville, New Jersey.  It has a volunteer-led organization called Lawrenceville Main Street that has been working for a decade to foster a sense of community and revitalize the downtown area.  With a population of slightly more than 4000, Lawrenceville doesn’t have the resources to support a lot of sophisticated technology. But just visit www.lawrencevillemainstreet.com and ask yourself if this isn’t a welcoming place for a creative business owner.  Look at the Calendar of Events to see the abundance of energy and involvement in this community!

The Downtown Bethlehem Association (DBA) in Pennsylvania is an association of business owners who “believe that unity is better than isolation and involvement is better than neutrality.”  They have an interactive website at www.downtownbethlehemassociation.com which is the basis for all kinds of creative marketing campaigns.

Then there is Cambridge Main Street, a non-profit corporation led and staffed by volunteers, which is successfully following the “Main Street” model of economic development created by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Its culturally-based vision is clearly reflected at www.cambridgemainstreet.com.

The most revealing button on the home page is the one reading “Get Involved!”  Clicking on that button illustrates the degree of commitment that volunteers have contributed to Cambridge Main Street, resulting in several awards including a state award in 2011 for Excellence in Community Collaboration.  Technology has enabled internal community building as well as enhanced the vibrancy of Cambridge’s shops, restaurants and services.

For downtown marketing organizations technology is a means for generating, inviting and building community involvement.  It provides the most effective means to encapsulate each community’s unique stories and messages and then to project those stories and messages out to their audience, their friends and their friend’s friends, wherever they are right now.

Where does information technology fit into a marketing strategy to build or revitalize a prosperous mainstreet?

Learn more about Yfactor and how we can help your community grow at Yfactor.com.

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