A lot of the work I do revolves around building technology for ecommerce brands. However, in this post I want to talk about marketing and specifically local and in person marketing. Recently I've been working with a client that has had some major success with in person marketing and I thought I'd share some of what we've learned from that experience here. I also just like the old school and old world aspect of doing business in person (as ironic as that may sound), so I thought I'd shine a spotlight on that here. Hope you enjoy.
It may seem like in a world of blossoming A.I. technology, automated marketing campaigns, and global ecommerce pipelines that taking your online brand local and in-person makes little sense. Why should you take the time to shake people’s hands one-by-one at a farmers’ market when you can reach them by the thousands on social media?
The truth is, in an ever more saturated online marketplace, ecommerce brands would do well to look local and find new customers in their backyards (literally). And the lowest cost way to do this is by starting with a local event or conference. Especially if you’ve never brought your brand to one of these venues, here are five reasons why you should consider it in 2023 - 2024.
If you’re unsure what sort of in-person events I’m talking about, this blog has a good intro here.
As has been well documented, even in a post-COVID era, customers still overwhelmingly prefer to buy products in stores, which also means in-person. According to this 2023 Hubspot report 73% of consumers still prefer shopping in-store.
Although event purchases aren’t equivalent to in-store purchases there is good reason to believe that at least some of the same positive factors will apply. One statistic that supports this is that the farmers market industry grew 9.8% in 2022, despite many places still having restrictions on local congregation. And according to OAG, a flight data source, 2023 forecasted domestic airline traffic could be higher than any previous year. Which means that there are a lot of tourists looking for a local shopping experience.
There are some pretty advanced digital tools that you can plug into your online store to better understand your online users. Heat mapping shows you where users hover, how long they stay on a given section, and how far down a given page they scroll. Analytics can tell you about bounce rates, click-through funnels, and conversion rates. The insights these tools bring can be helpful. But what none of these things can do is tell you what your customers are thinking, as explained by your customers themselves.
Even if you receive feedback in the form of online reviews, the type of input you get in the review format pales in comparison to long-form conversations with your customers. Reading a review a customer wrote might tell you about what they directly like or dislike about your product, but it typically won’t tell you about their dreams, problems, and product needs the same way a conversation will. Conferences can offer just that type of long-form back-and-forth.
It is true that a lot of Americans would prefer to buy their next watch or pair of shoes in the comfort of their own home. We have a natural distaste for pushy sales people trying to peddle their products, and asking, “Sir/Ma’am, can I have just a minute of your time?” But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful selling your product at a conference; I’ve seen it.
The Woolshire, an ecommerce brand that sells high quality wool pillows, recently posted about a June conference they attended near their homebase outside of Sandpoint, Idaho. On their Instagram feed, they shared some pictures of their conference setup. They made high-quality printouts with QR codes, had information sheets on their main value proposition (wool-made products), and had their beautiful pillows on display. By the end of the three-day conference, they were able to do more in sales than they typically do in a month. What’s more is that those sales came in at a higher margin because they weren’t paying for shipping that, for a bulky pillow, can be steep.
Further, they built relationships with their customers that will transcend the conference and could last for years to come.
When I went to my first conference, I was working in project management for an ecommerce vendor that sold pre-packaged websites to vacation rental managers. We had no physical goods to sell, so it was a bit different of an experience than your typical ecommerce brand. However, the networking experience was worth the price of admission.
It wasn’t during the conference hours that I made most of my connections, but rather during the events after the formal conference ended for the day. The casual bar time and evening meetups allowed us to trade stories and share questions with other conference attendees.
It also just makes sense that the relationships you build in person are going to endure more than those built online. Whether it’s networking with future customers, partners, or perhaps future employees, there is a lot of depth to these in person events.
There is something intangible about being embedded in your local community. Customers know this and love this, even if they are shopping online.
To spend a couple weekends at the local farmers’ market or to set up a booth at the conference in town shows that your brand is connected to the locality that it came from. Online customers will see a hometown hero, even if it’s not their hometown. According to this Mint survey, “70 percent of consumers are supporting local businesses by shopping online only, or a mix of online and in-store.”
That’s right. Customers are going online to support local businesses. That’s why you need to have an in-person presence.
Plus, the pictures shared on social media of your stand or booth with local customers help establish credibility with online buyers who are looking for small brands to purchase from.
A few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought of looking to local in person events as a way to build an online ecommerce business. After all, we were in the middle of a pandemic with ample restrictions on gatherings. However, after having seen the results of thoughtful strategy from ecommerce brands I work with, this is not something you should overlook. You will connect with your customers on a whole different level and maybe make some friends along the way.