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Saturday November 1, 2014

#NYTLB: What Drives Local Business in the #Digital World?

NY Tech for Local Business (l-r): Justin Bazan, Dazhi Chen, Thomas Cain, Ellen Kim and Meetup organizer Noah Smith

By Lauren Keyson

NY Tech for Local Business discussed Internet and mobile marketing tactics at its first meetup at AlleyNYC Tuesday.

Panelist Dr. Justin Bazan practices at Vision Source Park Slope Eye in Brooklyn. Since 2007, he’s promoted business with WordPress, Yelp, Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. He says that yielded a 20% increase in new patients. A few years ago, he got tired of updating his website. “So I said, ‘The hell with it!’ and just got rid of it.  We haven’t had a web page for the last two years, it’s been awesome.”

He used to pay Yelp, but stopped, “We continued to grow without it,” he said. He uses Facebook for campaigns and promotions. Exams typically cost $179. “We dropped it to $99 if you weren’t using any insurance, and we had 75 claims within three days.  The first patient that showed up a day later already recouped for us the $75 dollars I spent almost three times over.”

At The Daily Voice, Thomas Cain heads an initiative promoting local business ad sales. Outside reps go out and meet with local businesses. “Once that local business becomes a client, we have a client relations team that sits down and works out a marketing plan. Local businesses don’t have web pages, Yelp pages or Facebook pages.  So the conversation is about what towns they pull from – we say ‘Great, we serve those towns,’ and we can put their advertising right next to local content that supports the town and the community.  People understand that.”

Dazhi Chen of Relevant manages restaurants’ customer loyalty and acquisition. After struggling to build a consumer brand with an earlier product, DailyGobble, Dazhi and his team shifted their focus to servicing larger chain restaurants with Relevant. “In our first year of business we were targeting restaurants and small businesses owners and smaller chains. We were like a Groupon Now — we were an instant deal type of aggregation site and mobile app. During that time we realized a couple of things: One, that consumer marketing is really expensive. You’re competing with guys with a lot more money. And two, we realized that pitching to small businesses is expensive if you do it face-to-face, and billing them is expensive as well. So is collecting money from them. So that sort of hit us.”

Ellen Kim of ‘wichcraft, a cafe and food retailer, said companies ask her to set up daily deals. But Kim doesn’t believe in them. “We draw a hard line — we think our product is worth a certain value, and we’re not willing to say ‘Come and get it for 50% off.’ I also get pitched a lot on loyalty programs because we use punch cards. They come in and pitch me that this is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but that means we would have to install an iPad, which clutters up my counter; which means I have to make sure that none of the cashiers break it; which means that they have to be trained several hours on it.”  She also gets pitched by companies that want to handle ‘wichcraft’s social media. While they offer some things that might be nice to have, she doesn’t think it’s a must-have.

For small and local business, spending money on digital marketing seems to be the biggest hurdle, especially if it’s a big decision– like spending advertising on Yelp. “What I like is that if someone approaching me saying that there’s no risk and you can try it for three months for free and it’s very low barrier,” added Bazan.  “At that point I have nothing to lose.”