Where is your small business on the technology continuum?

Posted Dec. 12, 2011, at 5:26 p.m.

As a small business owner working to get your products in front of potential consumers, I’m sure you are constantly asked what technologies you are using. Do you have an app? Where’s your QR code? These technological advances have, undoubtedly, advanced business owners’ and marketers’ abilities to communicate with consumers, but I advise clients to determine where they need to fit into that continuum before launching into the next technological phenomenon.

The truth is that many traditional marketing vehicles are still valid parts of a marketing plan, and some of the newest technologies might not be appropriate for your budget or business. I encourage my clients to let me help them find the balance between the tried-and-true and the rapidly changing digital trends. A sensible use of technology is always the most effective.

Take the business card for example. It’s the most simplistic and least technology-based communication out there. But the truth is that a business card is still a valuable tool and every business should have one.

Why do you need a physical business card in this age of vCards, smart phones, websites, and the social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter? Because there’s no substitute for being able to hand someone a little reminder about your business and what you do. You can certainly tell someone your Web address at the drop of a hat, but who’s going to remember that? Business cards and a handshake are still great ways to introduce yourself and stay top-of-mind until you can follow up via email, text or phone.

Don’t think of your card as antiquated. Think of it as an extension of your brand and design it with care. It should support your brand in color, typeface and icons. It should reflect who you are and what you do. Your card should include the standard points of contact — name, address, phone numbers and website — but in this technological age, you also should include social media outlets like your Twitter, LinkedIn or Skype handles and your Facebook address. All of these contact options help potential customers learn more about your product or service, and they are bound to explore at least one of them.

I think of websites as mid-level technology and an expected business investment. We all search for shoe shops, restaurants or service providers when we need them. If I Google a restaurant and all they have is a map of their location, I skip to the next one. I need more information about the restaurant and menu before I make a decision. In this fast-paced society, people want information and they want it now.

Today, and this could change tomorrow, mobile websites, QR codes and apps are at the forefront of technology. Which one, if any, is right for you?

If you are interested in taking the next technological leap, I recommend a real analysis of your target audience, your current offerings and your budget. You should keep up with the times but only in a form that suits your business and your clientele. It all boils down to one question: How do your potential customers want to find you, learn about you and connect with you?

Mobile websites give your target customers access to information about your hours, your service and your location, just like your website does, and are designed to fit nicely and legibly on a smart phone device. Just as websites were once the go-to place for shoppers, mobile websites let people find you when they are on-the-go, and that could mean the difference between getting a customer in your door or not.

QR codes are a great way to communicate with your customers quickly, offering information, coupons or invitations as soon as they ask for it by scanning the bar code. I find QR codes popular with many age groups, but the younger consumer set generally expects them. They show consumers that you are hip and trendy, and that may be critical to your success.

If you visit the Apple store, you’ll find a seemingly endless array of apps. These generally offer a service. For example, map apps help you find your way almost anywhere, restaurant apps help you select a place to eat anywhere in the world, and coupon apps identify the best discounts in town.

Because there are so many apps on the market, I only recommend that a client create one if they really have something unique to offer consumers.

It can be a fantastic way to stay in front of your target. The competition in the apps market increases every day, and you need to measure your desire and need for an app against the return.

Technology has dramatically changed the face of marketing, but the fact is that your business should direct its use of technology, not the other way around. I highly recommend a balance between new and traditional, because I believe there will always be a place for both.

Taja Dockendorf is principal, creative director and creative strategist at the Portland-based design and marketing firm Pulp+Wire. Her focus is branding, Web and mobile design and development. She can be reached at 773-4700, www.pulpandwire.com or hi@pulpandwire.com.

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