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LSA Bootcamp and the Challenge of ‘Reaching’ SMBs

We started LSA Bootcamp — a day of digital education for SMBs — on something of a whim. The idea was to do something different and more interesting in conjunction with LSA’s annual conference in Los Angeles this past April. It turned out to be a success, and we decided to take it on the road.

The local business attendees, who had no idea what to expect when they got there, almost without exception were very enthusiastic about what they experienced. They told us they learned a lot. The sponsors, speakers and exhibitors also got a lot out of the direct contact with business owners and the opportunity to interact with them in a more casual environment.

One thing that was striking to me was the degree of engagement coming from the business owners and marketers. They know they must learn and understand digital marketing if they’re to succeed. This level of attention was very unlike an “industry” event where most people are only casually engaged if at all.

Last month we held our second Bootcamp in Charlotte, NC. It was not as well attended as LA (it was a Sunday in the South) but the content in many respects was stronger. The presentations and speakers were great. In particular Rich Tucker from Command Partners on Facebook advertising and Ted Paff of Customer Lobby on reputation had very interesting things to say. Kelly Benish (now of BIA/Kelsey) also had some very good advice on hiring a digital marketing agency. And Lisa Perry, who spoke on behalf of ConstantContact, gave some terrific, really tactical email marketing tips for the mobile era.

Speakers from Google, YP, Yahoo, Acxiom and Eric Groves of Alignable all had great advice.

Our local attendees were again unsure of what to expect but very happy to have been there. We got some nice feedback from first time speakers as well (below).

Stepping back, running this series of events is a very interesting process. It’s something like doing big focus groups with local business owners around the country. There are widely variable levels of knowledge and sophistication among attendees, which makes programming and calibrating the presentations something of a challenge.

We’re trying to empower but not overwhelm them. But I worry sometimes that we’re showing them a world of too much complexity. When Roy Morejon of Command Partners told audience members to expect to spend $2,500 to $3,000 per month (on a suite of services) there was a big reaction in the room.

I now have a much more direct understanding of the challenges faced by local agencies and publishers as they reach out to and try to educate these local advertisers. It has been challenging for us to reach them and break through. As LSA President Neg Norton remarked, it’s like a get out the vote campaign.

It has also been interesting for us to use a variety of local marketing methods ourselves to try and reach these audiences: mobile display, Facebook, email, direct mail, organic social media outreach and so on. We’ve got codes and other tracking and attribution tactics going and we still don’t really know “what’s working” (direct mail definitely did not work). Accordingly I have great appreciation for the challenge all marketers face in this noisy, multi-channel environment.

Our next stop with LSA Bootcamp is Atlanta on August 30. If you’re based there or nearby or have small business customers you should attend or encourage them to attend. This is a unique event because it’s not sponsored by a single sales organization or pitching a single solution; it’s also a unique opportunity to speak informally and directly with this amazing collection of companies.

If you’re interested in speaking at one of our remaining shows, please contact us and let us know. It sounds corny but it’s great (even kind of exhilarating) to have a chance to directly interact with these business owners and hear their stories.

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