Yesterday evening, Kitchener City Hall was full of small business owners and local tech companies who joined together to create conversation surrounding the importance of digital engagement. Trends, tips and an assortment of other topics were discussed, and the evening ended with a Q&A and one-on-one Meet the Expert with panel experts and other technology professionals. 

There was a lovely arrangement of appetizers and delicious designer donuts, along with warm coffee provided by Williams. Definitely will be calling #jimmiesminis next time we need a dessert!

The panel was hosted by tech experts Jessica Chalk (Traffic Soda), Sanj Rajput (The Marketing Multi-tool), Melanie Witzell (Mad Hatter Technology), Erik O’Neill (Astrodog Media) and Bob Starr (Shopify). 

It was great to obtain so much information and inspiration from the panel experts. The entire evening was dynamic - from the discussion to the attendees.


Below you will find takeaways from each expert that was on the panel.  



Jessica Chalk Traffic Soda

Jessica stressed the importance of having a mobile friendly website that includes company keywords as well as being present on Google My Business and Google Maps as they each relate to the strength of SEO.

There are a variety of review sites and directories which you can Google to see where your company stands and what types of conversations are happening about you.

"Business owners need to get inside of the head of their buyer (i.e. if your company is a restaurant, you should have reviews, hours, pricing and atmosphere information listed - that’s what people want to know prior to visiting)."  Jessica Chalk 

The best example she gave for involving yourself in social chatter was this tidbit: “Imagine being at a networking event, there’s a bunch of people talking and you don't just go up and talk to them and interject - you listen and see who the influencers are and the types of questions they are asking and so that you may know the type of information they want.”

Jessica reminds us that ‘people will come when they need something or have you top of mind’ based on you introducing your company on social media. She also adds that “anything posted on social should be related to the buyer, not your product/services”.

Top tips

  • Sign up for Google Maps and Google My Business with your company URL
  • Make sure your company name, address and number are consistent across the web (don’t use 1-800 number)
  • Visit Whitespark (and input business info in order to see where you are listed)
  • Blogs don’t need to be long - write ten tips and quick facts
  • Sign up for Google Alerts (track different keywords and get alerts on competition or trends)
  • Google Plus page and Google My Business are different
  • Visit the variety of review sites and directories available 
  • Review response time (people need to hear back in less than 24 hours) 


Sanj Rajput - The Marketing Multi-tool 

Sanj let us know that the biggest trend in tech right now is how companies are making websites interactive. People visit websites for more than information - they want to register for events, book rooms, process payments, be entertained along with so much more.

"Don't be be afraid of the one person who yells at you; be afraid of the 10 people who walked out without saying anything.” Sanj Rajput

By "be afraid of the 10 people who walked out without saying anything," Sanj means that it is best to deal with a visibly upset customer and work towards a solution instead of never knowing what the initial problem with your product / service / store is. A customer can be is a brand's biggest marketer, so understanding what makes them content and upset is important.

When promotional and / or informative videos are produced and pushed out, people find it way more authentic when the video is composed without being over polished with paid actors and scripts that aren’t believable - videos that are personable resonate more.

Sanj suggests that small business owners don’t do enough surveys. When a survey is crafted correctly, it can collect so much important information about your business.

Top Tips 

  • Entry and exit survey should be part strategy (give ideas for blogs, improvements, what is going well)
  • Need testimonials - people want to talk and when you don't ask for feedback, you lose a FREE resource that assists with selling
  • Can set up blogs to post automatically while you’re away
  • It's not about finding new tools but how to leverage current tools
  • Silktide, Nibbler and Website Grader - tell you line by line, which code areas needs to be fixed
  • Should have Google alerts for each company you are competing with (and your own company to know if anything negative is said about your company)


Melanie Witzell, Mad Hatter Technology 

Agency Director, Melanie Witzell explained the importance of content marketing and how it relates to SEO. Creating a conversation about your products / services online contributes to SEO. At Mad Hatter, the 'Chatter" section of the site is filled with great content used to assist with leveraging web based searches. 

Melanie informed everyone that people do their research online and are aware of what they want and where they will be getting it prior to visiting your store. Therefore, put out all information they would want to know (hours, price, location, contact, social outlets) along with valuable content that attracts them to your ideas and to your services. 

"Mobile is huge - people are using their phones for alarm clocks, GPS mapping, email, to text and talk, social media." Melanie Witzell 

With so many social media channels and a focus with 'living online", be sure to be authentic with all information produced - transparency is a must.  

Digital trends - there is huge shift to mobile, companies are looking into how to get searches happen between apps and Google seems to makes everything anti-Apple in respect to applications. 

Top Tips


Erik O’Neill - Astrodog Media

Erik reminded us that there is a variety of means to produce genuine, branded content. When producing lots of video content and branded content, the most important thing is that it has to be interesting to watch / read, needs to be what the people want, attract them to come back to your company. You can make a video on your phone that is valuable (personalized) - which is the type of content that resonates with your clients. 

"This is the generation that likes to experience things." Erik O'Neill  

Experiential marketing allows a brand to connect with a customer. When given a chance to experience a product or service firsthand, the person has their own story to share with others. They can share how they've experienced the product in their own way, not how it appears to be when portrayed on TV or video. 

Erik suggested reading the book 'To Sell is Human' at it explains the natural process / instinct we as humans have, to influence and sell almost anything (intentionally or not). 

By creating video to produce on social media, it allows companies to give clients and potential clients a peek into their business to see what is happening themselves - someone telling them what a product or service is like "a doctor in a white coat who knows all the secrets".

Targeted buyers should be included in the process or marketing - from submitting content, voting on content or being muses for your vision / videos. You'd be surprised by how many people want to be included in the process of marketing. By allow the audience to be included, you give your brand authenticity - things are happening in real time not being directed. 

Use user generated content - send stuff to customers and get them to review and push for you. The cost to pursue new customers is high. You might be reluctant to send free products - but if you send them, they will likely rave about it

Top Tips  

  • Google Plus page - make sure it is updated, unlocked and consistent
  • Make use of process platforms (such as HootsuitePercolate and Buffer), create and push a month of content or few months in advance. Something has to be going on - doesn’t have to be 5 times a day but let people know you are active
  • Remove Freshbook's default reminder (from six days to at least 30)
  • Create a stockpile of content (so that you have a collection of content to push when busy)
  • You CAN create video on your mobile phone (there are plenty of tools available to edit on phone and in apps) 

Eric discussed a few neat projects such as Canadian Tire #tested - where the company ships products certified to be used in Canada to an individual to test and then a member of the Astrodog Media team goes out to record that person speaking of the product. They talk about the 'tested' product and the final video goes on the product page (where members of the community see it and are influenced to purchase the product). He stated "the value of this is more than the cost of product". 


Bob Starr - Shopify

Bob informed us that the most success seen from stores are from ones who tend to tap into the organic community of their audience.

"By showing people a video of you unpacking boxes of your favourite product, you tap into how we live in voyeuristic society. People are curious and like to see what is happening behind the scenes." Bob Starr

No one likes to get bad news, though there are ways we can benefit from it. Bob suggests that when getting feedback, companies shouldn't hide from bad reviews - learn from it and apply the lesson to tomorrow.  Many people start their small company business due to personal passion, and there are people out there who want to read about what your doing and why you began business - people like genuine content (what are you're doing and why are you doing it). 

Is there an app for that?! Many times we think to ourselves 'Do I have to do this manually or is there an app for that?". By finding an app to assist with workflow, wasted time and company costs can be reduced. 

Top Tips

  • Technology advances as it gets better - embrace it 
  • Use apps available to assist with production 
  • Genuine content creates reciprocated relationships ​

Majority of big brands pay a lot for the beta process when in most cases it can be done for free - your clients are your best marketers. 

Bob stated that though web will never be done, websites will fade out as times and things are changing.

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