One of Hamilton’s most endearing characteristics is its entrepreneurial spirit. With businesses popping up in all kinds of different sectors, new members of the community are being welcomed with open arms and wallets. There’s no doubt the people of Hamilton are tech-savvy and have developed a strong social media community. But with the rise of modern local businesses comes the need for a modern marketing strategy. Marketing agencies in Hamilton provide professional assistance to create a strong digital presence for your brand, whether you require social media management, mobile website and app development, or good ol’ media connections. If you have your own business or are thinking of starting one, we enlisted some of Hamilton’s top specialists to tell you what you need to know in this digital age to help you succeed.
The Face: Adrian Duyzer, partner
Founded: 1999 (as Factore[e]), rebranded as Parallel in 2017
Specialty: Design and Technology, “Building Digital Products”
✓ Websites and Web Apps
✓ Mobile Apps
✓ User Interface
✓ User Experience
✓ Graphic Design
✓ Creative and Art Direction
Greatest achievement: Creating a successful business (with a lot of help!) without sacrificing the important things: my relationship with my family, friends and colleagues; my personal ethics and standards; and my belief that no one should ever take themselves too seriously, especially myself. Business isn’t any fun if there isn’t any fun!
Advice to new business owners: Remember why you went into business in the first place and let that guide your decisions. Be smart and disciplined but don’t be afraid to take risks: risk is the difference between having a job and owning a business and without it there is no reward. Don’t feel like you have to do everything yourself – reach out for help when you need it. Be kind.
How has the digital design industry changed over the past few years, especially in Hamilton?
The barrier for entry into the design and development of web-based software was previously quite low. Anyone with a modicum of design ability and some HTML coding skills could provide a valuable service to businesses that needed, simply, to “be on the internet” or “have a website.”
Things have changed. Simple, content-oriented websites that could previously be sold for $5,000 to $10,000 are now easy to build yourself using Squarespace or Weebly – and will only cost you $20/month.
At the same time, the bar for custom web software development has steadily been raised: users expect a premium, well-thought-out, beautiful experience backed by powerful technology and sophisticated integrations. It needs to work as well on a phone as it does on a desktop computer, and should feature an experience that is competitive with the refined experiences users enjoy with other digital products every day.
Whether it’s more effectively communicating with your customers, allowing them to order your products and services seamlessly with their mobile phones, or streamlining your business operations, there is truly no limit to the opportunities that digital products make possible.
The Faces: Rebecca Kallsen and Alley Stennett, founders
Founded: June 2015
Specialty: Public Relations, “Creating memorable impressions”
✓ Media Relations
✓ Community Engagement
✓ Social Media Marketing
✓ Event Planning
✓ Internal Communications
Greatest achievement: Successfully making it through our first year in business, and Alley winning the PR in Canada Top 30 Under 30 Award.
Advice to new business owners: Our biggest piece of advice is to never be afraid to ask for help. As you start to develop a strong professional network, make sure you’re leveraging those relationships by asking them for advice when you need it.
In a digital world with so much clutter, how can you get the attention of influencers and traditional media?
The best way to get attention from influencers and traditional media is to always find that one aspect about your business that makes you unique. When media outlets are looking for content, they’re always in search of a ‘news-worthy’ story: something that hasn’t already been talked about. This is why it’s essential to make sure you’re telling your story from a different perspective that hasn’t yet been attempted.
It’s also important to remember that getting attention through the media doesn’t always happen on your first try. You need to focus on the bigger picture and the long-term objective when it comes to media relations. Stay consistent in your efforts to create strong relationships with reporters and the media. If you’re able to keep positive relationships with reporters and media outlets, you’ll start to gain their trust, and overtime, that trust will likely turn into story about your business.
The Face: Suzanne Zandbergen, founder
Specialty: Social Media, “Brand Engineers”
✓ Dedicated Social Media Manager
✓ Continual Monitoring
✓ Real-Time Content Generation
✓ Regular Consultation
Greatest achievement: The Generator started in 2014, and I’d say it’s been my greatest achievement. I didn’t consider starting my own business until I became acquainted with the coworking community and met so many entrepreneurs that really inspired me to just do what I love to do.
Advice to new business owners: Do what you love to do, and that means as soon as you can, farm out the tasks of your business that aren’t your strength, things that you always put off doing. Your time is better spent working on what you’re good at, and it makes good business sense to pay someone to do a task that they can do much more efficiently to allow you to focus on what you do best.
Why is social media so important for businesses today and what makes Hamilton a great place to engage in this sort of marketing?
Hamilton is one of the most highly engaged cities in Canada on social media. Small businesses in this city are actually really lucky to have such a low cost marketing tool with an audience waiting to interact. Compare the cost of traditional advertising like print, radio or TV, and it’s not only much more expensive, it really just can’t compete with the ability to be able to reach out directly to your potential and current customers and talk to them. The results of marketing campaigns on social media are so easily and accurately tracked in real time too, so you can make changes to your strategy before you’ve sunk in a lot of time and money.
Social media does take a little bit of a time commitment to use it as a proper marketing tool, but we’ve seen a lot of startups really explode due to their social media marketing. All it takes is a goal that you want to reach, and then a strategy. That’s what we do – focus on our clients’ goals using Facebook posts, tweets and Instagram posts, targeted directly to the audience they want, and we can measure the success quickly.
Specialty: Technical SEO
✓ Search Engine Optimization
✓ Research and Strategy
✓ Content Marketing
✓ Social Media Management
✓ Website Consulting
Greatest achievement: Hanging out with Rand Fishkin at Mozcon 2015.
Advice to new business owners: The best way to save money and time is to do everything the right way, right off the bat. Build a newsletter list from the beginning as your brand grows its social following. You will hit two birds with one stone. Avoid services like Weebly and Wix for professional sites. No site-building shortcut saves time and money. Too many people put their website last because they don’t see the value of hiring a professional, paying for faster hosting, etc. Trendy websites like Shopify seem like they make running your business easier, but actually make it difficult for SEO improvements.
Search Engine Optimization is about driving organic traffic to your website to create conversions or leads. You wrote something, now someone has to find it. SEO is a moving target, though. If people search and can’t find your website, does it exist? Don’t skip the most important part of a website (which is being found on someone’s phone, desktop, voice search, app search, ANY search).
What are the challenges facing search engine optimization in Hamilton, especially as a field many people still don’t know much about?
SEO requires calculated risks: each business has a unique set of problems and approach to solve them to beat their competitors in search rankings. The percentage of people searching for products, brands and company reviews using a mobile device is already outnumbering desktop searches. You can’t get by without having a technical understanding as well as a sense of human interaction. Semantic search, machine learning AI and the sophistication of Google has complicated the role of SEOs, and psychology (learning, perception, cognition) plays an integral role to understanding user intent and supporting the customer journey. I think you can only stay in the search game if you can stay in love with the algorithm. It’s a full time commitment staying up to date with trends, security and technical advancements.
Some people are scared of technology they don’t understand and SEO is still quite intimidating to their business. You need to be comfortable with analyzing data and forecasting issues before they happen – that’s what we’re here for. The industry is changing so fast. It’s a lot like building a maze and making sure Google (and real people) know how to navigate it. The best SEOs are a balance of technical skill sets and creative forces, so really good maze builders.
The Face: Bob Mills, creative director
Founded: 1986 – right at the beginning of the digital revolution but before the internet arrived
Specialty: Integrated Marketing
✓ Strategy & Planning
Greatest achievement: I’m pretty sure that still lies ahead of me.
Advice to new business owners: Focus on quality and make your customers happy. It’s so much easier than having to find new ones every day.
What are the first steps a business should take to gain awareness in Hamilton and then how can they sustain and support those initiatives, both online and offline?
We live in a “digital-first” world – which means people go directly to the internet whenever they’re planning to make a purchase. That means your business absolutely must have a website – and it needs to look good. People judge you as much by your appearance as what you say about yourself, so you need to make sure you look sharp.
Social media is a great promotional tool. One of our clients is a craft brewery that uses Facebook regularly to promote its activities. When a new batch of ale is about to be tapped or a special event is being held at the brewery, Facebook and Twitter get the word out to the company’s hundreds of loyal fans and followers.
When planning your marketing, always think about how online and offline can work together. A 15-second radio commercial can create awareness for your business, but you’ll also need a website to deliver the details your potential customers are looking for. Likewise for billboards, print ads and brochures – you need the online support to really make them work.
Offline and online are like the yin and yang of marketing. You can’t really separate them and they definitely work better together.
Share your tips on how to get your business noticed online in the comments below!