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Ignore your digital presence at your peril

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My family and I are currently visiting Kyneton in Victoria. 

Kyneton is a town with many quality wineries close by and lots of great local produce. There's a keen interest in quality food and wine in the area, evidenced by an unusual proportion of providore or providore-like outlets, great cafes, restaurants, bakeries and even the odd micro-brewery if you go a little further afield. 

The question I pose is - is the physical appearance of any one of these outlets alone, enough to get it over the line? i.e. will prospective customers walk in and spend their hard earned dollars there based on how these businesses look?

I'll have a go at answering by saying that they MAY, however the level of certainly that they will spend has dramatically reduced since the array of digital forums has exploded - it's not just your website anymore - it's specialty review sites (Urbanspoon or Tripadvisor for example), social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), mainstream media (online versions of newspapers, magazines and tv channels).

Most assuredly - there is no place to hide if you're not doing what you do - well.

When making a judgement about whether I should go in to a cafe or restaurant now, a good percentage of the time I refer to services like Urbanspoon (as referred to above). For the purposes of this article - here's the link to Kyneton eateries > http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/346/46934/Victoria/Kyneton-restaurants.

While I don't consider myself a true 'foodie', I do like a good meal, good coffee and great service. No longer do I simply trust my gut (or my eyes), I like to read what others have to say about a place and get an overall impression based on a percentage rating. These aren't always 100% accurate - but they're generally a good indicator.

So...  what are winning moves - and what are losing moves?

Let's start of with the negative so we can finish in a high note.

Losing moves:

  • Looks without substance > Having a stellar shop front that looks great and screams, "We're awesome, come in!" if you can't back it up with quality food and service is a pointless and potentially very expensive exercise. Essentially you've made a promise to a prospective customer before they've set foot in the door and then you go ahead and break that promise. That's a real let down.
  • Digital Ignorance or Digital Arrogance > In an increasingly digital world, people are growing tired (if they're not already completely exhausted by it) of businesses that either aren't aware that they should be presenting themselves professionally online, so people can make an informed decision. Even worse, is the attitude that, "that stuff [digital] just doesn't matter". People will and in fact are judging your business online.
    • Digital Ignorance: In a court of law, the 'sorry judge, I wasn't aware of those laws' isn't a defence. So, if you don't necessarily have the time or the funds to get your own website and social media up to spec - at least take the time to read on what others are saying about you and act quickly the rectify the problem(s).
    • Digital Arrogance: Again, if we use the court of law analogy, 'sorry judge, those laws just aren't for me'. That's not going to go down so well with the judge. Guess what, it doesn't go down that well with a growing percentage of your prospective customers. Just like man-made laws and the laws of gravity, your presence online (across a range of forums - website, social, review sites) is going to impact you whether you like it or not.

Winning moves:

Suffice to say, winning is a lot harder than losing so please don't consider this list exhaustive - but certainly there's some basics here that you should cover -

  • Do it well. Focus on making good food (or whatever your business makes), providing great service, making great coffee. This is the foundation and pretty much everything else is smoke, mirrors and lies (as far as your customers are concerned) if the product isn't up to scratch. 
  • Respect Digital.
    • At the bare minimum, have a basic website with your opening hours, contact details including a map of where you are and a basic run down of what you're offering.
    • Read review sites that are relevant to your type of business. If it's a site like Urbanspoon and people who visited your business are giving you a hammering, you need to improve. I was looking at visiting two restaurants in Kyneton that looked great on the outside. Upon reading a string of recent reviews, I've decided against it. Why? One bad review? Maybe it's a harsh critic. Four or five in a row over some time? 1) There's something wrong there and 2) Even worse, they're not doing something about it (and probably not aware they are getting a hammering online).
    • Consider social media. It's not for everyone, often due to time constraints - but if you're clever - you can have all of your social media hooked up so only one update is required for all of them and it's a great way to grow your following.
    • Stepping it up a notch. When I see good reviews online (on review sites), the business has an active social media presence, they not only have a website but it's platform responsive - awesome. That's a sign that they really care and are prepared to invest in their business. If they're prepared, I'm prepared to spend some money with their business.
  • Getting the physical world to line up with the digital world. This is the stuff of champions. When you're product(s) and service are awesome, you're probably going to get word of mouth referrals. If a word of mouth referral can be validated by a great online presence, that's just gold. For many people it's about risk mitigation. People more often than not have limited time and funds. They don't want to waste their time getting to your venue, only to find out it wasn't worth it. It's time and money they'll never get back (well, the money possibly - if the business is smart enough to know they've let the customers down - they may offer a refund or discount).   
  • Seeing it all in action. We visited a cafe in Heathcote, not too far from Kyneton (Vic) - the owner actively referred us to a pub that also happened to be a micro-brewery (The Tooborac Hotel & Brewery) and said we should go there for lunch. Great! We then decided to see what people had to say online. They had an informative website that was platform responsive (mostly), great information and reviews on Facebook (regularly updated), active on Twitter. All very positive signs.
     
    thb_image_01.jpg
    The Tooborac Hotel & Brewery - doing all the right things.
     
    Most importantly, when we went there - it was a relaxing and enjoyable experience. Beautiful old building, wonderful atmosphere, great service, great food (I had a rabbit pie with a pint of their pale ale). The product delivered on the promise made by their brand. 

So what's the wrap up?

Your products/services, business premises and customer service need to be of a high standard. You'll likely be at least somewhat successful on this alone BUT even if you choose not to have a digital presence that you actively manage, guess what - you have a digital presence anyway, created by others. People are already talking about your business and what they think of it.

Don't ignore what's being said, read it - absorb it - act on it.... or ignore it, but do so at your peril.
 

Leighton Wells.
@leightonwells

Wannabe foodie and definite fan of the Kyneton food and wine region.