Commercial Currents: Getting online and direct marketing

Stephenie MacLagan
Posted 2017-01-10

Utilize existing resources to market your business

It can be difficult for business owners to find time to think of creative ways to market their business, but taking advantage of existing online marketing and advertising resources can be a time-efficient and effective way to promote and grow your business. Whether you know it or not, your business is likely already listed in an existing online directory. Google, Yelp, and TravelAdvisor are just a few places on the web where people can find information about your business.

“It’s a digital world nowadays,” says Steve Lyons, director of marketing at the Maine Office of Tourism, so businesses need to pay attention to their online presence. The Maine Office of Tourism recently redesigned their VisitMaine website, which includes destinations, businesses, and event listings.

The Maine Office of Tourism (MOT) is the official entity for marketing Maine to tourists, said Lyons. “We spend millions advertising to tourists and driving people to our VisitMaine website, so being listed on our website is an effective way to reach that existing audience.” When business owners take advantage of these far-reaching organizations and websites, they are able to capture the attention of customers that they might not otherwise be able to access.

In addition to VisitMaine, there are also regional tourism organizations, which have their own websites and regional marketing plan. Lyons suggests tying into their marketing, in order to capitalize on that work:

  • The regional tourism organization for the Midcoast and Islands promotes the midcoast as a unique vacation destination for relaxation or adventure, and helps to market businesses and organizations in the region.
  • Another regional tourism organization, Downeast and Acadia, promotes the authentic “True Maine!” experience, by highlighting businesses and experiences in that region.
  • Experience Maritime Maine is another organization that has a similar focus, but for the whole coast.

“Over the last few months, we’ve started tracking referrals from VisitMaine to businesses’ websites or email addresses; there were 30,000 in September and 12,000 in a slower month like November,” said Lyons, “and we’re gaining international exposure.”  The VisitMaine website includes the ability to post events, some of which get featured in the monthly email newsletters, said Lyons. He also suggests using other statewide event calendars, like Maine Public’s or the Arts Commission’s.

“One place or business does not make a destination,” Lyons said. By highlighting each other’s businesses or even packaging services, you can further incentivize a potential customer to make the journey to your business. Packaging is believed to improve the experience of customers, and “Canadians in particular are attracted to package deals. The better the experience tourists have in Maine, the more likely they’ll come back,” said Lyons, and most agree that reoccurring customers are gold!

Here are more tips for improving your online presence and experience of eventual customers:

  • When it comes to maximizing your online presence, the most important advice is to keep your website and listings up to date. “If you don’t, then Google will knock you down in their listings,” said Lyons, and if potential customers see an out-of-date year, they will go to another business’s website.
  • Use key words in your listings and on your website, even using bold text for them, so that they will be picked up when potential customers use internet search engines like Google. “Maine” and region or location are often searched, along with the type of product or service rather than the specific name or brand of product or service.
  • “Tourists will ask questions, some you’ve heard a hundred times, but it’s the first time that particular individual is asking, so take the time to smile and graciously answer their questions,” says Lyons, “Pay attention to common questions; can answers be put on the website?” Make it as easy as possible to be a customer: Have the hours of operation, and fees or costs prominently placed on your website. Include directions and links to ferry schedules.
  • For those with their own website, Lyons said, “the key is quality of photography; compose your photographs;” don’t just take or use any photo. Think about “what else is in the photo and what are you focusing on? Your lodging facility might have a nice playground; then great, take a photo of that, but make sure there isn’t a dumpster in the background, etc.” Take photos that illustrate the experience or key words in your marketing or MOT’s.
  • MOT puts out research reports about three times a year, and they are included on the website for free access. “People can learn who’s interested in coming to Maine, where do they go, what do they like to do, and how to reach them as a business owner,” said Lyons. This can help you choose key words for your website or bring the state’s marketing into your listings. 

“If people are interested in getting more information, we do educational seminars at the Governor’s Tourism Conference, which will be March 14-15.” The first day includes presentations, such as how to market business on a small budget. The second day shares MOT’s research results. “It’s a great opportunity to learn what other businesses are doing,” said Lyons.

The Island Institute also collaborates with Axiom Education and Training Center to deliver workshops on social media marketing for businesses. Please reach out to us if you are interested in bringing one of these classes to your community.

Resources: Help customers find you

List your business or update your listing on these free directories:

Follow up on other marketing/advertising opportunities:

What We Do

The Island Institute’s Economic Development program provides marketing assistance to businesses and tourism planning support to communities. To learn more about small business support or community economic planning, feel free to contact Bri Warner.

Commercial Currents is for Maine’s island and coastal small businesses. To find archived editions, go to Know someone who’d enjoy these blogs in email from? Subscribe here.