Resilience & Success in the Columbia River Gorge

I am the Managing Director of Immense Imagery, a Gorge Owned creative digital marketing company. Immense Imagery brings an international level of expertise to the local community and high end production quality to the Columbia River Gorge. All at the small business price point. We are constantly meeting with business owners, discussing their needs, their scope of vision and helping them meet their business goals. It's clear this past Winter was hard. Catastrophic to some. It's also evident that this wet spring has been economically soft. Yet the business owners I meet with demonstrate an ingenuity, determination and resilience that commands my respect. Old and new businesses are seeking our services to help create engaging content, to write out business plans, to gain practical metrics of effectiveness and to aid in their endeavors... all in the digital realm and with the use of Short Films.

There is a genuine transition taking place away from the traditional outlets of radio, television and print engagement and towards mobile devices, the internet, websites and social media. In fact short, innovative and engaging films reflecting businesses and their community is absolutely essential to success in the new world. Forbes Magazine has stated among several things that 1) Video is projected to claim more than 80% of all web traffic by 2019. 2) Adding a video to marketing emails can boost click-through rates by 200-300%. 3) Embedding videos in landing pages can increase conversion rates by 80%. 4) 90% of customers report that product videos help them make purchasing decisions. In short the new formats offer a phenomenal marketing value and finished products that beat print, radio and television in both pricing and engagement.

Some of the ingenuity I see is represented in Hood River where an established Kiteboarding and Windsurfing business is diversifying and bringing in Portland e-bikes. A new company, RazzTazz eBikes, has started an eBike Rental Service at the Hood River Inn & Best Western. RazzTazz eBike owner Dave Fenwick, is also separately introducing a new booster battery for eBikes. The Booster Battery which was locally designed by him increases speed and performance by up to 33 percent! These are just two examples of Columbia Gorge Owned businesses simultaneously creating and servicing a unique niche that is ideal for our Gorge lifestyle.

It's not just products and services that are changing. It's the way businesses are being structured too. Businesses, such as Sophie's Enchanted Alpaca, are creating a new "combination-market" for sales. Reflecting over this particularly difficult Winter, Carol Thayer demonstrates solid leadership by drawing together a variety of complementing boutique industries and products. "I'm stunned by the cross marketing potential of each of the companies that have been building a client base all over the Country", she says.

By renting micro spaces within her larger businesses to various vendors. Ms. Thayer is creating a single economic bloc distributing goods and services of other vendors which compliment her own as well as each others. She thoughtfully observes..."So many unforeseen upsides to this!" It's a synergy of smaller enterprises working under one physical roof.

There is also a digital roof to consider. "Word of Mouth" referrals are the bedrock of business success. Social Media is now the new "word of mouth". Many business can no longer risk simply having a make shift Social Media person. They are creating specific job descriptions and hiring staff to create online content. Others, concerned about the added expense of staffing, increased payroll taxes and liability now contract Social Media Management services out to businesses like Immense Imagery.

It's the same with Search Engine Optimization. Top tier rankings on a Google search don't just happen. Kevin & Sherry Perry of Gorge owned Celilo Paddle Co. understand that businesses like Immense Imagery connects business owners to their own businesses as well as with customers and over time it shows.

Furthermore, business owners like Andy Nichols of Nichols Art Glass or Shawn Singhurst of Post Canyon Coffee Roasters understand it's not just about a nice website but how a customer engages with that website. These business owners have implemented online shopping components to their businesses. Next time we have prolonged bad weather they won't be as hard hit. Customers can shop online and easily have their purchases mailed directly to them. It's clear that in order to compete with behemoths like Amazon they may have to reduce prices or create incentives to purchase items online but in a bad year reduced pricing is better than no sales at all. In other words these business owners are already planning proactively for the shoulder  seasons.

Social Media is not the only front to  gain new attention. The traditional website is too. There is more taking place than immense images being captured and uploaded. Terry Cobb who owns Cobblestone Catering in The Dalles realized her website was becoming dated, not truly mobile friendly and cumbersome to work with. Terry, like many business owners established an online presence during various evolutions of the internet. Sites even just a few years old often reflect a hodgepodge of programs, hosting platforms and templates. Many of those older formats have been replaced by newer, more consistent, better designed apps and programs which also have a greater longevity.

The Toyota Prius is a great analogy. The Prius wasn't just a car with a battery pack stuck in it. It was the first car specifically designed from start to finish to be an electric hybrid and thus has outperformed and outsold all competitors. This is where the internet, social media and mobile platforms are today. A business can now design from start to finish it's online presence. It can be done fluidly and they get a better return on investment. Counselors, Insurance Agents and Professional service providers such as Dr. Kyle House of A Kidz Dental Zone have recognized this important transition and important distinction: Short Film, Social Media, Website Design all work together fluidly.

There is more to this than simply drawing customers to a virtual destination. Clients like Dana Peck, Goldendale hamber of Commerce Executive Director and the Klickitat County Tourism board ember, re seeing increased appreciation and interest in their real-world activities through the use of the new media.

Commenting on the effects of video and social media combined, Peck said, "Partnering with Immense Imagery for our first use of video on the Chamber website and coupled with other social media, we saw 11,000 hits in seven days and continued well past 20,000 in 30 days for the effort. By way of comparison, in our pre-social media days, total interactions for the Goldendale Chamber -- calls, walk-ins, mail requests -- averaged 4,000 contacts annually."

Industries like orchards, growers, wine tasting rooms and vineyards are also forming alliances, banding together and distinguishing themselves with a particular real-world area. They are creating geographic groupings of businesses. The Hood River Downtown Wine Alliance, Stave & Stone Winery and Broken Boulder Vineyard are examples of this.

Other businesses, like Hood River's Big Horse Brew Pub or The Dalles' Bent River are going one step further. They are using drone aerial services. By including a film experience of the Gorge in their websites they identify themselves directly with the Gorge as a destination. In the case of Bent River, Martin Schwarzbach has reconnected The Dalles back to the waterfront dining experience and these businesses are reaping the benefits of the Columbia River Gorge’s own beauty and natural draw.

Immense Imagery is working with Non-Profit Foundations, Municipalities, Tourism Committees and Chambers of Commerce up and down the Columbia River Gorge. We are seeing business after business redefine itself. By the power of Social Media these organizations, groups and businesses are engaging both local customers and reaching into more distant markets beyond the Gorge. Accountability has become paramount to their success.

Gone are the days when a marketer can simply get paid for placing an advertisement in a medium that isn't effective. Businesses want to be able to quantify the value added by their marketing expenses. They have come to expect more from their advertising and marketing dollars and can now hold advertisers accountable by tracking the effectiveness of their investment.

The ability to have bonafide organic hits on Facebook like Immense Imagery did for Gorge Community Music in The Dalles or the Northwest Cherry Festival means that the community event planner, non-profit foundation or small business owner becomes empowered. They become more independent and in control of the content itself, who sees it and how often. Analytics tell them exactly how effective the efforts are and gives our customers the ability to respond nimbly and in real time. Yes, there is definitely a resilience and change taking place in our local communities and Gorge owned businesses. I am just lucky enough to have a front row seat!