During times of disruption, it’s imperative that companies create innovative ways to adapt. Otherwise, they risk their own survival. The COVID-19 pandemic has driven that lesson home to many businesses, but in a lot of cases it’s thanks to tech innovations that smaller businesses are beginning to recover, and even thrive, again. 

The 5-10-15 Main Street Innovation Challenge was created by TechAlliance to inspire a collaborative recovery process for main street businesses across Southwestern Ontario. Innovative and technology-enabled solutions will bring forth new, inclusive, and disruptive approaches for economic recovery and community prosperity.

Challenge recipients were announced in February and their community-driven projects are now in motion.

The second featured recipient is BIA Promoter, an opt-in text (SMS) marketing service created by Chaun McLellan. It’s a tool that serves the mandate of local Business Improvement Area associations, by motivating customers to return to local businesses with exclusive deals. 

BIA Promoter is using the $15,000 from the 5-10-15 Main Street Innovation Challenge to launch its first such project, the Strathroy Deals Club. The funding will also help with upgrades to the software needed for the execution of the program.

Most towns and cities have a Business Improvement Area – or BIA – focused on economic development for local businesses, beautification, and marketing, among other things. Main Street businesses come together to form a BIA association, which can then apply for and access municipal and provincial funding.

The issue is that the pandemic has rendered much of that traditional type of marketing and economic development ineffective. Lockdowns and curbside pickup don’t exactly entice customers to keep coming back, and most small businesses don’t have the budget to try something new. 

Enter BIA Promoter. 

According to McLellan, the service is like putting a flyer in customers’ mailboxes, digitally, from a group of businesses that wouldn’t normally be able to afford regular flyer mail-outs that big box stores send every other week.

Each BIA is assigned a unique QR code and phone number, which all participating businesses then display on their websites, social media pages, and at brick and mortar locations. Consumers only need to opt-in once; then they get nudged weekly, or monthly, with tempting new deals for those Main Street businesses.

McLellan has been in the loyalty business for 17 years and has seen firsthand what works and what doesn’t. He says that while the average person will download and use an app for their daily coffee, they’re far less likely to do so for a group of shops they visit only occasionally. That’s why BIA Promoter is an SMS-based service. 

“Text marketing in Canada is just coming to the forefront more now, and businesses need very effective ways to get the word out and drive people through the door,” McLellan said. “A loyalty program or an opt-in text solution is instant gratification – you join the program and instantly you get coupons or you’re sent offers.”

Bringing regular customers back to the Main Street businesses that give towns and cities their character is going to be an important part of the post-pandemic economic recovery. Whether or not these smaller vendors realize it, embracing technology will be crucial. The possibility that BIA Promoter could be a key driver in making that happen has McLellan enthusiastically speaking about future collaborations in both larger and smaller markets.

“I think businesses will see more foot traffic almost instantly, likely within the first week of the program launching, and that will just continue to grow,” he said. “The increased traffic will put them in a mindset where they’ll be a strong believer in technology and I think that’s going to be the real growth for them, and for us.”

Strathroy locals have already embraced BIA Promoter, with 26 businesses participating so far. McLellan is holding a first-release live demo for other BIAs interested in this innovative marketing solution on April 14. Visit BIA Promoter online to register, or to find out more.