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Could AI be a Game Changer for Small Businesses?

Photo by Andrea De Santis on Unsplashed

Is Artificial Intelligence a potential game changer for Better Food Traders, the beginning of the end for us all, or somewhere in between? Experimenting with our BFT marketing meeting notes, we investigate…


Last week I ran an experiment with Open AI’s Chat GPT program (3.5 version). Uploading the notes from the BFT marketing meetings from the past year, I asked, ‘What are the top marketing tips from this information?’

A millisecond later this is what it produced…


Based on the provided information, here are some top marketing tips:

  • Utilize door-to-door leafleting: Several participants found success in distributing leaflets door-to-door, offering incentives such as discounts or freebies to encourage new customers.
  • Encourage word-of-mouth referrals: Implement referral programs to incentivize existing members to recommend your service to their friends and family. Encourage positive online reviews, which can also attract new customers.
  • Leverage social media: Establish a strong social media presence and engage with your audience. Share appealing visuals, such as photos of weekly veg packs or seasonal highlights, and provide background stories about your farm or producers.
  • Collaborate with local media: Approach local media outlets with personal and human-interest stories. Provide high-quality images and include the story in the body of the email to increase the chances of coverage.
  • Use specific calls to action in leaflets: Make sure your leaflets have a clear call to action and offer with an end date. Consider offering a free incentive, such as a bar of chocolate or a local produce item, to encourage people to visit your shop or place an order.
  • Explore vehicle branding: Consider adding branding to your vehicles, either through magnetic signs or more permanent options, as it can help increase brand visibility while on the move.
  • Track marketing efforts: Use voucher codes or unique URLs on leaflets and other marketing materials to track the effectiveness of different campaigns. This will help you identify which strategies are generating the most customers.
  • Focus on warm contacts: Reach out to former customers who recently left and invite them back with personalized offers or incentives. Warm contacts are more likely to respond positively and re-engage with your service.
  • Consider events and partnerships: Participate in local events or collaborate with community organizations to promote your veg box scheme. Events can help build trust quickly and be promoted in different channels than your usual marketing efforts.
  • Support charitable causes: Align your business with relevant charitable initiatives to give back to the community. For example, encourage members to donate veg bags or collaborate with local charities during holidays or special occasions.
  • Publish a community magazine: Create a magazine or newsletter to share news, stories from farmers, and special offers with your customers. Make it informative and engaging, and consider delivering it personally to ensure it stands out.
  • Plan for seasonal challenges: Anticipate and address seasonal challenges, such as the Hungry Gap, in your communications. Raise awareness about the climate emergency and food security to educate customers and emphasize the importance of supporting local, sustainable food systems.

Remember to adapt these tips to your specific context and audience. Experimentation and ongoing evaluation will help you determine the most effective marketing strategies for your veg box scheme. ————————————————————————————————————–

I shared the outcome of the experiment with Caleb and Chenda, who run the BFT marketing meetings. The general consensus was that the program has produced an impressive, coherent summary – one that could be a springboard for debate and further refinement at the next marketing meeting (join us for the next one in September).


The impact of AI

The debate around AI is fierce with many expressing concern for the potential consequences of this technology on jobs (will AI be writing all our marketing materials and looking after our vulnerable?), security (wars launched by computers?), democracy (election influence, unchecked use of personal data), the environment (tech industry currently accounts for 2-3% of global emissions and rising) and the fabric of society (spurning a real world connection for a virtual one) – if left unchecked.

Others argue that AI is a great leveller, enabling the most disadvantaged in society to leverage the most powerful of technologies (for free) to help them access essential services. If this has you intrigued, I recommend you listen to a contributor to ‘Any Answers’ on Radio 4 who uses AI to help homeless people successfully apply for housing [see here, 30 mins in].


Potential and pitfalls

What is undeniable – from this experiment at least – is the power of this program to process large amounts of information and formulate a response at lightning speed that is both coherent and highly functional. This is processing that would take a person considerably longer, and time that many of us running small organisations and businesses simply don’t have. Imagine asking it to summarise your organisation’s meeting notes over the past year, to establish an agenda for the next meeting; or analyse all of your qualitative feedback from customers?

The program is not infallible. Results can be factually incorrect, constrained in tone, contain inherent bias, and be hampered by the quality of the question being asked. For more on the advantages and disadvantages of using AI for digital marketing (for example) see this excellent summary. We do not have to accept what it produces, however its processing power means we have the potential to focus our energies on our human strengths: critique, nuance, creativity, tone, context, humour, compassion to name a few.


AI as our leveller?

AI is here. The question now is do we want use this technology to be our great leveller? Can we use it to better compete against businesses with vastly bigger staffing and marketing budgets? How can we use it to our advantage without surrendering our judgement or the values (our environmentalism, our connection with our local communities and farming communities) that make us Better Food Traders?

New to the lexicon of AI? If you want to learn more about the difference between your GPT-4 and your GPT-3.5? See here.

Want to try this for yourself? Go to Open AI. It is free to use (it uses GPT 3.5 technology – not the latest version – but still an extremely powerful processor of text). Simply create an account, click on Chat GPT, and ask it a question.

For more on the impact of digital on our environment see here.

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