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Technology has changed the marketing landscape (and many other landscapes) significantly over the past several years. From new communication channels to new means of measuring marketing effectively, today’s marketers have an infinitesimal number of options available to them. Those options are increasing continually, in ways unimaginable just a few years ago.

One new option, which has received attention due to organizations like Amazon and Google announcing plans to use them, is the use of drones for package delivery. But even smaller companies, and companies closer to home, are finding practical uses for drones — marketing-related uses.

Drones also served as fictional inspiration for a local novelist writing under the pen name Alexi Venice. She leveraged the absence of uniform drone regulations to form the basis for a terrorist plot. The drones in her book, “Svea’s Sins,” carried small nebulizers with sarin nerve gas in them.

“‘Svea’s Sins’ explores the negative side of drones, taken to an extreme,” says Venice. “The book is designed to raise awareness about both the good and bad uses of drones.” One use that is likely to find increasing popularity is the ability of drones to carry cameras that can be used for multiple purposes, many marketing-related.

In fact, 2016 may shape up to be the year of drone marketing. The word drone has been used to describe unmanned aerial vehicles, radio and remote controlled devices, and robotic/artificial intelligence devices or robots. Drone marketing use is most closely related to the ability to photograph images that might otherwise be difficult to attain cost-effectively.

For instance, local music festivals have used aerial photography to photograph events for future promotion; Market & Johnson has used drones to videotape projects, including the Haymarket Landing and The Lismore hotel, according to a local newspaper story. It’s easy to imagine the wide range of uses possible:

  • Real estate agents could use drones to film high-priced properties.
  • Travel agents could use drones to show off vacation destinations.
  • Drones could be used to deliver “surprise package” product samples at outdoor events and festivals.

But despite the “buzz” — pun intended — area marketers should be cautious when considering the use of drones, or when hiring organizations that provide drone-related services.

First, both the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation have been watching drone development very closely. On Dec. 14, the FAA released rules requiring any devices weighing more than a half-pound (which covers most of these devices, including many popular holiday season toys) to be registered on a government website, according to a Wall Street Journal article. Failure to do so could lead to penalties, including up to three years in prison and fines of as much as $250,000.

And while a number of area firms offer drone-based aerial photography services, it pays to exercise caution. As when considering any marketing vendors, experience counts. In this case, though, lack of experience could result in worse outcomes than a shoddy brochure or amateurish website design. Because just about anybody can buy a drone these days, there are plenty of amateur aerial enthusiasts hoping to capitalize on these new opportunities.

There are things to look for, and look out for:

References.

  • Those they provide and those you’re able to glean through your network and word-of-mouth. Professional photographers in the area have a leg up on new entrants to the market.

The equipment.

  • Inexpensive options abound, but don’t provide the value that most marketers would be looking for. Just as when considering any kind of photography, it’s important to ask to see previous work.

The following are a couple of things to look for: a curve or bend in images; low-resolution photos; and lone operators. It’s good to have at least two sets of eyes involved with any drone-related project — one set to operate the drone and one to be alert to potential dangers. Ask about how the process will work, who’s involved and what precautions are in place.

What could possibly happen? You might be surprised. TGI Fridays was during last year’s holiday season. Their drone-driven promotion of #Togethermas involved a drone (indoors, which is really not a good idea…) carrying mistletoe to encourage close connections with patrons. Close connections occurred, but not the kind they had hoped for. A drone flew into the face of a photojournalist assigned to cover the story, tangling in her hair and cutting her under the chin.

Sure, marketers want to be innovative and drones seem to offer an opportunity to be just that. But, for now at least, it might be wise to take a “watch and see” approach to how drone technology might be used to fuel your marketing efforts.

As Venice points out: “Drones can be annoying. They are noisy. They aren’t necessarily appreciated by pedestrians. I could honestly see someone in Wisconsin simply shooting down a drone because it was hovering about their property.”

Linda Pophal of Chippewa Falls is a marketing communication consultant, business journalist and the owner of Strategic Communications in Chippewa Falls. She is the author of “The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement.” Contact her at 715-723-2395 or linda@stratcommunications.com.

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