At back, from left: Micheál Ó Duibhir, Údaras na Gaeltachta; Dr. Petri Raivo, President of Karelia University of Applied Sciences, Finland; Risto Salminen, Karelia University of Applied Sciences, Finland; Davíð Jóhannsson, North West Region Association, Iceland; and Dr. Lasse Okkonen, Karelia University of Applied Sciences, Finland. At front: Seán Ó Coisdealbha, Údarás na Gaeltachta and Digi2Market’s programme coordinator; Alison McGonagle, Westbic; Dr. Helen Jackson, Ulster University; Jennifer Ní Riain, Údaras na Gaeltachta; Sveinbjörg Rut Pétursdóttir, North West Region Association, Iceland; and Marja-Liisa Ruotsalainen, Karelia University of Applied Sciences, Finland.

EU project fights back for rural businesses with high tech marketing

RURAL businesses can create tenfold increases in their audience size with digital marketing technologies like virtual reality and 360° video. That’s according to Digi2Market, an EU programme who have launched a new campaign offering free marketing and networking support to rural and small-scale businesses.

The campaign is also staging a #ruralbusiness day on social media on Wednesday, January 19. It was launched online this week by Mícheál Ó hÉanaigh, chief executive of Údarás na Gaeltachta.

“The #ruralbusiness day / lá #gnótuaithe aims to highlight the role small businesses play in regional economies. They provide employment and support sporting and community bodies,” he said. “So, #ruralbusiness day / lá #gnótuaithe gives everyone a chance to show their appreciation for these rural entrepreneurs.”

Rural businesses can feel isolated and find it hard to reach bigger markets. Digi2Market helps them use immersive technologies like VR and augmented reality to boost their marketing efforts and reach bigger audiences. It also offers them a way to connect and network online with businesses across Europe.

Digi2Market programme coordinator, Seán Ó Coisdealbha of Údarás Na Gaeltachta, says any EU business is eligible to sign up to the programme. “However, our focus is on rural and small-scale businesses.

“We help them identify the latest technologies to market their business and put them into practice effectively. Lough Lannagh Holiday Village in Co. Mayo, for example, witnessed an explosion of their Facebook traffic simply by using 360° video.”

Media research expert Dr. Helen Jackson, of the University of Ulster, a partner in the Digi2Market project, says the results have been impressive. “Mobile phone apps and immersive technologies can transform the way people engage with tourist attractions like Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne.

“By linking physical and virtual spaces, visitors can explore the majestic clifftop location and discover the music, art, legends and stories of the people who lived there hundreds of years ago. And they do this with their phone in one hand and their feet firmly on the ground.”

Digi2Market helped Finnish wellness service company Rantakylän Fysikaalinen Hoitolaitos (RFH) reach new audiences with a 360° Tour of their facilities. They also assisted them with the creation of an online store, which made it easier for customers to book and buy their services.

In Iceland, the Digi2Market partner is development agency SSNV. They collaborated with food processing company, Vörusmiðja Biopol, in a 360 virtual tour. “It gave potential customers a realistic visual idea on what to expect when they book food processing services,” says Sveinbjörg Rut Pétursdóttir of SSNV.

Dr. Helen Jackson says Digi2Market is also about helping these small businesses to connect with other businesses across Europe. “We have created an online space for you to meet businesses in your sector and other sectors throughout the EU.”

Another key function of the campaign is to encourage small businesses to use more sustainable business practices. European expert, Dr Lasse Okkonen, principal lecturer at Karelia University in Finland - another Digi2Market partner - says using a Green Business Model is not just about helping the environment.

Small and rural businesses who want to sign up for free to the Digi2Market programme can do so directly from their website

Digi2Market is an EU funded project under the Interreg Northern Periphery and Artic Programme. The partners in the project are Údarás na Gaeltachta and WestBIC from Ireland, ICBAN and Ulster University from Northern Ireland, Karelia University of Applied Sciences from Finland and SSNV (Business Development Agency) from Iceland.