I was having a conversation with my father a while ago about technology. He had just updated to an iPhone 6, but was confused about many of the new features, buttons, and bells and whistles. After we tried figuring out why a mail server wouldn’t connect, he pointed out how technology was initially created to simplify our lives but at the end of the day it makes things and people so much more complicated.

On a personal level one can truly understand his feelings. But when it comes to business, technology—especially social media—is something that can’t be ignored, as that’s where a great deal of audiences are turning toward today when they want to make purchases. Reviews, tips and demos from real people with honest opinions—that is where most of the smart companies will go when they want to get in front of consumers. But maybe, like a dating site, this technology is a two-way street. Companies want to find the consumers who are right for them, too.

To quickly time travel to the traditional types of marketing technology we are all aware of, we know that since the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in the 1400s, printed posters, magazines and billboards were some of the most commonly used ways that businesses could get their message in front of people. But then the 20th century arrived, and with it came the many new technologies our grandparents, parents and some of us relied on to communicate—not just with each other, but with the world of new information being made available. This included radios, telephones and televisions.

The dawn of cell phones, the Internet and email opened a new world for marketers and with it came so many of the technologies we use today from search engines or social media, software, blogging and beyond. And it continues at a rapid momentum. So now, with the extensive amount of options available for marketers to get their message in front of people, how do you, a local, independent specialty retailer, stand out in front of specific well-researched consumers of the digital era?

Lindsay Denny, program director, Bazaarvoice, said some trending technologies she’s seen used at the company that have been targeting specific types of demographics is one that has been around since before so much of what we use today was created—word of mouth. “Reviews are completely universal—we all use them in our own research process for different products and services, and they can be found everywhere. When a local flooring dealer proactively collects reviews on its services, the beautiful thing is that these reviews help convert prospective customers of all ages and all demographics. Word of mouth has been around forever—all we’re doing here at Bazaarvoice is creating a channel for that word of mouth to live online.

“Surprisingly,” Denny adds, “baby boomers contribute 45% of the total online opinions, demonstrating that they’re actively involved in this content. And it’s obvious that millennials are both writing and consuming this information. Age, location or other demographics are irrelevant when it comes to reviews—this content, submitted by a businesses’ own customers, has one of the widest reaches in leading new customers through the front door.”

Let’s not forget Google loves reviews. When search engines like Google sees that specific content, it helps businesses creep up a dealer’s website to a more prominent listing because the website is fresh, she says. But there are companies out there who are paying for this to happen instead of it happening organically, and for free.

“Today, 85% of consumers find local businesses by researching online. Can they find you?” Denny adds. “I can’t reiterate this enough: Customers are looking for this information, search engines are looking for this information, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re not collecting reviews from your customers.”

Social media is a big player in the game as well, and Shaw Industries’ new Floorvana app was designed to help consumers create and share content across social media for a more interactive experience. Misty Hodge, director of digital platforms, Shaw Floors, says the Floorvana app, launched in December, is targeting millennials and tech-savvy individuals who already use such things like Pinterest and Houzz. With the Floorvana app, a consumer takes a photo of whatever look she is inspired by or aiming for. Then with the app, she can browse the selection of flooring based on that look, and then customize and filter through flooring types based on the app’s recommendations. From there, she can compare options to make the right choice. Then after creating her look, she can store or share ideas with those in her social networks.

 “We are utilizing responsive design within our consumer facing website and our retailers’ websites to create a cohesive experience across all devices,” says Hodge. “[Shaw is] incorporating lead generation and retargeting tools in the Shaw website and Floorvana app to help retailers reach consumers who are currently in the market for flooring. Also, within all Shaw Web Studio accounts we offer optimized SEO (search engine optimization) benefits that help the retailer show up in [search engines].”

Using available online resources like Facebook Insights, Google Analytics, the U.S. Census Bureau as well as sending your customers surveys to complete can truly uncover valuable information about your specific audience.

What about getting down to specific blocks or regions of people? A GeoEdge.com article, “How Does GeoTargeting Work?” describes how IP addresses are important in targeting your audience.

“In online environments,” it states, “ad servers look at a user’s IP address to figure out their location. Behind the scenes, the ad server maintains a large database that has every IP address already mapped to its country, state, and postal code. So, when a request comes in, the ad server strips the IP address from the header of the request, queries this table, finds the necessary location data, and then picks an ad that matches that criteria.” A business can use this specific data to make its marketing efforts more intelligent.

The Floorvana App enabled Shaw to not just reach its specific audience, it has helped personalize the brand and bring dealers and consumers closer to Shaw, says Hodge. “It has helped Shaw be a leader not only in flooring but in technology—an attribute we feel helps secure their trust in us as a company to lead them in various ways.”

The Floorvana app, she adds, demonstrates how people are inspired by color and that they need that ability to communicate color with their retailer or vice versa.

At Surfaces, Katie Raymond, independent channel marketing manager for Armstrong, demonstrated an example of what the company has up its sleeves this year in terms of new ways it can help retailers not only get their message out, but how to be better at it.

Raymond and her team showed off the new online web portal, Armstrong Connect, allowing retailers to create marketing materials and save their projects, including direct mail, indoor signage, paid search, ad builders and more. Retailers can even add their logo, as well as use the training resources such as live tutorials, reference guides, how-tos and FAQs.

Besides specific software, Denny explains some best (or new) practices within the past few years as targeted marketing technology expands is that volume equals value. “The more reviews collected on your business, the more likely that shoppers will find you while searching online. In this case, the best practices are simple. First, ask. Second, respond (if necessary). And third, highlight.”

Don’t be afraid to ask every one of your customers for a review, she says. When you speak to her in person, let her know how much you would appreciate it if she took the time to share feedback on her experience. Then follow up with an email.

It’s important to remember, however, to be purposeful and meaningful with everything we do, says Hodge. “Don’t just throw a technology out there because it is cool—it needs to be truly functional in [a consumer’s] daily life in order to truly help the business be successful.”

She adds to remember to always deliver effective, proven technology that fulfills a need in the marketplace. So many apps are “one-and-done” and not extremely useful after the first download. Hodge says Shaw wants to make sure that the end product produces an inspired and ready-to-buy consumer.

The biggest mistake a business can do is to have dealers who stick their heads in the sand and aren’t open to customer feedback because of a fear of any negative responses, Denny suggests. “The second biggest mistake: Dealers that begin a reviews program, but don’t proactively ask each customer for a review and end up receiving little to no content before becoming frustrated. There is no impact without effort—but the effort is well worth the results.”

Adds Hodge, “The basis of transparency has changed the way we’ve had to target. Period. Ten years ago, it was important to the consumer and retailer what each brand said exactly and what it could do to provide. We had the opportunity to think about how Shaw is marketing itself and we opened up its visibility.” She says when marketing, they asked themselves what it is consumers really need: “We are trying to put ourselves in the consumer’s shoes and then try to produce a product to match consumer’s inspirations. Transparency has opened up the world and our eyes.”

Today’s consumer is savvy and needs true specifics: “How is it going to make my day easier?” When targeting certain demographics, which today is easier than ever—we have to understand what the real end result is.