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June 2013

A look at Word of Mouth's payoff

Drew McLellan is the owner of McLellan Marketing Group

Everyone loves getting a referral and many businesses live and die by them. And yet, most businesses do not have anything in place to encourage word of mouth -- other than doing a good job and hoping their customers will brag about them.

Hardly a marketing strategy. Should you do a good job? Sure. But there's so much more you can do. Don't want to expend the energy? Hopefully this infographic from Noble Imaging will change your tune. Look at the impact word of mouth can have and how that translates to some serious impressions/cash for you.

In my next post, I'll dig into some specific ways you can generate buzz that brings in business. (If you want to see a larger version of the infographic, just click on it and you can download one.)



So what do you say -- are you ready to put in some sweat equity and maybe a little cash to get your customers buzzing about you?

~ Drew McLellan, MMG's Top Dog

The vendor-retailer side of sampling

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the value that product sampling delivers in strengthening the seller-customer relationship.

Done right, sampling also improves your relationships with vendors -- and vendors can make or break your business. When you build a relationship of trust, you're in it together. If you're not important to them, they're going to help someone down the street and your business will suffer.

Think of sampling as an integral part of a bigger relationship that can bring you closer to your vendors.

Many vendors will provide product samples because it boosts their sales. The really good ones I work with certainly have figured that out.

One vendor comes into the Heart of Iowa Market Place every week and asks if we have enough samples. Yes, she's spending some money on free samples, but her products also outsell similar products two to one.

We partnered with Stone Cliff Winery from Dubuque last year. Owner Bob Smith started by giving us free wines to sample and our sales quickly jumped 30 percent. Bob's a very smart vendor, so he didn't stop there. He also worked with us to build a better display to highlight his products.

Vendors who work closely with me tend to get the premium spots in my store because their product is going to sell more than the ones with vendors who don't offer free samples.

Vendors also are a source for ideas that can make your business better. Because they're talking to other retail stores all the time, they're seeing what's hot, what's selling and what's new.

I'm constantly saying to vendors, "Let me know if you see something that would be well in my store, even if it's not in your product line." Because I have good vendor relationships, I have people come back and say, "You might want to look at it and sell a product you're not selling right now."

Sampling makes your vendor better at their job, too. They're more attentive. They understand what's selling in your store. And, when you have a problem or urgently need a product, they'll go that extra mile because they know you. (Like any partnership, remember that the retailer-vendor relationship is a two-way street. Show them respect. Pay your bills on time. Let them know you want them to succeed, too.)

When it comes to building strong relationships with vendors, sampling works.

-Kelly Sharp

"Media Relations" means relating to the media

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Lessing-Flynn in Des Moines.

TwitterBirdPressAbout five years ago, I was invited to speak at a Society of Professional Journalists meeting here in Des Moines, held in the old Des Moines Social Club. I was there to talk about how social media was forvever changing the face of journalism. 

The room was divided between two "camps." The first camp was a group of newspaper publishers, owners and editors who thought that they should "own" the digital lives of their reporters and every single thought they thought or word they wrote.

The other camp was the reporters themselves, some of whom were listening intently but not saying anything. But there were a few brave souls who stood right up and admitted (GASP!) that they were starting to use social media in their reporting! And sometimes (double GASP!) they had personal opinions about things that they didn't really try to hide. They also asserted ownership over their own personal thoughts and written content (THE SKY IS FALLING!).

This created a vigorous debate amongst the group. There was a true upheaval taking place in the industry. The "old-school" position was that reporters were neutral arbitors of the news, had no discernable personal leanings, and isolated themselves from the commoners to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Fast-forward five years. In my estimation, most journalists still conduct themselves with the utmost journalistic intergrity and very carefully stay within the lines. However, many of them have found ways to be "one of us" and have joined social networks. While a few disclose their personal political bias, most stay neutral, at least publicly. But, the good journalists I know all use social media to further their craft.

Journalists can still use help from their friends and the general public and maintain journalistic integrity. They have always been trusted with the job of rooting through contradictory information and severly divergent viewpoints. Social media just helps reporters do their jobs more efficiently. Furthermore, I'm fairly certain that reporters get story ideas from conversations they witness on their social networks.

Journalists talk about themselves a little now. I can tell when someone is having a frustrating day. Or when they have an ailing parent. Or just need a hug. The thing I like the most is that I can really get to know them as a person before talking to them about a story. I can read their previous stories on Facebook and Twitter and know what beat they cover and what they are interested in.

Having this information makes me FAR more attuned to them as a person and as a professional. I really like having this new way to learn about reporters as people, not just paragraph stackers. 

So when you're looking around for someone to tell your story to, don't forget...Reporters are people, first and foremost. It's likely that you can find out a lot about them by following them on Twitter. 

-Claire Celsi

Technology & innovation - An introduction

John Stineman is a West Des Moines based consultant and Executive Director of John Stineman
the Heartland Technology Alliance. Follow him on Twitter at @heartlandtech5.

Technology is everywhere. From the smart phones in our pockets to the touch screens in our cars to the Netflix stream to our television screens, connected technology has changed our lives and changed our economy forever. For every person who worries over the increasing tendency to be staring down at the device in one’s hands instead of talking with the people around them, there are many others who are exhilarated by connections that are stronger than ever before. You’re driving the tech economy, and maybe you didn’t know it.

There is a lot to it. Technology is not just about the wonder and efficiency it brings to make our lives more convenient or our jobs easier or more productive. It's about enabling innovation. Fostering the next game-changer. And for us here in the Midwest, it's about leveraging technology to our economic and societal benefit. In April, Techie.com named the Des Moines metro area one of the “10 most unexpected cities for high tech innovation.”

While technology and innovation tend to find a way to break through in one form or another nearly everywhere, it is clear there are ways to help them thrive. 

We are on the cusp of an era of innovation. As a hub for insurance and financial services, we are beginning to get noticed for our growing startup scene. Des Moines is home to several new and noteworthy tech startups, including Dwolla, a mobile-payment company that does tens of millions of dollars in business each month – a whole new take on financial services.

Our business leaders are now talking about "scaling" technologies and nurturing a "startup ecosystem." Our elected officials are asking people who wear t-shirts and jeans to work what they need to succeed.

Yes, things are changing and it is an exciting time for Central Iowa. This new IowaBiz blog topic - Technology & Innovation - aims to push forward a critical public conversation about what we need to know and do in order maximize the benefits of this new era by capturing and shaping opportunities to grow our economy, and position our communities for the future.

We'll tackle how technology is being leveraged by non-technology companies. We'll look at how our schools are working to foster innovation so local students are as technologically savvy as their urban, silicon-centric peers. And we'll look at how connectivity and the migration to the next generation of the Internet network is a driver for future innovation and the knowledge-based economy.

Finally, we won't be afraid to examine how public policy affects all of these things. The world is changing. Fast. Let's be a part of driving the change!

-John Stineman

Sampling works

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place Heart of Iowa Fudge

Someone recently asked me why we like to sample so many products at the Heart of Iowa Market Place.

The reason, I replied, is because sampling works.

Sampling works because it provides a unique and fun experience for customers, which is what retail is supposed to be all about. It works because it educates the consumer about your products. It works because it moves products. And, it works because it produces results on the bottom line of your balance sheet.

I hadn't realized how powerful sampling is until we started offering samples of our homemade fudge. Hardly anyone who comes into my store is thinking they want fudge when they walk through the door … until they taste the fudge. Everyone likes it. And when they come back, they're eagerly expecting a fudge sample.

The first time they come, it's a happy surprise. But it quickly becomes part of the Heart of Iowa experience for returning customers. Sometimes, they come in specifically for a fudge sample. And I'm absolutely thrilled when they do.

Sampling works.

We did a little test not too long ago. We'd been sampling a sausage meat. We had a lot more of a second variety in stock and I said, "We should sample that one instead."

Right away, the second brand started selling because people could taste it. Everybody wins in that situation.

Sampling is all around us, and yet it is often an underutilized sales tool by many small retailers. Book stores know that you bring in authors for readings and book signings. Lowe's and Home Depot have courses to show you how to build things. Other retailers can and should learn from those examples.

Often, your vendors will provide you with free samples. (I'll get into that the next time I write.)

But today is a great day to be thinking about what you can do to engage your customers, give them a unique experience and encourage them to come back. Product sampling should be at the top of your ideas list.

Why? Because sampling works.

-Kelly Sharp

What Facebook adding support for hashtags means for businesses

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

This week, Facebook began rolling out support for hashtags in user posts. This means Facebook users can click on anything tagged with a '#', bringing up a search of anything else publically tagged by other users on Facebook. (Just when those of us that work in Social Media had finished our campaigns to try and get our friends to stop using hashtags on Facebook because there was no point!)

So what does this mean for Iowa businesses using Facebook pages? As soon as they’re enabled, Facebook page administrators can tag their posts with appropriate phrases.

For example, if you’re a restaurant and you’re running a special for Independence Day, you could tag a photo of your special with #IndependenceDay. Your followers could then click on the hashtag, bringing up posts their friends (and other people or pages) have posted about Independence Day. Maybe a potential customer sees a friend looking for something to do on #IndependenceDay and invites them to your restaurant.

Of course, there are caveats. You’ll only see hashtagged posts from Facebook users who have set that post to ‘Public’ visibility (unless you’re one of their friends).

Another setback might be using a hashtag another competing business or brand is using, running the risk of distracting users from your page and your content (and ultimately, your business).

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how people and brands alike use hashtags as they begin to roll out to all users.

To use this, or see if your Facebook has enabled this feature yet - put a #desmoines in your status bar then hit space. If the “#desmoines” turns a light blue, you have hashtags -congrats! If not, just keep trying and it will be there soon. Once you see a clickable hashtag, click on it and you’ll see what we’re talking about!

How do you plan to use hashtags on Facebook? Tweet me at @interactivekate!


How do you know what to deliver if you never take the order?

Drew McLellan is the owner of McLellan Marketing Group

In general, we assume too much. In marketing we assume WAY TOO much. I was reminded of this truth when I was reading the new study done by Pivot about the social landscape and how it is evolving.

Here's part of their intro: "Each year, the Pivot team studies the evolving social landscape. For our 2012 -2013 "State of Social Marketing" report, we surveyed social marketers and digital strategists who represent agencies and brands. What we learned is that the fundamental drivers for social media have radically transformed."

They go on to explore all the ways people's use and perceptions of social media has shifted over the past year. But the two questions/graphs that really struck me were these:

The first question -- do you know who is accessing your social media content/connecting with you there?

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 12.17.11 AM

Amazingly -- 38% of these professionals said no, they don't.  That begs the question...why.  Well, here's why.


Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 12.17.35 AM

The reason they don't know who they're talking to is because they aren't even talking to them enough to find out why they're there.  

Why? (I'm sure you're asking yourself that as you read this)

I think there are a few reasons.

We are still using social media as a one way communication tool: Rather than recognizing that social is a dialogue, most marketers are still treating it like a monologue. Since we think we're supposed to do all the talking, we don't bother finding out who we're talking to or what they need.

We're afraid to ask: This isn't just a problem in social media - it's true in general. You've heard the expression "don't ask a question if you don't want to hear the answer." Well, unfortunately, marketers, business owners and leaders have taken that to heart. They're so afraid of the feedback they might get, they shut down the opportunity.

We don't actually believe it matters: Of the three, this is the most dangerous. It means you're just going through the motions but you don't  believe social media can actually impact your business. If you are just going through the motions -- stop. All you're going to do is damage your brand and alienate your customers. It's better to stop doing it than do it badly or without sincerity.

While this study was focused on social marketing -- the insight is broader. Without understanding who you're talking to and what matters to them -- you'll never connect with your customers or prospects.

 ~ Drew McLellan, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

ReWall making an impact


Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

Last February I blogged about an upstart company in Des Moines making 4’x8’ panels from recycled cartons. The ReWall Company of Des Moines has been making great strides since then.

The company uses a proven technology to turn beverage cartons into construction building panels. The panels can be natural where you can see all the words and colors of the cartons or white for ceiling tiles.

The newest product is Naked Board+ which can replace the Fiber Reinforced Plastic (FRP) used in high abuse areas such as industrial buildings or commercial kitchens at half the cost.

Sales are steadily increasing and the company is expanding its production to meet the demand. Hubbell is using the product at the Rocket Transfer Lofts in the closets. Nelson Construction is also using the panel in the in Fleming Building renovation.

A distributorship has been established in Philadelphia and in Iowa the DNR is specifying and using ReWall in multiple projects.  David Phillips, CEO of ReWall, says “Philadelphia has many subsidized housing projects with a focus on using recycled products. Our wall panel meets all the LEED requirements. Since waste is regional the goal is to eventually have seven manufacturing locations spread across the country.”

The company recently received the 2013 Iowa Environmental Impact award for the small business category. Other honors are the Innovation Award from the Iowa Recycling Association and the Governor’s Environmental Award. Phillips adds “Awards are a validation of our recycling efforts. Sales are a validation of the product.”

ReWall is becoming another Iowa success story!

-Rob Smith

Social media: Keep it live!

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

The Happy Medium team is sponsoring the social media for Winefest this year. So what does that mean? It means during the times in between Winefest events, we’re helping out with the tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagrams. Even more so though, it means our team is at each event doing “live” social media. It’s really important to keep your social media not only fresh, but also rich with content. It’s much more exciting for people to see what is happening right now, rather than posting a photo album a week after an event has already taken place.

Social media is much like regular news, (that’s why they call it the “Newsfeed” right?!)

The activities you host, participate in and do in or out of your office are what make your business unique - so why not tell people about it? Just because something might be a “normal” everyday occurrence for you doesn’t mean everyone else won’t think it’s interesting. Even if it’s just something in your daily work life, on social media it doesn’t hurt to let your audience in on the happenings of everything you do. It will really help them connect with your brand and understand who you are as a company. It will probably even let them know about things you do that they didn’t know about and services you offer without you just saying it in a straightforward way.

For Winefest as an example, the engagement from doing social media “live” from events also happens outside of the pages themselves. We often take pictures of people and tell them to find us on our different platforms. If they know they are going to find themselves there, they’re much more likely to check it out and start following and even interacting with your brand, and isn’t that the goal?

Lets talk: Tweet me at @interactivekate


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