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July 2013

AdAge Power 150 powers down

Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 1.34.10 AMAs 2006 wound down, a marketing professional named Todd Andrlik created the Marketing Power 150 which was (at the time) a very all-inclusive list of the top marketing blogs in the world.

Back then blogging was just beginning and it was a huge thrill just to get a few hundred readers or a comment here or there.  I launched my own blog, Drew's Marketing Minute in 2006 so I was elated to hear I'd been included in Todd's original list of the best marketing blogs.  

The list enjoyed early success, quickly rising to become the most comprehensive and definitive barometer of industry blogs. It was widely cited in books, bios, blogs and mainstream media, including Fast Company and the Wall Street Journal. It also inspired dozens of similar lists across numerous industries.

When Todd ran the list, it was 150 blogs and no more.  You either made the list or you didn't.  But late in 2007, Todd sold the list to AdAge and as you'd expect, they made some changes.  They continued to call the list the Power 150 but the list grew exponentially - ranking over 1100 blogs as they shut it down earlier this month.

What makes the powering down important to any of us is that it signifies how quickly the social media landscape is shifting.

In the post announcing the decision, AdAge said "Why are we shutting it down? Since we took over the list from Todd Andrlik in 2007, conversations on marketing have broadened their reach well beyond personal blogs to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and many other places. If blogging lowered the barrier to entry, social media obliterated it."

Does that mean blogging is dead?  Despite some people suggesting that's the case -- I don't think so. It just means that digital marketing isn't so linear today.  Before the barrier to entry was a blog.  But today, you can jump into social media via Pinterest, Twitter, a blog or Google+.  Blogs are no longer the only way people can or do share content. 

If I were a betting man, I'd say the other reason AdAge decided to freeze the Power150 (the list still exists -- they just aren't updating it any more) was the sheer volume of marketing blogs out there.  Their list is currently over 1100 blogs and I'm sure they were being barraged by new marketing blog authors every day.  Back when Todd started the list -- it was manageable and scalable.  But today the volume of potential entries and the time it would take to review all the prospective sites couldn't be sustained.

Whatever the reason, the Power150 was iconic in both marking the launch of social media/blogging and the moment when the list couldn't keep up any more.




61 Years of Life

2013-07-25 12.11.52Today I am 61 years old!!!  So as I ponder 61 years of life on this planet, I ask “Do I have anything other than my house that is 61 years old?  If not, could anything make it to 61 years?

2008 Lexus 350RX?   Definitely not.  Hopefully the oil industry and auto manufacturers will give up their grip on transportation and a major breakthrough will occur.

Pots and pans? Maybe?  Handles with bolts rather than tack welded.  No plastic. Solid aluminum might make it but I will have to get them professionally cleaned every 15 years.

Toboggan?   It could make it.  I still have a Sears steel toboggan I bought when I was 16.  Don’t use it as a sled but instead as a Christmas decoration. 

Ladder.  Definitely yes.  I bought the heavy duty Fiberglas 8’ ladder about 15 years ago.  I won’t see it make 61 years but someone else should.

Furniture.   Absolutely!  Interestingly what I have most of that will make it 61 years is
furniture.  Many years ago I bought a solid maple butcher block table at a garage sale.  The top is two inches thick and the three leaves weigh a ton.  This table will definitely make it several hundred years.  Some other furniture like my steel canopy bed could make it too.  My mom gave me a tea cart and book cabinet which might already be 61 years old!

Let me know if you have something that has or could make it for 61 years; easy if you collect antiques.


Looking outward

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

With all the demands on a small retailer, it's very easy to get too caught up in your own priorities, challenges and possibilities. It's important to have a deliberate strategy to look beyond your business to keep things in perspective and keep yourself open to new ideas.

It's possible to do all that and still benefit yourself, your business and others at the same time. One way I look outward while looking after my retail business, the Heart of Iowa Market Place, is through my involvement in the Valley Junction Foundation.

As the chair of the foundation's business improvement committee, I have the opportunity to meet other entrepreneurs who are excited about what they do and see potential and promise where others see only obstacles.

Right now, Valley Junction's board of directors is seeking several new members. We're looking for people with new perspectives, fresh energy and creative ideas. And, when you're around people like that, you can't help but feel even more energized yourself.

I know that the continued success of my business relies very much on the Valley Junction district's vitality.  My involvement in the district and the board has been very valuable to me as a business person, and I absolutely believe it will be just as valuable for anyone else who enthusiastically embraced the mission.

But it's been very valuable to me in terms of the friends I've made, too.

As with the Valley Junction Foundation, being involved in your local chamber of commerce or neighborhood retail association doesn't have to take a great deal of time. You'll enjoy the rewards that your involvement will bring to your business and others in the form of new working relationships, friendships, business opportunities and more.

Don't wait for an invitation. Pick up the phone and call someone today.

Taking time to look outward by serving in your local business organization will pay big dividends in your work and personal lives better by blessing you with relationships you would otherwise miss.

-Kelly Sharp

ESOPs are the rage

Victor Aspengren is a vice president at Prairie Capital Advisors Inc.

The Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) concept is gaining momentum as a business succession tool. The following is list of reasons for this increased interest in ESOPs:

  • People are tired of seeing jobs and companies leave their local communities
  • There are over 70 fellowships across the US doing research on the impact of employee ownership in the world of academia
  • ESOP companies lay off less workers than non-ESOP companies
  • ESOP companies provide higher retirement benefits than non-ESOP companies
  • ESOP companies allow employee owners to share in the sweat equity of the company
  • There is an increased bottom line performanace in ESOP companies vs. their non-ESOP peers

This is an incomplete list and there are many other valid reasons why the ESOP concept is growing in popularity.

Wise business owners consider the ESOP concept in their evaluation of how to transition their ownership. It may not work for all business owners, but it should be an idea that their business advisors discuss with them. 

-Victor Aspengren


All Media is Biased

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

During the recent George Zimmerman trial, I heard every conceivable angle on each minute detail coming out of the day’s proceedings…ad nauseum.

After the verdict, every person, radio commentator, every news program and talk show had a parade of experts on, touting their angle and their opinion. Like our country, the bias for one side or the other was on full display. Media bias

I cringe when I hear people decry the bias of their hometown newspaper or popular cable news network. They are under the assumption that we’re playing by the same journalistic rules that we were 50 years ago.

Back then, there were a few “major” newspapers, three networks, no cable news shows, no internet and no social media. We were all “fed” the same information and didn’t have news sources that catered specifically to our belief system or political persuasion. Of course, there were magazines and newspapers on the fringe of the discussion, but they didn’t have an influence on the culture as a whole.

Now, the situation is very different. Each of us are able to watch, listen, read or surf wherever we want, at the click of a button. It’s much easier to find “information” that caters to our underlying belief system. Unfortunately, that is also what’s behind the polarization of our politics and an increasing gap between fact and reality.

One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself in this information age is to learn how to sort out fact from fiction. Identify a few news sources that you can really trust, and then brush up on your old school investigative methods to sift out the spin.

Here are some of the resources I use to find the information I’m looking for to discern the day’s news.

  • The library. Public libraries are packed with reputable resources. Ask your friendly local librarian for a tour of the reference section. A lot of these databases are available from their online as well.
  • Transcripts: If you’re looking to prove a point, there’s nothing more powerful than an official transcript.
  • Scientific studies by independent sources. Credible sources don’t have a stake in the argument one way or another. One example that comes to mind is the Pew Research Center.
  • Snopes - If you get an email or see a Facebook post that seems a little hokey, especially if it's asking you to believe something you haven't seen in the news, check it on Snopes.com. This website independently verifies whether it's true, false, or somewhere in between.
  • Your own brain. Sometimes if something looks ridiculous, sounds ridiculous, and seems ridiculous, it’s RIDICULOUS. Use your head.

Bottom line, no one is right all of the time. Except my friend Brett Trout on Facebook.



Website redesign vs. new website

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

So you’re thinking your website could use a facelift. How do you figure out exactly what it needs though? Often at Happy Medium, we get asked to do website redesigns, but once we talk to them more we find that what they are really looking for is just a better website solution. Usually people looking for website work either A) don’t have a website or B) have a website and they want something different. Sometimes that means a website redesign, and sometimes it just means starting fresh. So how do you figure out what you need?

It’s important to know your options when considering diving into a website work in general.

If you already have a website, ask yourself these questions:

  • How long has your content been there? Is it still relevant and compelling?

  • How well is your content structured? Websites grow and change, and it’s necessary to re-evaluate your site hierarchy after adding or removing significant types of content.

  • Is your site accessible to modern devices (mobile, tablets, other points of access)? If your site was originally developed more than three to four years ago, your site is probably not mobile-friendly or isn’t taking advantage of the latest technologies (i.e. using images for headings instead of web fonts, which have much more support now).

If your content is mostly outdated, needs to be restructured or your site is not accessible on modern devices, it is a good idea to consider developing a completely new website. This will give you the opportunity to re-evaluate and construct your site’s hierarchy – a very important and functional step in the process of modern, responsive design.

If you just need a facelift (color, font, image and minor copy changes), you are probably OK with a simple refresh/redesign.

We’ve been doing more new websites lately because a lot of companies are coming to the realization of the importance of multi-device friendly websites. Happy Medium produces all websites in responsive design to support that. If you’re asking the questions above it should help you figure out exactly what you’re looking for. If not - check with a web professional and they can help you determine it.

If you want to see a sample of responsive web design - visit www.itsahappymedium.com on multiple devices and you will see what I mean.

Have any questions or thoughts on responsive web design? Tweet me at @interactivekate!


Technology & innovation - What’s your “connected” number?

English: SHARP Smartphone SH-12C Front 日本語: AQ...(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John Stineman is a West Des Moines-based consultant and executive director of the Heartland Technology Alliance. 

A recent analysis in PC Advisor shows that about 2.5 billion people (that’s billion with a “b”) worldwide use the Internet. That’s out of 7 billion. Those are big numbers.

At a recent tech conference, I heard a presenter from Microsoft say that there are now 1.4 connected devices for each person in the world. That’s nearly 10 billion connected devices. Now that’s a really big number.

It starts to get really interesting when you look at the small numbers.

Let’s take a look at the tech essentials in my family’s connected world: smartphones (2), tablets (3), laptops (2), desktop (1), e-reader (1), smart tv (1), smart set-top boxes (2), iPod (1). That’s thirteen for a family of four (two of whom are under the age of ten) – that’s 3.25 per person. And growing.

Those are the things we readily see as connected. What else? Well, for starters, the satellite set-top for our televisions (3), our security system (1) and our gas and electric utility has a connection (1). That’s five more.

What does the future look like? A lot more.

Connected refrigerators (these are already available in stores), connected home surveillance cameras (startup dropcam is aggressively advertising a low-cost solution), connected “household management” services and devices that manage the thermostat, lights and locks, and so on down the line. Cameras are being sold with a 4G connection. Connected cars are on the horizon that not only have Bluetooth connections, but have their own mobile connection. The consumer potential alone is huge, not to mention what it means for commerce (that’ll be a future post).

No wonder mobile Internet traffic is projected to increase 300% by 2017. That’s a good thing, as long as we create an environment that fosters more network build-out than we have today.

So, what’s your connectivity footprint? I’m guessing it’s greater than 1.4.

-John Stineman


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Consistency isn't optional

Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 8.16.28 AM

Drew McLellan is the owner of McLellan Marketing Group

Think of some of the most famous and recognizable advertising marks. How about McDonald’s golden arches? Or Coca Cola’s logo.

Now, imagine for a minute how the golden arches would look if they were blue. Or the Coke logo on a green can. (This blue M outside a McDonald's is in Sedona, AZ)

It’s just wrong, isn’t it?

Companies invest a significant amount of money and effort into creating a brand. A big part of brand awareness and recognition is the visual cues, like color.

If McDonalds and Coke don’t mess with theirs, why in the world would you ever consider changing your logo colors on a whim? Or use different fonts every time you communicate with your key audiences?

And yet businesses and nonprofits do it all the time. If you're guilty -- stop.

Next time you get bored with the look of your company’s identity, put a can of Coke on your desk, or drive by those golden arches.

Then, just leave everything be. Every single time!

~ Drew McLellan, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Not all flappers are created equal

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

Seems my life is all about toilets right now. Most toilets have a flapper that lifts and allows the toilet to flush. In my case, I am plagued with flappers that don’t seal and let water sneak through.

I knew something was going on when my office water consumption doubled. At the same time my water bill at my unlived in home about equals where I live. I called Des Moines Waterworks and was told to check the toilet. Studies show an average house can lose over 10,000 gallons a year from leaky toilets. That’s about 1,200 cubic feet or two months of water for my house.

Waterworks recommended an easy test. Get some food coloring and pour it into your tank.  If the water in the bowl is the same color after about 15 minutes, you have a flapper problem. I did it on the 12 toilets in my life and found three that did not pass the test.   

So it was off to the hardware store. I was amazed at the choices of flappers.  Ones where a rubber ring is glued to the porcelain for a better seal, red cone-shaped ones, and ones with different weights for just the right time delay before it covers the hole. 

I went with the Hornet-made flapper with soft pliable plastic rather than hard plastic, able to adapt to several installation conditions and a plastic chain which does not kink. It even had a cover over the hook so it would not get tangled.   

If you have a similar toilet story let me know at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

-Rob Smith

Getting it right with direct mail

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

I'll admit it: As a retailer, I have a hard time with direct mail.

Not philosophically. Direct mail as a marketing tool can be as powerful for small businesses as it is for national brands.

I struggle with it logistically and from a return-on-investment standpoint, because direct mail is an expensive thing to do. In other words, I want to make sure I'm doing it at the right times in my marketing cycle to get the best value for the money I'm going to spend.

Direct mail is like everything else I do when I market my store, the Heart of Iowa Market Place in historic Valley Junction. That means I ask myself some pointed questions before I do it. In the case of direct mail, those questions are:

  • To whom am I sending it?
  • Why am I sending it to them?
  • What do I expect to get from it?
  • What do I expect my ROI to be?
  • And, is it part of an overall strategy?

Too many businesses try a shotgun approach, such as sending direct mail to every single "current resident" in a particular zip code. That's not going to be an effective use of money for a small retailer.

My reasons for sending direct mail to particular customers or potential customers might be to promote a particular offer or keep the Heart of Iowa on the top of their mind.

My most recent campaign included three postcards over the course of several weeks to about 2,500 past and potential business customers in line with my ongoing strategy to create more business-to-business opportunities. The cards were mailed over the course of several weeks with one message communicated three ways.

Whatever the goal of a direct mail campaign, it has part of an overall strategy. Our direct mail is used to connect the dots -- and stay connected with customers -- between our catalogs, seasonal advertising, Facebook and email messaging. It's another way to touch current and prospective customers.

Businesspeople are very busy. They have a lot on their minds. I want them thinking about my business. So you've got to reach them in different ways. Direct mail is one way to do that.

If you don't have a direct mail component in your annual marketing strategy -- or worse yet, if you don't have an annual marketing strategy yet -- you seriously should block out time in the next few weeks and think about what you have to gain and how to do it effectively.

-Kelly Sharp

Health care taxes: what's delayed, what isn't

Joe Kristan is a CPA at Roth & Company P.C.

Last week, an obscure Treasury official released a surprise announcement via blog post that President Barack Obama's Administration won't enforce the penalties on "large" employers who fail to provide "essential" health coverage until 2015. The penalties were slated to take effect in 2014.

The announcement was greeted with relief by many employers trying to figure out how to deal with the penalties; 2013 employment levels would have determined which employers were "large" (50 "full-time equivalent" employees). It probably also was a relief to many folks at 50-employee companies who were on the bubble. But it also caused confusion about whether other Obamacare rules would be delayed. Sadly, no (for the most part).

The only other major component of the Affordable Care Act that will be delayed are some verification requirements for individuals applying for health insurance subsidies

Some things that are not delayed, at least as of now:

In other words, most of Obamacare is still in effect, for now.  Plan accordingly.

-Joe Kristan

What is SEO?

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

Digital marketing can include a lot of acronyms. One of them you’ve probably heard somewhere is SEO. So, what is SEO?

The letters stand for Search Engine Optimization. The basic definition of search engine optimization is increasing the odds that your website will appear near the top of search engine results pages for desired keyword phrases.

SEO has changed a lot in the past few years with various algorithm updates by Google and Bing. It used to be done by stuffing keywords in different areas of the page and in the copy of the website. This is now frowned upon, and Google will actually penalize your site for using these old “black hat” techniques.

Today SEO is all about content quality on your site, as well as trustworthiness. Search engines now start paying attention to:

  • How long people stay on your site

  • If they almost immediately return to SERP (search engine results page) after visiting your webpage (signaling irrelevant content)

  • Visit more than one page

  • Are people sharing your site on social media accounts? (Facebook, Twitter, Google+)

Google also just announced they’ll be penalizing sites that aren’t mobile-friendly or using bad techniques on mobile. Things like responsive design and properly loading mobile-optimized content help prevent these penalizations.

How do you get started with SEO for your business? CONTENT, CONTENT, CONTENT. Create a frequent blog, post resources and articles (that are RELEVANT to your website and company), and engage your visitors so they spend time on the pages and share the content with others.

Or, you can always hire an SEO company. If you’re a business owner you’ve undoubtedly fielded a phone call or two from someone “guaranteeing you top rankings on Google for just $X/month.” At Happy Medium, we do not do monthly billing for SEO. We have noticed that if it’s done right from the beginning, it really shouldn’t need monthly maintenance.

Also, beware of people making “promises” of where your website will be on Google. If they don’t own Google, they probably shouldn’t be making promises about it. Finally, if you want to see what the company knows about SEO - just Google something they offer as one of their services. That will be the best example of their own work. For example, if you search for “Des Moines Advertising Agency” you’ll find Happy Medium towards the top. Why? Because we know what we’re doing. So do your research on the company you’re hiring, because if they can’t even do SEO for themselves, how can they do it for you?

Follow me on Twitter @interactivekate and @itsahappymedium for more SEO tips.


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