The Fruits of Labor

American food culture has undergone a very positive transformation even against the increased cost of eating well. Following the 1980s and 90s, a time during which a shift was made towards processed foods that were cheaper, faster, and more abundant, an increased percentage of American society is more focused on sustainability, locavorism, and organic eating initiatives.

Suffering through those decades when demand for fresh foods was at an all-time low, many farms were forced to reduce production and staff, or shut down operations completely.  Farmers who managed to survive the down period have taken a creative entrepreneurial approach.

Diversification of the ‘farm business’ is a mandatory ingredient in the recipe for maintaining not only the business side of farm operations, but also for preserving the relationships between people and their food. While many floundered, some farmers envisioned a different approach to sustaining their businesses. Beginning with the reestablishment of the idea of the Farmer’s Market, where farms and the community come together directly, more creative ideas for saving the industry began to emerge.

In 2002, the Full Moon Coop gathered several small operations and combined them to form an alliance of farmers dedicated to addressing the issues they all faced together. The resulting partnership gave way to collaborative projects including popular ‘farm-to-table’ restaurants Farm 255 in Athens, GA and Farmburger in Atlanta, GA, which provided the farmers with steady business as well as an alternative revenue stream. Some farms such as Gizdich Farms in Watsonville, CA, chose to diversify by expanding into operations such as farm tours, public access for peach or apple picking, or cooking classes using farm fresh ingredients. Others saw a niche in the specialty foods market and began packaging and selling prepared  jams and pickles with recipes that had been handed down from generation to generation, capitalizing on demand and helping kick-start another stage of the food revolution.

Making any business work amidst a trying economic climate takes a special level of dedication and strategy.  Farms such as those that have mutually fueled and benefitted from the current food revolution have shown that creativity and a willingness to take risks and diversify can pay dividends.

A Dangerous #Occupation

Social media platforms have been flooded with tweets, status updates, images, and videos tagged or associated with the #Occupy movement.  A majority of the content is harmless, but in recent days attention is being drawn to seriously provocative or incriminating content against one or both sides. Protesters and authorities operate aware that their actions are being publicly broadcasted through these outlets. The world is recognizing that through the vast size and power of these platforms, one tweet or a few seconds of video footage have the potential to cause irreparable damage to the reputation of an individual or an organization.

Aside from messages of political charge and class unrest, one dramatic message that the #Occupy movements have brought to light is the fact that social media remains largely unregulated in its relative infancy. For years, the FCC and the FTC have tightly regulated advertising to prevent false information, defamation, slander, and other kinds of damaging information, whether founded or unfounded.  These rules generally do well to protect brands from attacks across traditional media, but the same cannot be said about social networks. In the online space, users are able to criticize others with great freedom.

Accordingly, brands must engage social media with a certain level of trepidation; careful measures must be taken to ensure that the message broadcast to these enormous and greatly diverse audience is consistent and authentic. Whereas the advertising realm has become formalized and civilized, the battle for beneficial digital or social media marketing is more akin to a turf war. One misstep can be highly destructive to brand affecting customer loyalty. The volatility of the #Occupy movement should be a warning signal for brands.  Social media is a powerful yet unstable force, and will remain so until the regulatory environment matures.

Oh, The Horror!

Years after the internet gave birth to ‘viral’ marketing, the industry is experiencing the early stages of a cultural shift: the use of memes to push commercial interests. Memes, ideas or behaviors that spread from person to person in a social environment, are now being communicated mostly through the media and the internet.  The impact is significant to consumers, whether consumers are aware if it or not.

Traditionally, scary themes would make an appearance around Halloween.  And yet, now, these prominent memes no longer resurface just for Trick or Treat.  Vampires of both the horrific and harmless variety have become increasingly prevalent subject matter in books, television, and film, spawning a ‘vampire mania’ and creating numerous successful media franchises. Borders Books, although closed, had an entire section dedicated to “Teen Paranormal Romance.”  TV shows such as AMC’s The Walking Dead capitalize on society’s fascination with the idea of a zombie apocalypse. This premise is so powerful that it has fueled an entire segment of the film industry for nearly 50 years following 1968’s Night of the Living Dead.  Fear of the supernatural, the mysterious, and the macabre is an experience shared by all people, making these subjects appealing and easily relatable for audiences. Leveraging this idea, publishers and studios become wildly successful as these series garner remarkable followings.

Not every meme needs to become incredibly popular to achieve some commercial success. Meme creation and promotion is geared to many of the same goals as viral marketing, meaning that often times, a meme may only create a small but very solid following, which can constitute effective internet marketing in certain niches.

So as All Hallow’s Eve approaches, consider how effectively many businesses utilize memes in marketing. Campaigns built upon these ideas work because they are tuned to experiences that are shared by users. Make a connection with these touchstones and tap deeper into a market.  And watch out for zombies!

Serenity Now

As an entrepreneur, stress levels are typically high.  On any given day, it could be launching a new website, product, or marketing campaign; dealing with customers, reconciling financials, or hiring new employees.  Working around the clock becomes the norm to the chagrin of friends and family who are competing for a portion of that time.  The daily grind becomes a labor not a love.

There is truth in the expression that the night is darkest just before dawn.  Even the most seasoned and hardened entrepreneurs or business owners become vulnerable to the pressure.

In lieu of a spa day or a round of golf, here are a few tips for enduring long days:

1. Switch Gears: Step away from the computer.  Take a break from the office if only to run an errand, have coffee with a friend, or get in a quick workout.  It’s like hitting a reset button.

2. Ask for Help: Reach out to like minded folks or family. Don’t be afraid to share ideas, strategies, or challenges. It’s ok to ask for advice. Leverage the support system in place to find a fresh perspective.

3. Trust Your Instinct: Starting and growing a business isn’t just about strategy but also instinct.  Trust that it will guide decisions.

4. Look Ahead: Take a look at the big picture.  Instead of placing emphasis only on pressing goals, objectives, daily tasks, etc., celebrate the achievements, no matter how small.

Don’t Be Content with Bad Content

In the digital age, where competition for consumer’s attention is high, reinforcing existing brand value and establishing loyalties is vital to the success of any brand. The creation and distribution of highly customized content, such as blogs, videos, and advertisements, serve as a blend of journalism and marketing designed to engage consumers at every brand touchpoint.

Well-targeted content is an incredibly powerful catalyst for driving traffic. Users seeking extended interaction can bolster a brand’s position in the space, but with identifying more than 170,000,000 blogs in existence and YouTube hosting billions of hours of video, content must be both attention-grabbing and carefully tailored in order to break through and truly captivate an audience.

Comcast’s Xfinity page offers the company’s 14 million plus subscribers with a large selection of original news, sports, and entertainment videos that are heavily branded within their own embedded media player. The content is juxtaposed with the users’ email access, keeping them on that page. This is the modern evolution of the approach taken by AOL when it dominated the ISP market, combining the primary services of the application (email, chat, and web browsing) with a portal for extended engagement using news headlines, games, and other multimedia.

Companies like Nike, Burger King, and Yahoo! all have leveraged branded custom websites for targeted ad campaigns, drawing existing customers into deeper relationships with their respective brands. ESPN, already a powerful media originator, recently launched its supplementary Grantland website, where users can find extended reading, broadening their interactions with the sports news giant.

Even small and startup businesses can benefit from creating or sourcing custom content. A few important tips to follow:

Be original. There is little motivation for a reader to choose a blog over a major media outlet if the story is the same.

Deliver value. Be diligent to include relevant statistics, infographics, and visual enhancements to tell users something relevant and new.

Focus on the target audience. The research and the voice in which the content is presented should fit the philosophy and interests of the users.

Invite discussion. The internet is the ultimate social platform. Include users in the conversation to give them a voice, encouraging advocacy for the brand.

Whether you decide to manage content generation or hire an external firm, focus on providing meaningful and engaging content to grow brand affinity and attract new audiences. It is time well spent.

Marketing Spend: Maximize. Optimize. Measure.

Companies have shifted focus from growth to sustainability as the economy rebounds and recovers.  As seen with the financial giants, even the largest and most powerful companies are searching for strategies to maximize spend across all business units, especially marketing/advertising.

Fortune 500 companies depend on marketing dollars to raise awareness, capture market share, and meet shareholder expectations. In fact, Forrester Research reports that by 2016, companies will spend more than $77B annually on interactive marketing alone.

It may be obvious that small and midsize businesses must tread particularly carefully during trying financial times, and yet even the largest and most powerful organizations are not immune from the effects of an economic downturn. The greatest issue facing well established businesses in the current recession is that traditional cost-containment approaches that have helped in the past have proven to be insufficient this time around.

As such, multinational corporations and even Fortune 500 companies have been forced to reevaluate their needs. By magnifying the focus on internal auditing, these large companies are seeking to streamline spending, attempting to develop solutions that are more thoughtful and proactive than reactionary measures such as layoffs.

As corporations meticulously examine their budgets, they are finding existing partnerships and processes that are costly and inefficient, which under normal circumstances would go unnoticed. The recession has uncovered these flawed relationships, compelling companies to seek more sustainable, cost-effective alternatives. Here is how:

  • Design newer, leaner processes to achieve effective result as a much wiser expenditure for the long-term.
  • Assess expenditures and compare against industry average.
  • Identify new partners who have billable rates equitable to the quality of the work.
  • Engage a partner focused on driving impact with effective solutions rather than taking a carte blanche approach.
  • Measure. Measure. Measure.

Operating under the constraints of a difficult financial environment can make a business more effective. A 2009 study by the Kauffman Foundation showed that more than half of the companies on the Fortune 500 list had been founded under gloomy financial circumstances. Such success stories illustrate that diligence in adapting, rather than slashing marketing spend has proven powerful for businesses both large and small.