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“A Regional Open House of New Ideas.”

May 6, 2011 - Ernest Hohmeyer
I had an epiphany.

May is a hot time for garage sales. As nature creates new life, there is a sense of getting rid of the old. We often swirl with the spring winds to open up our windows and doors and there is a renewed energy to get outside and breathe new air.

I often thought that spring is a good time for businesses and community organizations to have their own spring cleaning: to look at the old ways of doing things and to examine new ideas. So here is one: a community or better yet, region-wide business garage sale.

But wait - it’s not what you think.

Yes, it would be a good time to sell things at a reduced price – and it certainly would be a good kick-off to the spring business season – but it’s much more than that.

Inspire New Ideas While the incentive for customers would be to know that stores are selling things at a reduced price, it is really more about “A regional open house of new ideas.” The theme could be “Come and see what’s new in your spring backyard.”

Further, wouldn’t it be great if we could create a community-wide customer feedback opportunity as well? 3 questions, no more, on “How we are doing; what other things would you like to see here, or in the community; and what do you think about our new idea(s)?” If you fill it out, sponsoring businesses could throw in a prize that could be raffled off to benefit charitable community causes. One of the best ways to gather market intelligence is from folks that walk in your door.

Then, wouldn’t it be great to tabulate the results region-wide? Wow, that could help to identify possible new business opportunities for the community.

Can you imagine if the business communities of Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake as well as the outlying communities became involved? It could be one of the biggest sales and giveaway event of the year – a spring destination activity.

Perhaps in this region-wide “Come and see what’s new,” there could be celebrations and special business and community development programs put on after hours by the Clarkson Business Center, the local chambers, AEDC, ANCA and others.

It’s a way to plant the business seeds for summer…there could be music, an arts festival, food demos…okay I’m getting carried away here.

Speak Above the Din I bring up this idea as today it seems you constantly need to “look fresh” to stay on top of the search engines and an ever expanding portal of on-line competitors.

To rise above the crowded information highway, it seems we need to remind our customers more often than we used to, just to let them know we are here and this is what’s new.

As gas prices continue to climb and traveling habits change, shoppers and vacationers may be trying to consolidate their trips and pack in more diverse activities than ever. We may also need to become ambassadors for each other. When there is a product or service we don’t have, to be aware ourselves, that there are other local businesses, including your competitors, who may have what they need. It may help to keep them local.

Another by-product of a regional open house is an embellished resource guide we could all access, perhaps fashioned by the ADE. There could be feature stories leading up to the event through a dedicated business page.

As we are trying to do with the Adirondack Arts & Heritage Festival, it may become important to consolidate and coordinate events so there is a diversity of activities for all types of customers/visitors, and that we look and act like a unique destination.

A Business Garage Sale of Ideas Anytime you have a garage sale, you often wrestle with what to throw out and what to keep. It may be the same if you are local government, a community organization or a business mulling over new ideas. As you ponder how these new ideas affects what you are currently doing as well as your customer’s perception of who you are, there is often a tendency to add these to an already full plate. Tensions run high as sometimes resources are limited or in fact declining. Like a pack rat, we don’t like to give up anything fearing we may lose customers until we either become stressed out or start doing so many things, quality begins to slip.

. The great news is that many of the ways to get the word out is affordable for our micro-enterprises because a great deal of it is “free.”

But watch out, you know what they say ‘there is nothing really for free.” After all, much of the new social media marketing takes only our time and not our money right?

Small businesses and community organizations are often too good at devaluing their time forgetting that it may be the only thing we have that makes a difference between success and failure. We sometimes sell it too cheap or at the expense of effectively managing other parts of our business.

As the new marketing explodes with Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, interactive web sites, blogs, YouTube and too many others, we may feel we have to jump on board them all. After all, much of its free right - why not? However, you can’t access all the channels of the new marketing and thus the question becomes: What channels do YOUR customers use?

As we receive more information, we are tending to discard that which does not appeal to us.

Choose Wisely Not all social media may be created equally for your business. In the book, the New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott, he talks about “Smart marketers understand buyers, and many build formal “buyer personas” for their target demographics.” Further, if we “break buyers into distinct groups and then catalog everything we know about each one, we make it easier to create content targeted to each important demographic.”

It goes back to the goals of your plan whether it is to attract new members or new on-line sales and knowing the “buyer personas” of each.

Scott continues, “There are literally thousands of social networking sites out there, and it is simply impossible to be active in all of them.” He asks further, “Where are the members of your buyer personas?”

In other words, which one reaches YOUR customer effectively and what should it say?

I sometimes get so lost in the different social media gadgets that I forget they are only a tool to help your organizational goals. Why are you doing this? What are the needs you hope to resolve? Who are the types of people that need what you have to offer? How will you reach them? How will you convince them to buy what you are selling? And finally are there enough of them willing to buy at your price to put food on your table?

I am not intimidated anymore. After all of this research, I realize that is all about marketing 101, but done in a completely different way.

If we can’t do it all, then how do we do focus our efforts as a community and business?

A “regional open house of new ideas”/ business garage sale, themed by “Come and see what’s new in your spring backyard…” What do you think about this idea anyway?


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