Monday, January 8, 2018

Healthy Organizations Actually Solicit Input

Not long ago, many co-op directors and management groups would actually duck member input. Everybody breathed a sigh of relief if the final gavel fell at the annual members meeting without anyone rising to make a comment—especially a complaint. “No news is good news,” was the consensus. “We’re safe for another year.”

I ought to know. I’ve been employed as a member relations director for a local cooperative and I’ve worked in the field of co-op communications for over 40 years. But that’s not how it is anymore.

Co-ops are consolidating at a record pace. The healthy co-ops usually come out on top. These are the ones who regularly take an organizational check of their member-customers—and their employees. They ASK for comments, and they USE the information they get.

VistaComm is privileged to have several of these co-ops as clients.

The CEO of one client, a local agronomy and energy cooperative, regularly solicits customer input at the end of his newsletter article. “My door is always open,” he states.

This client not only maintains an open-door policy, but proactively solicits member input every 3-4 years. Their customer surveys ask telling questions like, “What do we do well?” and tough questions like, “What could we do better?” The co-op sticks its neck out by giving member-owners a voice and promising our “board and management will use the results of our member surveys to guide our decisions.” They’ve been asking for customer input to help direct the future course of the company for the past 12 years.

Not surprisingly, this medium-sized company has flourished among the giants, even in a tough ag economy, as it listened to its members’ advice to provide them exceptional service and innovation.

This company also regularly solicits input (also in the form of a survey) from its employees. Because VistaComm manages the survey assuring complete anonymity, this co-op has been able to get 100% of its employees to participate.

What about you? Could your organization use a health check?

VistaComm can help with:

  • Teasers, news articles and cover letters promoting your surveys
  • Design and administration of both print and electronic survey instruments
  • Third-party follow-up to assure maximum participation
  • Tabulation and cross correlation of results in an easy-to-use format

To find out how our services can help you gather the information you need to put your company “back in the pink” contact VistaComm today.

Source Here: Healthy Organizations Actually Solicit Input

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Acknowledging Your Customers for the Holidays

‘Tis the season to show your appreciation for those who make your business tick, the bread and butter of your profits. 2018 is on the horizon, and what an opportunity to share a small token in recognition of the year gone by. Read on for guidance in selecting the best notion for your customer list.

Determine your ‘love’ list

All this talk might have you wondering how to pay homage to such an important relationship, especially when there may be 1000s of customers to recognize. The first step is to determine how many you would like to thank. Is there a core set of customers who account for a majority of your business? If so, maybe it makes sense to create a more personal, physical gift—one that’s delivered. Is your customer list significantly more in number? Well, you’re in luck! Social media, email marketing and the online world make it easy to reach a broad audience. Consider current customers, prospects, sub-contractors and vendors.

Quantify your budget

Putting a price tag on appreciation can be the trickiest part of any gift-giving scenario—after all, these relationships are what make your world go ‘round. But alas, it must be done. Determine how much capital, and, most importantly, TIME you can afford to spend on this task. This will help make the final choice in this equation.

Find the best fit for your audience

YouTube Video: If you’re looking for an option with a very personal touch, custom messaging and easy distribution, a recorded message involving key players or the entire staff may be a good fit. This can be easily distributed to a large audience through social media and email marketing fairly economically. This content would also be very trackable.

Email: Depending on your budget and audience, this may take several different forms. A large audience may call for a templated emailed with some personalization fields. A custom email written by you might make more sense for a short email list. Either way, content options abound for this channel and can fit just about any budget and audience. Keep in mind, this messaging can carry through to your website!

Postcard or Holiday Card: Most offices receive oodles of holiday mail circulate around the building this time of year. It’s a classic that can be as unique, budget-friendly and personal as you care to make it. Consider integrating a unique feature. Confetti? Hand-written signatures? Interactive content?

Gift: This can take on SO MANY shapes and sizes. But my best advice—make it useful. Each year VistaComm conducts an employee photo contest that we then publish into a desktop calendar to share with our clients during the holiday season. It’s rewarding for our employees to share their talents in a new way, and to see their work on display when visiting clients! Alternatives might involve inviting them to your location for a free gift. Or, if you work B2B with an office anything like ours, food deliveries are always a hit!

Offer a Compelling Reward: This option walks a thin line between selling and thanking, but done properly, this can be a valued offer for both parties involved. Make sure the reward is worthy of your appreciation. Keep the reason for your offer in mind—it shouldn’t be given with the main intention of boosting sales and profits. But ultimately, your customer loves what your business offers, so they’ll be delighted to have additional access to these resources! Check out a few examples.

Host an Event: If your clientele is near, invite them in and show them a good time! This option may tend toward the pricier side, but no doubt can show the full breadth of your appreciation.

Donate to a charity: The heartfelt action of providing for those in need, especially during the holidays when those needs are most apparent, can be a rewarding gift for all involved in the giving gesture. Consider choosing a local charity, one that aligns with your business or a charity chosen by your customer. But no matter your choice, make sure to share the story of your giving. Maybe make this donation in the name of your customer for an extra personal touch.


It’s such a gift in itself to have a customer to show appreciation for. Don’t overlook these important relationships this holiday season. This is not a ‘selling’ opportunity, but rather a chance to strengthen your brand. Keeping your message pure and focused, void of marketing language now, can boost marketing efforts down the road. If you’re looking for more ideas or help in assembling the perfect appreciation, don’t delay—contact VistaComm today! After all, Christmas is less than 39 days away!

Contact us today

 

Read More Here: Acknowledging Your Customers for the Holidays

Thursday, November 9, 2017

When Is It Time for a Website Refresh?

Perhaps this upcoming New Year has you doing more than updating your resolutions. When is the last time you did an audit of your company website? We all know the power of owning a website lies in its ability to share up-to-the-minute information about your company. After all, your site’s ability to grow and fluctuate with your business is one of its best assets.

Some might find that this fluidity makes it difficult to discern when a website needs a little more TLC that just some updated news stories, though. Here are some guidelines to determining when your site needs an overhaul.

Does your site look great on your laptop… and your tablet… and your phone?

Technology presenting a good-looking website at any size on any device has been in use for quite some time now. If your site isn’t utilizing this, stop reading right now—your site needs to be translated into a responsive, user-friendly format PRONTO!

Is the identity of your company still consistent with what it was when you launched the site?

When you first launched your site, (hopefully) a lot of care and coordination ensured the look-and-feel of your website best portrayed what your company was about at the time. While your brand principals will likely remain unchanged, over time you may evolve other parts of your brand identity—think colors, taglines, overall look-and-feel and social media links. Maybe the rugged, historic nature of your previous look has been replaced with a more modern approach in your other materials. Your website should reflect these updates.

Is your content current?

How many times in a week are your employees receiving a call from a user looking for something on your website? Or maybe, how often are they requesting something that could be delivered via the website, but isn’t today? Having outdated content can negatively influence your user’s perception of your company. Make sure any new services or locations are incorporated within the appropriate sections on your website. Are your images dated? A professional photographer capturing the best side of your employees, facilities and services might add a lot of value to not only your website, but other communication pieces as well.

What is analytics telling you?

Analytics is a great free service that run behind the scenes of your website. They track valuable information like who your primary user groups are, what devices they are viewing your website from, where they are spending the most time and how are they finding you. This can be very revealing over time and prove a great source for action items on website improvements. If you notice shifts in particular areas (good or bad) it can guide you on where to make adjustments on your site.

Can you make updates to your site easily?

Having a Content Management System (CMS) that allows you to adjust your site over time can help keep your site from getting stale sooner than it should. If your current provider charges you for every change you’d like to make, it might be time to find a partner that has a more inclusive package with content updates included or a system in place that allows you to make them yourself. Remove any barriers between you and your ability to keep your site fresh and current.

Listen to your customers.

Most customers are not shy when it comes to letting you know something isn’t meeting their expectations. The level of technology in our world today keeps user expectations high. Does your site load too slowly? Is there information missing? Don’t brush these comments aside. Your outdated website could drive users towards the competition.

Assess the mess

Can you identify with one or more of the points above? If so, it’s time to consider making some updates. The next question is how much work does your website really need? Start the New Year out right with a website that corresponds with your company goals and objectives for 2018. Contact VistaComm today to discuss how we can help update your content, look-and-feel or even launch an all-new site website today.

Contact us today

Original Post Here: When Is It Time for a Website Refresh?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Top 7 Tips to Speak Human

Ever watch reruns of The Dating Game? On each episode, a bachelorette would ask questions to each of the three bachelors, who were hidden from her view. The men’s replies helped the bachelorette decide which guy to date.

The men whose comments came off as arrogant, self-absorbed, or boring rarely fared well. Those who sounded personable, intriguing, and intelligent often won the date. No surprise there, right?

That’s the power of speaking human. It works just as well in business as it did on The Dating Game.

Speaking human captures people’s attention. It helps form an instant connection with your clients and prospects. Above all, it sparks “ah-ha” moments where people say, “This company gets me.”

Speaking human also sets you apart from the competition and can help grow your business, especially in a world cluttered with information overload.

7 tips to speak human

So how to do you connect with customers and prospects in a real way? Try these 7 tips:

  1. Write the way you talk. What’s your company all about and why should anyone care? Too often, companies use verbiage like this: “In 1990, the company was restructured with a specific goal in mind: Building a responsive member-driven information system that delivers value.” Not very engaging, right? It’s not even easy to decipher. What if it were written like this? “You need the right software to increase your efficiency and save you money. For nearly 30 years, we’ve designed cost-effective solutions that can be tailored to your specific needs.” Same information, but much easier to understand. Speaking human makes it much more likely that your audience will listen and take action.
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  2. Simplify the complex. Too often companies complicate what they’re trying to say. It's the simplicity of our favorite communicators, brands, and products that build loyalty, because we get what they’re saying. Granted, it takes a lot of hard work to make something so complex look so simple. Some call it brilliance. I call it speaking human.
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  3. Unleash the power of stories. One of the best ways to simplify the complex is to tell a story. In business, a story or case study can describe a real-life challenge, detail your solution, and show the benefits that resulted from this solution. Consider stories and case studies the ultimate “power tools” to speak human
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  4. Mix it up. Storytelling is an art and a science. When you’re sharing stories and case studies, speak to the head and the heart. A story well-told will capture the imagination, while a story supported with relevant data can convince the mind. Both elements help create messages that address people’s deepest needs and position you as the expert who can help.
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  5. Don’t be afraid to reveal that (gasp!) you’re not perfect. It’s so tempting to portray everything as perfect, totally under control, no problems. Real life isn’t perfect, though. Your clients know this. While you don’t want to come off as incompetent, there is a time and a place to reveal an area of vulnerability, especially if this issue has been addressed and corrected. When an ag cooperative’s earnings were lower than expected, this company used an article in its newsletter to explain that tight grain margins were a big part of the challenge. The article also highlighted other measures of financial strength that were driven by the co-op’s skilled, dedicated team. That’s speaking human.
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  6. Beware of the curse of knowledge. You’re intimately familiar with your company’s products and services. In fact, you’re such an expert on them that it’s probably hard for you to remember what it was like not to know everything about them, right? This is the curse of knowledge, and it can make it tough for you to explain your product to non-experts—i.e., your customers and prospects. Speaking human helps you overcome the curse of knowledge, because it encourages you to think like your audience and communicate in ways that connects with them.
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  7. Seek someone outside your company to help. Speaking human may sound like a “duh” concept, but it can be extremely difficult to do. Why? We all get stuck in our silos where we only see the world from our perspective. Your world is not your target audience’s world, though. What keeps your clients and prospects up at night? What do they aspire to? If your marketing doesn’t speak to these needs, your messages will fall flat. At best, they’ll be ignored. At worst, you’ll sound tone deaf and drive customers away. Often an outside perspective is the only effective way to help you break out of your silo, identify connections that will help you speak human and create messages that resonate.
    .

Ready to speak human? VistaComm’s team of journalists, designers and marketers are here to help you craft messages that create a match between you and your ideal customers. Just contact us, and we’ll set up a time to chat. It’s a date!

Top 10 Tips to speak human

See More Here: Top 7 Tips to Speak Human

Friday, October 27, 2017

2017 VistaComm Photo Contest Winners

Every year VistaComm holds an internal photo contest among its associates. A different theme is chosen each year to ensure that the photos have a similar feel. This is a fun way to show off our talents, and have a little friendly competition at the same time. All of the photos go into our library of images used in various VistaComm publications, while the top photos find their way into a calendar we send to our clients each year. Congratulations to Darcy Maulsby who took home 3 out of the top 4 spots in our voting-a pretty impressive feat when you consider you can only submit 3 photos for voting!


1ST PLACE

DARCY MAULSBY: Native grasses and wildlife habitat co-exist enhance this farm just down the road from where I live, reminding me that both conservation and production agriculture are essential components of the countryside.

Darcy Maulsby 1st place photo

 


2ND PLACE

BURKE PERRY: My son and I had been running around the countryside trying to get some "golden light" shots of wheat harvest. We managed to track down some combines and get some nice shots. This was just a scene that appeared as we were headed home after sunset. Good end to a good day...and some really rich twilight.

Burke Perry 2nd place photo

 


3RD PLACE (TIE)

DARCY MAULSBY: If you didn't know this was corn, you might wonder why this structure appears to be "buried" in the shifting desert sands. Truly a bountiful harvest here in the Iowa countryside.

Darcy Maulsby 3rd place photo

 


3RD PLACE (TIE)

DARCY MAULSBY: The fact that someone felt patriotic enough to display a flag at the end of their lane near this pasture inspired patriotism in me, too. With the bales in the background, this image reflects the independence that defines America, especially rural America.

Darcy Maulsby 3rd place photo

Involving employees, and even your community, in a contest is a great way to generate photos, videos and stories that you can use in your marketing and communication efforts.

To our clients: Be on the lookout for next year's calendar, featuring these photos and more, as we head into the holiday season.

See More Here: 2017 VistaComm Photo Contest Winners

Friday, October 20, 2017

Grassroots Approach to Ag Marketing

Michigan Growers Promote Agriculture From the Ground Up

[caption id="attachment_3254" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Carole and Red Christofferson Carole and Red Christofferson enjoy sharing knowledge about agriculture with their customers.[/caption]

Carole and Red Christofferson love their farm, and agriculture in general. The former high school teachers bought their farm 50 years ago just outside of Ludington, Michigan, on the sandy, rolling hillsides about five miles from Lake Michigan. Today, Christofferson Farms produces some of the most beautiful fruit you’ll find in western Michigan, including peaches, sweet and tart cherries, plums, apples, raspberries, blackberries and more.

Ag Marketing Starts On the Farm.

[caption id="attachment_3255" align="alignleft" width="375"]Christofferson Farms Sign Christofferson Farms is a member of Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP)—a voluntary program that helps farms prevent or minimize agricultural pollution risks.[/caption]

The Christoffersons are active participants in the Mason & Oceana County Agricultural Trail—a group of 17 ag-related businesses and sites in the two counties located on the shores of Lake Michigan. The group’s purpose is to spread the word about this unique agricultural area that includes 1,000+ farms covering over 206,000 acres. And given the fact that only 2% of Americans live on working farms, the Christoffersons believe it’s important to share knowledge about the current state of farming.

“We love telling people about our crops and our farm,” says Carole, who has been selling fresh fruit from Christofferson Farms at the farmers market in Midland, MI, for the last 30 summers.

With the help of Red’s science knowledge from 25 years teaching high school chemistry, Christofferson Farms takes a progressive approach to sourcing and growing the best varieties. “We ordered 200 trees to plant next spring,” says Red, who will turn 80 in January.

The Christoffersons have three employees—all of whom have been with them 20 years. Their young grandson is now part of the farm venture, growing and selling pumpkins and squash with guidance from his granddad. So when local residents or tourists stop by the farm to pick berries or fruit, they’re getting the products of a true family farm.

ag marketing statsYear-Round Commitment to Agriculture.

Though it’s a very busy growing season at Christofferson Farms from about April through September, Carole and Red enjoy relaxing winters in Yuma, AZ. But it’s not a total break from agriculture. Yuma is known as the “winter lettuce capital of the world,” supplying 90% of the nation's leafy vegetables between November and March. “We just really enjoy following ag,” says Carole, who serves on a committee promoting agriculture in the Yuma area.

Click here for more information about Christofferson Farms.


Whether it’s a small family orchard or a major regional cooperative, VistaComm’s ag journalists like Jane Wooldridge really know…and love…agriculture. Want to tap into this ag marketing expertise? Contact VistaComm today at 800-657-8070 to start the conversation.

Contact us today

Article Source Here: Grassroots Approach to Ag Marketing

Friday, October 6, 2017

Why I Love Road Trips

[caption id="attachment_298" align="alignright" width="300"]Burke Perry Burke Perry, Senior Journalist[/caption]

So, let’s get this out of the way right up front. This is not an impartial, detached analysis of the value of road trips in the marketing business. I absolutely love them. Not a little bit. A lot. Especially in the spring, summer and fall. During an upper Midwest winter, maybe not so much.

In my opinion, our clients conduct their business in some of the prettiest locations in the United States. Yes, I’m partial to farm country and small towns.

If you have the opportunity to drive (yes, opportunity—I hate flying), you have the chance to detach from the daily routine, observe the countryside, watch for unexpected photo opportunities and, in my case, eat food that can significantly shorten your life expectancy (Yes, officer, that is a giant tub of cheese balls). I rely on GPS, but I still carry my Rand McNally Atlas—brand new 2017 edition.

But enough about the personal benefits. What do road trips deliver from a writer’s—and a company’s—perspective?

Montana wheat harvest at sunset

To me, there’s value in getting my face in front of our clients. It shows we care enough to stop in. It lets me see the country they cover, meet them and the people they work with, see what’s changing in their part of the world…and what’s just the same as the last time.

Sure, you can talk about growing conditions and new employees over the phone. But there’s something about face-to-face contact that tends to bring out the best in people. That’s how you uncover the little nuggets of personal information that take a story from average to exceptionally readable.

Where stories are born

I recently had the opportunity to make my annual visit to a client in Montana. Although I flew there (that’s another story, and another reason I hate to fly), I did get to tool around some of the most gorgeous country on earth for several days.

rocky mountain backdrop

On these trips, I’m constantly impressed with how friendly and courteous our clients are—and how knowledgeable. They know their stuff, and really appreciate it when you show a genuine interest and do a decent job of communicating their message. In time, you can become a little like a member of the staff.

Then there are the stories. Like the retiring location manager I visited on my Montana junket. Though he was a Montana native and had been working at the cooperative for 20 years, there was a lot more to his story. He’d been stationed in the Mediterranean while serving in the Navy, built sailboats in California, worked as a commercial crab fisherman in Alaska, and was planning to spend his retirement years mining gold in the Sierra Nevadas.

Would I have gotten all that over the phone? Maybe. But having the chance to sit down with him in the place he’d worked for two decades just might have added something to the narrative. I know it did for me.

Life is basically a collection of stories. We all have our own. Organizations have theirs, too. None of these stories take place in a vacuum, but in the context of an environment and a community. Visiting those places helps us to understand and communicate those stories more completely and accurately. And it’s stories—not words—that capture peoples’ attention.

So, here’s to the wondrous inefficiencies of the road trip, and the chance it offers to place ourselves into the context of the stories we’re writing.

Learn More Here: Why I Love Road Trips