Why I Love Road Trips

Burke Perry

Burke Perry, Senior Journalist

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

Why I Love Road Trips syndicated from http://vistacomm.blogspot.com/

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8 Tips to Capture Awesome Harvest Photos

Fall offers an amazing time to take stunning photos in farm country. Vibrant leaves, golden grain and farm equipment, accented by a rich blue sky or the soft light of morning and evening, create spectacular opportunities for harvest photos.

Here are my top 8 tips on how to capture these magnificent colors and memorable images:

1. Shoot in the golden hours.

I’ve captured some of my favorite harvest photos in the early morning as the sun is rising behind a grain truck being filled with grain, and towards evening when the sunset washes the landscape with a soft, golden light.

2. Avoid shooting into the sun.

Shooting into the sun will result in shadows, lower saturation of colors and lens flare. On sunny days, try to keep the sun at your back. If you do have to shoot into the sun, use a lens hood or shield your lens with something to avoid lens flare.

3. Don’t shy away from overcast days.

An overcast day is great for some photography, mainly because the light is soft and even. But doesn’t a cloudy sky mean the intensity of the color is decreased? Not at all. Since autumn colors are saturated, they contrast nicely with gray. Just frame up the picture to feature more of the colors and less of the sky.

4. Change your perspective.

Sometimes the simplest way to improve your autumn photography is to shift your vantage point from eye-level. Climb up on a bin or truck to get a view from above, or squat down low to shoot upwards at your subject. Changing your vantage point provides a unique, unexpected perspective.

5. Consider close-ups.

Try shooting some close-up photos that help capture the details of harvest. I like to peel back the husk and shoot golden ears of corn, for example. This works especially well if you shoot upward, so the kernels contrast against the blue sky. Also, try this technique with brilliant colored leaves for added interest.

6. Play around with panoramas.

Sprawling landscapes of corn or soybean fields where harvest is underway with a combine, multiple combines and/or tractors, catch wagons and semi-trucks, can create compelling images. If the image is too wide to capture in one shot, take multiple shots and stitch them together in a photo software program like Adobe Lightroom, which can create panoramas.

7. Find the frost.

Depending on the year, cold snaps can leave interesting patterns on leaves that already offer interesting patterns. Shoot first thing in the morning to see what frost can do for your autumn images.

8. Experiment with silhouettes.

While silhouettes may seem tricky, they are quite simple. They also offer a wonderful way to convey drama and emotion, thanks to their simplicity. I love them because they don’t give the viewer a clear picture of everything, which leaves part of the image up to the imagination. Try shooting silhouettes towards sunset. Place your subject (the shape you want to be blacked out) in front of the light source (in this case, the sun). This will force your camera to set its exposure based on the brightest part of your picture (the background) and not the subject. Do this right, and your subject will be underexposed (dark, if not black)—exactly what you want.

Like any photography, the key to success with harvest photography is to experiment, keep learning, practice often and have fun. I’ll be shooting lots of photos for VistaComm clients this fall, plus I’d love to see the harvest photos you capture. Connect with me at dmaulsby@vistacomm.com.

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See More Here: 8 Tips to Capture Awesome Harvest Photos

8 Tips to Capture Awesome Harvest Photos syndicated from http://vistacomm.blogspot.com/

VistaComm Welcomes Dustin and Joanne

VistaComm welcomes two new staff members:

Dustin OlsonDustin Olson joins us as accounting director. A licensed CPA, he’s a graduate of South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD. Coming to VistaComm with previous agency experience, Dustin has a true focus on efficiency and profitability—both for the project at hand and for clients, who will find him responsive to any and all concerns. Dustin’s most recent experience includes accounting positions at Austad’s Golf and Lawrence & Schiller, both in Sioux Falls, SD.

 


 

Joanne Pullman

After working full-time for VistaComm from 2012 to 2014 in website support and developing, followed by freelance contract work, Joanne Pullman returns to our creative services department as a full-time web developer. She has a passion for every aspect of the website creation process and has created more than 100 responsive websites. Joanne is a graduate of Dakota State University in Madison, SD. In addition to her freelance projects as a web consultant, over the past six years, Joanne also worked full-time for Factor 360 in Pierre, SD.

 

 

See More Here: VistaComm Welcomes Dustin and Joanne

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Teaching the Teacher: An Outsider’s Surprising Take on Ag

Ever heard of an externship? I hadn’t either until Iowa Central Community College contacted me this spring about mentoring a local high school English teacher.

Turns out that Iowa Central’s summer externship program matches high school teachers of various academic disciplines with business professionals in the area for a 40-hour learning experience. This gives teachers a better understanding of the business world, so they can use this knowledge to better prepare students for the real world after high school.

I had the privilege of working with Rachel Hemer, an English teacher from East Sac High School in Lake View, Iowa. Rachel has more than 13 years of teaching experience and is an Iowa native, but she’s the first to admit she didn’t know much about agriculture or the wide variety of professional jobs related to ag, including marketing/communications.

Iowa Soybean podcast during externship

Why is it so important for farmers and ag businesses to tell their story? VistaComm journalist Darcy Maulsby (right) shared her top tips during a Spillin’ the Beans podcast in June 2017 at her family’s Century Farm with the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA). Darcy’s summer extern, Rachel Hemer (left) observed the podcast process while Heather Lilienthal, ISA’s producer services director (center), interviewed Darcy. You can listen to Darcy’s podcast (titled “Why It’s Important to Tell Your Story”) at http://www.iasoybeans.com/news/podcasts/.

Spillin’ the Beans

Rachel joined me on various adventures this summer, from a “Spillin’ the Beans” podcast with the Iowa Soybean Association, where I shared some of my top storytelling tips from a book author’s perspective, to interviews and photo shoots with Mid-Iowa Cooperative for their next print newsletter. As we traveled around rural Iowa, Rachel asked me plenty of great questions during her externship about agriculture in general, careers in ag, and how to become a more effective communicator.

Just as Rachel was willing to get out of her comfort zone to gain new knowledge, I, too, abandoned my comfort zone of focusing on writing, photography and content marketing so I could to teach the teacher. I realized how many of the things I take for granted as common knowledge, from my in-depth knowledge of agriculture to my insights into effective content marketing, aren’t so common to those who don’t live and breathe this every day.

“It was the complete opposite of what I imagined”

I also was reminded just how much the non-farm public doesn’t understand about agriculture, but they are excited to learn. But don’t take my word for it. Here are some of Rachel’s experiences, in her own words:

During the summer, many teachers get used to not waking up to the sound of an alarm blaring before the sun rises. When my alarm woke me on the morning of July 19, it was so dark I thought for sure it must be raining. But then I remembered it was July….in Iowa….we hadn’t had rain for more than two weeks….and I had a great reason to pop out of bed that early! I was heading out for another adventure with Iowa author Darcy Maulsby!

interview during summer externship

As VistaComm journalist Darcy Maulsby (center) interviewed Mid-Iowa Co-op General Manager Mike Kinley (left), extern and high school English teacher Rachel Hemer (right) not only learned how a VistaComm newsletter is put together, but she discovered the wide variety of great careers available in agriculture.

Darcy and I hit the road before 6:30 a.m. on our way to Mid-Iowa Cooperative in Conrad, Iowa. It was time for a quarterly newsletter publication, and Darcy needed to conduct interviews and take photographs. She had told me it was a “jeans and boots” type of day – I hoped my tennis shoes would suffice for what I thought would be a trek through the hot and dusty co-op. I imagined that we would be chatting with the employees as they shoveled out grain bins and fixed machinery.

Our day’s journey was the complete opposite of what I had imagined and full of surprises. Here are my top 5 learning moments:

  1. Mid-Iowa Cooperative is a significant employer in rural Iowa, with nine locations from Whitten to Haverhill to Garwin to Liscomb, 95 full-time employees, and two to three interns per year. In fact, two of their interns from this past spring are their newest hires, who Darcy had the pleasure of interviewing.
  2. People from all backgrounds work at Mid-Iowa. Knowledge of agriculture is a must, but the employees’ educational background need not focus on ag. In the marketing department alone, they employ a former manager of Advanced Auto Parts, a dealer at Meskwaki Casino, an architecture major, and only one agriculture major. Not every employee at Mid-Iowa has a college degree, but most have post-secondary education.
  3. The variety of careers within a cooperative is impressive. We met with Mid-Iowa’s chief operating officer, energy department manager, operations manager, general manager, commodity marketing manager, agronomy sales associate, and an applicator, as well as seeing 15+ other employees working various positions in offices and on-site.
  4. A cooperative’s job is to figure out the future before it gets here. According to General Manager Mike Kinley, a lot of change is happening within co-ops and Mid-Iowa is trying to figure out how to navigate that.
  5. Ag writing is fun! Darcy caught up with acquaintances at the same time as taking care of business for the newsletter. We ventured to the Grundy County Fair for pictures and enjoyed fair food and horse events. Every person we talked with was passionate about their work, making it easy for Darcy to showcase them in her newsletter features.

Our day at Mid-Iowa Cooperative was eye opening for this rural (but not a farm girl) Iowan. I had no idea how many employment opportunities a cooperative has. Everywhere I looked, a different department sign showed how many cogs work together to create success. I’m eager to share with my students, who plan to work in agriculture their whole lives, all the paths they can take when they leave my classroom.


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See Full Article Here: Teaching the Teacher: An Outsider’s Surprising Take on Ag

Teaching the Teacher: An Outsider’s Surprising Take on Ag syndicated from http://vistacomm.blogspot.com/

7 Ways to Keep Up With Digital Marketing

Just when you’ve figured out the game, they change the rules.

That’s the digital world, where the strategy that guaranteed success last year could result in utter disaster today. Never has the pace of change been more frantic, and for those of us in the business of digital marketing, keeping on top of the latest trends is imperative.

How do you stay current? Here are seven suggestions that can help you keep up with digital marketing:

1. Log Some Blog Time

Every industry has plenty of bloggers. The key, obviously, is to choose wisely. If you don’t know where to start, don’t hesitate to ask other members of your team, or those in your network, which bloggers they value.

Another option—sample a few from the list of 51 marketing blogs posted by Campaign Monitor. As you move through the other six suggestions in this post, you’ll see opportunities to identify other digital marketing leaders you’ll want to follow. Chances are good that most of them have a blog.

2. Take What’s Offered

Piggybacking on our first suggestion, many bloggers and industry experts offer an email newsletter. Take them up on that offer. Instead of taking time to check a variety of websites, you’ll receive a concise collection of news highlights from which to pick and choose. If it arrives in your inbox and looks interesting, click through. Otherwise, delete and move on.

3. One More Reason to Link

If you have a LinkedIn profile, you may benefit from joining a variety of industry groups. There are numerous groups varying from general marketing groups to specific groups for Facebook marketing. No matter what slice of digital marketing you want to learn about, chances are good you can find a LinkedIn group focused on that area.

Groups provide an opportunity to follow discussions about digital marketing topics—and to participate as well. LinkedIn is all about networking and is the perfect place to expand your digital marketing network and interact with others involved in social media.

If you’re looking for a starting point, look at HubSpot’s  list of recommended LinkedIn Groups for marketers.

4. Bird is the Word

When it comes to following trends, Twitter is your friend. Two Twitter strategies will prove helpful. First, you can create a stream on Twitter with popular social media hashtags, like #digitalmarketing. Don’t use terms that are too general unless you want your stream to overflow with largely irrelevant tweets. You can see which hashtags are trending on hashtags.org.

Second, use hashtags gathered in the creation of your Twitter stream to make a list of industry influencers. Use the hashtags that you gathered in the previous example and pick out some of the people you’ve found that consistently provide valuable insight. Run through your list daily to see what they have to say. Don’t forget—social media is a dialog, so feel free to chime in and ask questions.

5. Road Trip

Yes, social media is all about the virtual. Sometimes, however, it’s a nice change of pace to learn and network in person. So, attend a digital marketing conference. They provide a great opportunity to hear from industry experts, network with peers and leaders and—additional benefit—change your scenery and get charged up for your job.

Find a conference that sounds fantastic, but time and travel budgets make it a no-go? Be a virtual attendee via social media. Every conference or event will have a corresponding hashtag that you can follow during the conference on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Many of the best speaker quotes will be posted, so you’ll get a great overview of the content being shared.

Download website optimization ebook

6. Listen While You…

Commuter? Runner? Walker? Eat lunch at your desk? All great opportunities to learn about the latest in social media via podcasts. Take the same approach here as above—as you identify industry leaders, see if they have a podcast. As you listen to them, they’ll mention other influencers, and your podcast options will expand. Obviously, podcasts are also a nice way to ingest information for those who prefer listening to reading.

7. Aggregate for Fun and Profit

Feedly - Keep up with digital marketing topics and trends in one place
FlipboardThis is another of those “make it easy on yourself” suggestions. Many industry publications offer a free RSS news feed. Choose an RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Flipboard and use it as a hub to collect and display digital marketing news every day. Find the source once, browse the headlines daily. The only ongoing task is to add new feeds as you come across good resources.

Keeping up is not an option. Tap into these information streams, and you’ll be able to stay ahead of the digital marketing learning curve.


If you’re looking for a partner that practices cutting edge digital marketing every day, consider VistaComm. Contact us at (866) 752-7707.

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Original Post Here: 7 Ways to Keep Up With Digital Marketing

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Measurable Marketing: A Case Study of Sioux Automation Center

The Client

Established in 1961, Sioux Automation Center, Inc. (SAC), is based in Sioux Center, Iowa. They are a global leader in the agricultural and equipment industries, manufacturing a full line of livestock feed mixers, baggers and manure handling devices to serve the needs of livestock producers.

The Situation

When conversations began between SAC and VistaComm, SAC was spending a substantial amount of money on digital marketing and getting no usable reporting, feedback or conversion details. Nothing they were doing was measurable. In fact, they did not fully understand what they should expect from their digital marketing dollars.

The Process

VistaComm’s digital marketing experts demonstrated the value of services that could help SAC get more for their money, track granularly and contribute conversions to specific keywords used in their marketing content.

The process involved hands-on, responsive communication by a VistaComm expert who later personally initiated the digital marketing revisions. To assist SAC decision makers in better understanding a complicated topic, scenarios from SAC’s own existing website were used via screen share techniques to demonstrate. These scenarios were supported by a wealth of analytical information.

The Solution

The VistaComm solution for SAC involved several important steps, the most impactful being:

  • Properly configured analytics to better track website conversions to customers.
  • Reconstruction of Google AdWords™ with call and conversion tracking.
  • Systematic recording of live visitor behaviors, the end goal being the elimination of clicks needed to secure information.

The Results

Measurable Marketing Results for Sioux Automation

258 of the leads generated were calls tracked off their digital ads and website.

VistaComm helped SAC understand and define their audience by making their marketing measurable. SAC can now effectively manage and track goals and objectives, making better use of advertising dollars. So, how do the numbers look? In the first 4 weeks following revisions, SAC tracked 397 responses in the form of phone calls, submitted forms or website visits of five minutes or more. Responses continued to increase through week 16, totaling 1,757 new leads. Of those, 258 were phone calls tracked on their ads and website from potential new customers taking the next step to find out about SAC’s products.

And VistaComm’s partnership with SAC doesn’t stop there. Monthly review sessions are held to discuss outcomes and manage SAC’s digital marketing strategy based on conversions and actual measurable marketing data.

 

Since SAC began working with the VistaComm digital marketing team, we have a much better understanding of what our website can do for us. Their revisions have already positively impacted our sales and the way we approach new business.

Jason Jaworski, Marketing Manager
Sioux Automation Center, Inc.,
Sioux Center, Iowa

 

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Read More Here: Measurable Marketing: A Case Study of Sioux Automation Center

Measurable Marketing: A Case Study of Sioux Automation Center syndicated from http://vistacomm.blogspot.com/

8 Steps to a Foolproof Digital Marketing Strategy

How’s your digital marketing working? Not very well, you say. Well, how well are you executing your digital marketing strategy? You don’t really have one? Now we’re getting somewhere.

Don’t feel too badly. The lack of a well-thought-out strategy may be the most common reason business don’t achieve good, measurable results from their digital marketing. It’s an interesting phenomenon that companies who have no problem creating a detailed sales strategy falter when it comes to doing the same for digital marketing.

We’re here to help. Here are eight key touchpoints to hit on your way to creating and implementing an effective digital marketing strategy.

1. Who Do You Want to Reach?

It’s hard to target effective messaging to someone you don’t know. Impossible, actually. That leads us directly to the critical first step in the digital marketing process—creating buyer personas.

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer, created from a combination of market research and real data about your existing customers. These personas help you understand your customers (and prospective customers) better. This makes it easier for you to tailor your content, messaging, product development and services to the specific needs, behaviors, and concerns of different groups.

define your personas

To generate these pseudo people, incorporate all the information you can gather on your ideal customer’s age, income, location, interests, wants and needs etc. In short, create the ideal buyer for your goods or service.

2. Organizational Goals

When setting goals, start big and work your way to specific. For example, what’s your organizational mission? That’s the biggest goal. Next, lay out how your digital marketing strategy will help you carry out that mission.

Then, determine more precise targets. These should be measurable and have a time element. For example, “We want to increase lead generation by 60% in the next 12 months.”

Finally, you’ll need to establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine if your content and advertising strategies are working. Cost per lead and unique website visits are two examples of possible KPIs, depending on your digital marketing goals.

3. What Do You Have?

The next step is to take stock of the digital assets you already have that can be optimized to help you reach your goal. Specific assets might include your website, blog posts, images and infographics.

Assess how these assets are currently working together. For example, are you making use of content and images you’ve created for your website in blogs. Is your messaging pointing in the same direction across all platforms, or is it inconsistent or unrelated to your primary marketing goals. Chances are good you already have valuable assets that can be used more effectively.

document your digital marketing goals

4. What Do You Need?

Just as important as your inventory of resources are the gaps in your marketing toolbox. Identify the tools you need, prioritize them and determine when you will add them. Often times, an editorial calendar can be beneficial in helping you create and manage new content.

5. Crank Up Your Content

Perhaps the most important step in the process, and certainly the one that most often differentiates a successful digital marketer from marginal performers. Effective, compelling content is essential in guiding potential customers through the buyer’s journey. Hubspot’s definition of the buyer’s journey is, “The active research process a buyer goes through leading up to a purchase.”

You should be creating content that leads the buyer through three stages of the buyer’s journey.

  • Awareness: In this stage, the buyer is just becoming aware of their problem/need. Your content goal may be to position yourself as an expert in this particular area, establishing your knowledge of the topic with the understanding that increasing numbers of potential customers will be looking to find information.
  • Interest: In the interest stage, the buyer is aware of their problem/need and just beginning to look for solutions. Now established as an expert, at this stage you provide potential solutions to the problem.
  • Consideration: By this point, buyers have decided what they need to do but aren’t certain about who can best take care of their problem or meet their need. This is where you seal the deal, making a strong case for your product or service as the best solution. Drive it home with testimonials whenever possible.

6. Ad It Up

Are you using paid advertising to increase traffic and make the most of your great content? If you’re not you should be. Here are key considerations to boost advertising effectiveness:

  • Use those personas again: Advertising written for everyone impacts no one. Know your targets and create your advertising to address them. Learn their language, find their pain points and learn the channels they use most often.
  • Retarget: After you target, retarget. Simply put, retargeting is just marketing to those who have already visited your website, and so already have a relationship with you. Retargeting is one of the most effective paid advertising campaigns, so your strategy should include ways to drive visitors to your site so you can retarget them.
  • Give content a kick: Consider increasing the reach of your best content by promoting it with Facebook ads or even LinkedIn. Social platforms have stepped up their game in online advertising and are often times a great way to target key audiences by using the insights their users provide them by using their platform.

advertise online

7. What’s Up with Your Website?

Is your website designed to provide information, or to help turn visitors into customers? Remember the Buyer’s Journey? An effective website provides value to potential customers at each stage of the journey.

8. Go Robotic

Finally, are you utilizing marketing automation? With the advance of technology, so many aspects of digital marketing—email, social media, website actions and more—can be performed automatically. The benefits? Improved overall inbound marketing, lead generation and time savings.


Obviously, there is much more to be said on each of these eight steps. Our digital marketing experts can help answer questions, assess your digital marketing strategy, and help you take the next steps.

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Post Source Here: 8 Steps to a Foolproof Digital Marketing Strategy

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