Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What's that Square? Using QR codes for marketing

Have you seen these black and white squares - on flyers, posters, labels, etc. - and wondered what they were?  They're QR codes, or quick response codes, a type of bar code that when scanned by a camera enabled smartphone (iPhone, Android, etc.) takes the user to linked content on the web, or activates email, IM, or SMS.  Essentially, it's a quick way of sending someone to content that you want them to see or getting them involved in communication without first having to get to a computer (by which time they may have forgotten).

The second image shows the QR code for PA MarketMaker.  Whenever someone scans the code they are taken to the homepage for PA MarketMaker (  For us, this is an easy way to show someone this marketing tool without being at a computer.

There are numerous potential marketing uses for QR codes including:
  • Take folks directly to a page for them to sign up for your email list
  • Link to coupons or special offers
  • Link directly to a product or event page that you're promoting
  • Take folks directly to a page with product information or uses
  • Creating a QR code that allows folks to remotely "like" your Facebook page (not your profile)
Places where QR codes could be used:
  • Your business card
  • Brochures, flyers, and other marketing materials
  • Sides of trucks and trailers or bumper stickers
  • Product labels/tags and packaging
  • Signs at your market or farmers' market stand
Creating your own QR code is relatively simple.  There are several free QR code generator sites that assist you in creating one.  A quick web search will lead you to them.  Reading QR codes is equally simple.  Smartphone users simply need to download a QR reader from their phone's app store or "marketplace."

While creating QR codes may be easy, don't go overboard in your use of them.  Just as with any other marketing tool, be strategic in how you implement their use.  Choose one or two high profile or important aspects of your business that you really want to get folks involved with or to get their input on.  Mix it up too.  Let's say that after a few months of using QR codes for a couple of things, say an annual Halloween Fest and a featured product, choose two new aspects of your business to highlight with a QR code.  This will keep people involved and interested.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sell your business as a story

As an ag entrepreneur, when someone asks you what you do and why, what is your answer? Example A: Do you say, "I own a coffee shop. I got into this business because I thought I could make a lot of money,"? It is an honest answer, but does it "sell" you as a business owner or your business? Probably not.

Statistics and facts are interesting, but not inspiring. To get potential customers to remember you and your business, make it memorable. Consumers buy not only on logic, but emotions too. They want to hear a story and will use that story to associate you as an entrepreneur with your business. The above example (Example A) doesn't help a potential customer differentiate you from any other business selling the same product or service. Your story can help that potential customer understand your beliefs and values and therefore have an emotional attachment to your business.

In the article "The CEO As Storyteller in Chief", Howard Schulz (Chairman of Starbucks) is discussed as a great storyteller. "He tells us the story of his trip to Milan and the passion for fresh, richly brewed espresso he discovered there and carried home with him. From that kind of simple story we--employees, customers, shareholders--derive meanings for everything a company does. The trouble Starbucks' coffee buyers go to to select the highest-quality beans from the remotest regions of the world, the care their brewers take--everything becomes romantic and fascinating, enticing us to stand in line as long as it takes to get our cup of coffee."

Doesn't Schulz's story sound a lot more enticing than Example A? Another great part of storytelling is the ease at which they can be spread. If you tell a good story, a customer is more likely to remember that story and spread it to other potential customers, and who doesn't love good word-of-mouth advertising?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Entrepreneurship" and "Individualism" Are Not Synonyms

So, what image comes to mind when you hear the word, "entrepreneur?"  For many, it conjures up images of a single person, AKA "the" entrepreneur, struggling against all odds to start a company.  This superhero image is still widely adopted.  Our superhero is able to develop new products, create financial projections to obtain loan or investment funding, navigate the obstacle course that local, state, and Federal laws and regulations bring, manage all finances, and everything else needed to make the business flourish.  It's hard work, but our superhero is up for the challenge.

Without exception, entrepreneurs can not do everything on their own.  The best ones don't even try.  This is true for all types of entrepreneurs: social entrepreneurs, corporate entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, serial entrepreneurs,... (I'm starting to feel like "Forrest Gump's" Bubba describing types of shrimp.)  Entrepreneurship happens in lots of different contexts and this point is relevant for each....

Entrepreneurship does not equal individualism.

True entrepreneurs use the resources that they control to make something happen.  (This generally means launching a new business or product.  For entrepreneurs that work within another business, even a university, this might mean moving a project along that furthers the organization's mission.)  Resources include money, for sure, but also labor, machinery, equipment, and other people's expertise.  We in Extension have contributed to many entrepreneurial ventures in agriculture and food, for example, by providing expertise on production, policies, business management, etc.  Entrepreneurs often visit Small Business Development Centers or other counselors for input.  They often have a team around them to help them see the things that would be overlooked if they worked on their own.

Even within an organization, including one like Penn State in which I work, we have a lot of leeway to be entrepreneurial.  The only difference is that we have to keep in mind that we do things under the Penn State brand and must operate within its guidelines.  Within that zone, though, we are free to behave as entrepreneurs.  I have zero doubt, though, that I'll not be as effective on my own as I would be as part of a team that is all rowing in the same direction.  At the end of the day, that's the entrepreneur's dilemma (or opportunity); how does one get all of those people rowing in the same direction?  It would be a lot easier if one could do it alone, but the entrepreneur's effectiveness drops precipitously if he or she tries.  Almost all university courses in entrepreneurship recognize and promote this fact by placing students into teams for class projects.

Truth be told, entrepreneurship works best when the individual puts "I" and "me" aside and turns it into "we" and "us."  The best entrepreneurs (remember, this refers to all types) connect with others to make their ideas better and to make their dreams a reality.  This mythical superhero just doesn't exist!  Myth... busted!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Where do people in the mid-Atlantic buy their in-season produce?

In the past year, I've been writing about research conducted by Penn State on consumer purchasing behaviors in the mid-Atlantic. One of the research questions asked participants about where they buy in-season produce. Responses were grouped according to the metro area where participants lived (Richmond, Philadelphia, New York City, Washington D.C., and Baltimore) and then tested against each other based on whether or not participants indicated that farmers’ markets/CSAs were their primary source of buying produce when in-season, versus choosing other places to buy (i.e. grocery, supercenter, warehouse, natural food store, etc.).

Overall, 29.3% of survey participants selected farmers’ markets/CSAs as their primary place to buy in-season produce. As shown in the graph below, a significantly lower percentage of D.C. participants, compared to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and N.Y.C., chose farmers’ markets/CSAs. Also,a significantly higher percentage of Philadelphia participants chose farmers’ markets/CSAs as their primary source of produce compared to N.Y.C. participants.

Local farmers and retailers growing and selling fruits and vegetables while they are in-season can use this data to get an idea of what percentage of total market share they may expect to achieve. As a mid-Atlantic farmer, have you tried to sell to these metropolitan areas? Why do you think DC has a lower percentage of respondents who shop primarily at farmers' markets/CSAs?