Tag Archives: Marketing


If you dabble in social media, and are active in the West Michigan social media scene you are probably familiar with iwearyourshirt.com (IWYS) , and its founder Jason Sadler.

So what exactly does IWYS do?  Well companies hire them for a day, and they will wear whatever T-Shirt the company provides for them on that specific day, and then IWYS team of 5, tweets, take photos, records videos, and do live streaming of the IWYS team wearing the T-Shirt and promoting the company.  Here is how it officially works and for the curious here is the pricing.  Amazing how one guy can bring in $333,000 a year, plus $60,000 for monthly sponsorships just for wearing a different shirt 365 days a year (though I suppose he has to pay his other 4 employees).

So why do companies have such a fascination with IWYS?  Initially looking at the business model it seems like an awfully stupid idea, that companies would pay people to wear their shirt just because they will tweet, shoot videos, and take pictures of themselves with the shirt.  It doesn’t seem to be a very sound strategy for engaging customers.  They do have a large following but are those followers actually potential customers?

But for some reason West Michigan companies have really jumped onto the iwearyourshirt.com bandwagon.  For 2011, the following are companies have partnered with IWYS:  The Stow Company, JW Marriott and

Yes that is a Griffin

Amway Grand, Experience

Grand Rapids (the CVB) and Good Life Granola.


If you are a loyal reader of The Ledger you will immediately recognize the connection between these some of these companies… Stow Company, JW Marriott, Amway Grand.   That’s right they are all associated with the DeVos family (It’s crazy what businesses are in their portfolio).

In any case, these companies paid Jason Sadler of IWYS to promote their companies and arranged for him to travel to West Michigan during the week of June 6 through June 12, 2011 and put him up in the Amway Grand and JW Marriott hotels, where he wore the following shirts:

2011 hasn’t been the only year that IWYS have been leveraged by these companies, some have a history as well.

The Stow Comapny

  • Amway Grand and JW Marriott hosted Jason for a whole week in 2010 – Though he only wore the JW Marriott t-shirts on June 14, and Amway Grand on June 21, he was still in Grand Rapids attending area events and promoting things for the hotels.  Looks like those other T-Shirt sponsors during that time got the short end of the stick.

Does IWYS actually do anything?  Looking at the comments on the company’s calendar day web page, they are either non-existent or lacking depth, I am surprised I don’t see any “First” comments.  Additionally who really wants to sit through 10 videos (5 YouTube & 5 UStream) on the same company (don’t even bother looking at the comments on YouTube), not to mention new videos are out there everyday of the year (it might be difficult to get caught up if you miss a day).  I’ll admit that I am not a big on watching online videos, and sitting through at least 2 minutes of promotion & pitching 10 different times doesn’t sound appealing even if I was.

What is the fascination with this marketing medium?  Have they had a good return on investment with this?  The only company, which a campaign like this would make, sense is Good Life Granola, since their products are relatively inexpensive consumer products that can be ordered online, quickly and easily with little thought.  It would be easy for anyone following IWYS to quickly and easily purchase some granola…but not so easy to do for a city, or hotels.  But for these other companies that don’t sell cheap tangible items, it doesn’t seem like a good fit.  For the hotels alone they spent over $3,000 for their days, not including the travel, lodging, and dining expenses that I am assuming the hotels paid for (at least on their days).  But I do give all the companies involved credit for coordinating the visit with IWYS, I wonder how many secret backroom meetings it took to get it all hammered out.

This relationship still leaves so many questions… but through the Twitter (follow me here) I was able to ask a couple of questions to Ryan Slusarzyk, Marketing Manager for the Amway Grand and JW Marriott hotels, so he was able to provide some insight. For the hotels at least the goal was not to sell rooms, but to increase their social media presence and to sell Grand Rapids as a destination to visit.  As a result of the IWYS campaign in 2011, the Facebook pages for the two hotels gained over 2,000 followers (many from Michigan and the Midwest)  and there was “significant impact on twitter. “  The hotels also used this visit to promote “The Hotel Kitchen” product line, which features tangible products that can be ordered and shipped.

Ok so I am starting to turn the corner a little bit on this because when Jason from IWYS was in Grand Rapids, he did many videos showcasing Grand Rapids, its restaurants, and things to do.  So I can definitely see that as being a benefit.  Selling a product line of dressings, salsas, and chutneys, is much easier to purchase and cheaper.  Though if he didn’t come to visit Grand Rapids, I would have to think that the campaign would not be as effective.  Something tells me IWYS other employees did not have very interesting/effective videos since they were promoting from their home base.

So who knows exactly how much value the IWYS campaigns bring in, especially for these intangible objects.  But according to Ryan, he is pretty confident that the hotels will partner with IWYS again next year.

What do you think?  Is this an effective marketing channel, and a good use of marketing budget? Will anyone dare leave a “first” comment on my blog?

Zipments.com – Manufacturing a Story

Read this article in The Grand Rapids Press “Got a spare hour? Zipments.com will pay you to move something across town“.

For those of you too lazy to click, here is the excerpt from the article:

The day before the launch of an international conference, organizers have better things to do than schlep 15 boxes of brochures and other materials from Grand Valley State University’s downtown campus to the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

So Ryan Vaughn, an outreach consultant for the Center for Entrepreneurship, went to Zipments.com, a new online venture in which people who need things delivered can connect with people who will make the delivery. And the senders name their price.

He posted the job for $50, giving a window of time in which it had to be done. David Tilley, a registered courier with Zipments, signed up. He picked up the boxes, and the job was done.

Zipments.com is local courier service in West Michigan, where customers can post local “shipping” jobs, and couriers can bid on these posted shipping jobs. The customer picks the winning courier out of all the bids received for that job.

As a recently launched business Zipments.com has been doing its share of public relations, but after reading this latest Grand Rapids Press story something just didn’t feel right to me. So let me lay out some facts that might make you look at the Zipments.com article a little differently.

Innocent Shipment, or a Not Very Well Concealed Public Relations Ploy?

In reading the above facts, can you see the many possible conflicts of interest? It doesn’t seem right in my opinion. I don’t have a problem with any of the above people doing business with each other, but to use the example of Ryan Vaughn of Center for Entrepreneurship, using Zipments.com to move boxes, and Dave Tilley was chosen as the courier, seems so…… manufactured, especially as the lead in the story.

In fact the article now brings up many more questions. Like was Grand Rapids Press Reporter Cami Reister aware of these relationships outlined above? If she did why was the story run as is? If she wasn’t aware, how come more fact checking wasn’t done? In regards to Zipments.com, did they suggest this as a story? Why? As mentioned in the article they had about two other Zipments.com couriers which they could have easily led the story with.

For me knowing the above facts, does change the story, it’s like the shipment never happened and gives me the impression that Zipments.com is a crony run business (rightly or wrongly). As noted here, I am just a blogger and not a journalist or a public relations guy, so maybe this isn’t odd at all. But something this story just isn’t right. What do you think?

Schaap & the West Michigan Media

I have never been in a West Michigan news room, but I imagine it would go something like this:

Not an image of a reporter working on his deadline story.

Editor: “Johnson, do you have your article ready for the next issue?”
Reporter: “Boss, I thought the deadline for my story was next week.”
Editor: “JOHNSON! I need an article on my desk by tomorrow morning”
Reporter (to self): ” Damn… I need a story fast, I better call Schaap”

It's Schaap. Wonder if the yellow face might be sort of a Bat Signal, when media needs a story.

Every publication has written at least one article on Aaron Schaap.  But many have written two, three or even more, therefore providing proof  to my above hypothesis.

Who is perpetuating this cycle… the journalists or Schaap?  Are journalists tripping over themselves to get a recorder in front of Schaap or is Schaap pursuing the journalists with a barrage of calls, emails, and press releases?

Yellow face in background again must be the Schaap signal

So why is everyone writing a story on Mr. Schaap?  By the looks of it, he has a lot going on with his companies (The Factory, Elevator Up, Downstream), and with the local start-up and tech scene.  Is it a prerequisite for any business publication in the area to do a story on Schaap?  Probably not but the man does get a lot of coverage.

Seems like there would be an easier way to hold a pin? or is it an elevator (up) button?

It’s no surprise that the Mlive/West Michigan Business Review and the Grand Rapids Press have been working on the Schaap angle for years.  Fortunately not all of their stories focus solely on Schaap, they also include some other people, but they have some great photos (my personal favorite is the Tech Industry one):

Sharing the Thunder - One of the rare Schaap photos featuring other people

If you ever read the Holland Sentinel, they rarely have any business stories in their paper.  You have to search their website to even find their business section, and the actual stories in the paper are usually just AP wire stories.  So it is even more surprising that they have two stories on Schapp (Pitch Night, and Momentum) and even had Aaron as respondent on Street-Talk.

Grand Rapids Business Journal finally got in on the action with a Schaap feature just last month – “On-The-Job Training as an Internet Entrepreneur“.  I am surprised it took them that long (by the way GRBJ search function is awful, searching for Schaap will not bring up that story, and it is quite a pain not being able to actually read any of the stories…definitely a bummer).

MiBiz also has a few stories covering Schaap – DownStream, G33k, Entrepreneurs (you will have to log-in to read these stories).  As has Rapid Growth in covering his Pitch Night and Factory news.  The Rapidian touched on Schaap in a couple of stories (here, here) and even GrubSheets did a story.

Aaron levitating

Lastly the newly launched Startup Stories vlog did their first vlog post on Schaap and his Downstream company (honestly who else would have they done their inaugural story on?… Carl Erickson and Atomic Object, yeah right)

Mr. Schaap does have a great story, (which is surprisingly open and candid) and the guy is quite a good marketer of himself and his companies.  But his relationship with the media somewhat reminds me of Rob Bliss‘ relationship with the media (but without Mlive commenters making derisive comments), with the constant coverage.

Damn it, I just wrote an Aaron Schaap story as well.

Happy that The Ledger did a story

Company Name Juggling in Grand Rapids

Local marketing firm Steketee Greiner Company (SGC) is now Agent X. SGC merged with an “experiential marketing agency” based in Chicago, called Agent X. They decided to retain the Agent X name, but reviewing the company’s history, the name switch should come as no surprise.

The company started in 2004 with Fiaba Creative located in Saugatuck. In 2007 Fiaba changed their name to Context MG. Context MG then moved to downtown Grand Rapids in January 2009. Sometime in 2009 (my guess is late summer) Context MG decided to change their name once again. This time the firm became SGC. SGC was named after the two founders Brian Steketee and David Greiner. This name was retained for about 1.5 years. Then in August 2010 SGC launched a new company called Catalyst SGC.

I understand the possible need to re-name a company when an acquisition or merger has happened, but 4 names over 7 years?. Often times companies want to either keep the stronger brand, or adapt names to retain the best from both companies, or even create a whole new name. But the only acquisition/merger, I could find was the most recent one between SGC and Agent X. The other 3 name changes were just new names. It must be difficult to build a brand, image, and clientele with one name, and then switch names and have to create or try to retain the brand, image again. Not to mention how confusing this could be for clients, and how expensive re-branding is for the firm (create new collateral, letterheads, redesign website, etc).  I wonder what the clients think of this name juggling.

But then again maybe this blogger should keep his mouth shut regarding changing names… West Michigan Business Blog is still transitioning to The Ledger.

The Rise and Fall of Spearia

Part 1

Never have I seen a company just come out of nowhere and have such a far reaching presence in such a short period of time like SpeariaSpearia was founded by Danny Beckett Jr. in 2007 in Belmont as a web & marketing development company.  The company at its height employed about 15 professionals in a variety of positions, and produced over a hundred website projects for their clients.  In September 2009 Spearia moved into a two-floor, 8,000-square-foot facility at 2934 West River Drive NE in Comstock Park, which they renovated for $500,000.

Just by announcing this move along Spearia started to get a load of press from local media. And this trend only continued when they announced Comstock 09, an event Spearia created to help celebrate their new office.  So what was Comstock 09?  Here is a list:

  • Two professional motocross shows
  • Music – free performances by Delilah DeWylde and the Lost Boys, The Concussions, Nobody’s Business and Funktion
  • Hot dog eating contest
  • A wide variety of free children’s activities in Dwight Lydell Park.  Kids can bring their own bikes and ride behind the professional motocross bikers from Fifth Third Ballpark down White Pine Trail to the park
  • Water balloon fight
  • Face-painting
  • Moon walk
  • Special appearances by Miss Michigan and the Whitecaps’ mascot, Crash
  • Food vendors and a beer tent

So all this sounds extremely cool, but once again Spearia was spending money.  According to this article Beckett was putting $50,000 of his own money into the event, and was also hunting for sponsors to help defray the costs of such a massive event.  In fact after the event I began hearing rumors of vendors who helped with the event were not paid for the services they provided to Spearia.  Of course rumors are rumors but looking at the tale events unfold in the past year it looks like there might be some truth to the rumors (more of that to come).

But since Comstock 09, Spearia just pushed on ahead with even more events, sponsorships and just general spending money.  For example – the Spearia team has (or had) a fleet of vehicles at their disposal like:

All these vehicles could not be cheap and maintaining the vehicles as well could be costly.

But there is even more. Did you know that Spearia also was a part of the following:

I understand that community involvement is really important for a company, and building a brand through this could be a huge benefit.  But I would love to find out how effective these campaigns/sponsorships really were.  What was the Return On Investment (ROI) with all these activities and did they bring in any new business?  How much money was spent on these events, that could have been used to reinvest in the company (new resources, new employees)?  How far did some of these activities stretch away from their core business.  Why on earth would a marketing and web development company decide to purchase an RV retrofit it, and do a custom painting on the outside, and then go drive people around ArtPrize?  How does this make sense (they even served pizza and drinks and had a magician on board)?  Granted they did charge $15 per ticket and the proceeds were donated to WMCAT, but still wouldn’t your time, money and resources do much better if they were invested elsewhere?

So where is Spearia now?  Well look at their twitter account – not active since December 10th, 2010.  Look at their facebook account – not active since December 10th as well.  What exactly happened?

Watch the video below from Justin Vander Velde…it answers a lot of questions.
Switching Gears
from Justin Vander Velde on Vimeo. (Make sure you watch that video!)

Justin Vander Velde, a GVSU student along with his classmates Matt Dayton, Jake Dawson, and Andrea Wallace were doing a documentary on Spearia, and founder Danny Beckett,  for a class project.   The students were able to capture a captivating tale of the company,  through some interesting thoughts from Danny Beckett.  For me the video really got interesting at 5:27 mark, when they were speaking with Spearia employees about some of the challenges in working with an “Ideas” person, most likely alluding to Beckett.  Both employees phrased it well but seemed to imply that the company had little focus and was always jumping from one thing to another without much thought or analysis on how this would affect the business.   Jason Dodge, Project Manager, also caught the Justin off guard when he stated that he was no longer the Marketing Director, and that lead to a awkward exchange, which only makes you question what happened.  Then at the 6:45 mark, Beckett starts explaining that perhaps they did too much and that some of their events were “too huge”, and needed to be “more focused”, they “weren’t prepared” and had “lack of planning”.  They were “focused on the fun”, and in the end “relationships got broken” and “a lot of people we own money too.”  All these comments were related to the first event of Comstock 09.  If this was the case, then why did the company continue throwing all these other events?  The video also details that the directors lost touch with Beckett and only heard back from him 3 weeks later, and also noted in the film that Jason Dodge ended up leaving the company. Afterwards Justin and his classmates drove by the Spearia headquarters on West River Drive and filmed the empty building with a For Lease sign from DAR Development in the front window.  Also exposed during the video was that Spearia was looking for investors but ultimately the deal they had in place fell through.  Lastly, the filmmakers were able to contact Beckett and he basically stated that the company as it was known was no longer there, and he talks about his original vision and how it was just not the right vision.  I am still in shock about how honest and forthcoming Beckett was in regards to his business, and how aware he seemed of the company’s mistakes and shortcomings.  But just as baffling is why similar mistakes (in the form of extravagant events) kept on happening.

Per Beckett, Spearia’s vision was to be a “leading experience based creative firm” and he later stated that was a “false vision.”  Now I am not sure if it was a false vision, because being a “leading experience based creative firm” sounds like a great goal, but it just seems that the approach to get to that vision was flawed.  Focus on your product and your service, instead of worrying about making a big splash or being the company that everyone thinks is “cool” or that has a fleet of vehicles for tooling around town with.  Just focus on what you do, and do it well.  But the whole thing about owing people money and breaking relationships that part is not cool at all.  You have to pay who ever you do business with, vendors, banks, partners, whoever and by not doing so is one of the quickest and easiest ways to break relationships.  I can’t help but wonder if this story would have been different if Spearia used all their time, money, and resources on their company instead of “events” and community outreach.  Maybe all these extra activities soon became a weight to great to bear for Spearia.

Oh and I guess this did not help the whole Spearia money situation either – Someone hacking into their phone system and racking up over $20,000 in charges.

It’s just kind of a shame that West Michigan lost another company.  I am sure that Spearia employed lots of hardworking people who did their jobs well, but ultimately it looks like a multitude of decisions may have lead the company to unravel.

So did anyone work with or worked at Spearia?  How about go to the Free Lunch Fridays or any of their other events?  What are your thoughts?  What happened?

This is Part 1.
Part 2 – With insights from the filmmaker Justin Vander Velde is now posted.
I will have one more follow-up post with some insights from a former employee of Spearia.

For more reading and discussion on Spearia check out Urban Planet message board and the mlive – GR Press article on Danny Beckett.

What I Learned from the Zeeland Pumpkinfest Parade

Living in Holland, Michigan or for that matter any town in West Michigan, and chances are pretty good that your city has parades, not just one parade but multiple parades a year, all through the historic downtown area.  As an adult (in my humble opinion) you see one parade you’ve see them all. But I have children, children who enjoy parades, and of course they smile and laugh a lot at parades, and I love it when my kids smile and laugh, so we go to parades, lots of parades.  So as part of my parade activities, besides eating the candy my kids don’t want, is to pay special attention to the local businesses that are in the parade.  So at the 2010 Zeeland Pumpkin Fest Parade, I came across the following companies that caught my attention.

Lakeshore Candle Company (facebook link) – They wisely were handing out candles at the parade to almost all of the women in attendance.  But they were not just any candles they were Pumpkin Spice (extra points for relevance) votive candles in a glass container to boot.  Perhaps even more significant is the 3″ x 3″ card affixed to the packaging.  The card had company info, a list of all area stores in Holland and Zeeland that sell their candles and a 10% off coupon for Lakeshore Candle products at those local retailers.  The card also had an invitation for their 1st annual open house, at their headquarters at 9434 Pentatech Drive in Zeeland.  The open house is from October 5th through the 7th with tours available at 10am, 1pm and 3pm daily.  Perfect.  Lakeshore Candle Company used the parade and hit a home run with their marketing, by immediately capitalizing on this event, and getting everything out of it that they could. 

They know their market – women (I think it is fair to same that a vast majority of women enjoy scented candles), and they controlled their free sample giveaway to exactly the market they wanted to hit, they walked the parade route and handled candles to the women in attendance.  Secondly, they took this opportunity a step further with their 3″ x 3″ card that was included.  To build upon this initial sample giveaway, they allowed the samplers two different opportunities to “take the next step” with the company, by A) either buying another Lakeshore Candle Company product at an area store with their 10% off coupon or B) Become more intimate with the company by visiting their facility for an open house and tour the week following the parade.  By visiting the facility, a consumer might feel even more of a connection with the company because they were there, they were welcomed, and they got a free candle at a parade.  So chances are next time they are shopping for candles they should be more inclined to choose the candle company that treated them well.   Face it when was the last time Yankee Candle Company gave you a free candle and glass, plus a tour of the headquarters and a 10% off coupon?  Oh and they also had candy for the kids.

My Trail Buddy (facebook link) – was the second Zeeland company that caught my eye. They had about 6 guys on these off-road (trail) motorcycles.  More like smaller motorcycles.  I liken it to a pony where as the motorcycle would be the horse (I am sure those guys at My Trail Buddy appreciate that comparison).  Could be a new slogan “My Trail Buddy the pony of motorcycles.”  Anyways those things looked like fun, and I had to look them up online.  My Trail Buddy builds classic reproduction trail 70 bikes, and creates and sells parts for these bikes as well.  You can buy kits for their trail bikes as well.  From what I could gather you take these bikes out on the trails just like an ATV, and if you have no idea where trails are they do have a link to some trails.  I wish they were giving our free samples.

Thank you Lakeshore Candle Company and My Trail Buddy for catching my attention at the Pumpkin Fest, nice job!

Who is going to the open house?

Introducing The Ledger – Providing a Different Account of West Michigan Business

So all this talk about branding has made me rethink mine as well.  West Michigan Business Blog is not the most awe inspiring name, so I decided to do some brain-storming and came up with The Ledger (which narrowly beat out WindQuest).  So there we have it The LedgerProviding a Different Account of West Michigan Business.  Let me know what you guys think.