One Part Ideas, One Part Marketing, One Part Giving

by Donna Fontenot December 26th, 2007 

Those of you who know me, even a little, have probably gathered by now that I'm an idea gal. It can be frustrating to be an idea kind of person, however, because you often don't have anyone around to bounce all your ideas off of. Family tends to roll their eyes when you say (for the millionth time), "I have an idea", and while they may feign interest, they'd really rather you'd shut up so they can finish watching their favorite tv reality show.

So what's an idea gal to do? How about joining a social network of other idea people? What if that network also offered prizes of $10,000 for the most popular ideas? Oooh, that might work! :D

Ideablob.com is just such a site, and it can be a somewhat addictive experience. Ideablob.com is a community where small business owners and entrepreneurs share business ideas in exchange for feedback, advice and votes from the community. Advanta, one of the nation's largest credit card issuers in the small business market, awards a $10,000 monthly prize to the best idea, as determined by the community votes.

I was lucky enough to be granted an interview with both the CIO (Chief Innovation Officer) of Advanta, as well as the latest $10,000 winner, Marci Bossow Schankweiler, President and founder of Crossing the Finish Line (CFL), a Blue Bell, PA-based non-profit organization that provides excursions for young adult cancer patients and their families. Schankweiler founded CFL after her first husband passed away from cancer at the age of 30. She plans to use the prize money to help fund a home for cancer patients near Orlando, FL.

Marci is the first Advanta Business Cards customer to win the monthly Ideablob contest so she also receives 1,000,000 rewards points on her Advanta BusinessCard.

What does any of this have to do with SEO? Actually…plenty. Marketing is marketing, folks, and the lines blur as we study how different markets achieve different goals. Read on to see if you agree.

First I spoke with Marci Bossow Schankweiler of Crossing the Finish Line.

Since I'm a search marketer, I'm always curious about how people find things on the web. I asked Marci how she find out about Ideablob, and what made her think that she should present her idea there?

Marci told me that she learned about Ideablob from friends. Obviously, word-of-mouth marketing was the big factor at play here. Marci admits to being very non-net-savvy, and is not really comfortable with the medium, so initially she simply lurked at the site, getting a feel for it and becoming more comfortable with how it worked. Luckily, the site was easy to use and navigate, so found herself spending some time there. A couple of months later, she decided to submit her idea.

I then wanted to know why she was focusing on one house in Orlando. I read that she is in the midst of creating a national program, and I saw in some of the comments on her idea page, that she might be considering timeshares. With timeshares being available across the country, I thought that might make it more "national" than one house in Orlando?

Marci explained that CFL uses a combo-approach to this. Timeshares can be useful, but timing is critical when dealing with patients, and timeshares aren't always available when needed. Owning homes enables CFL to lower costs and control timing. However, utilizing timeshares is part of the plan. In addition, some people have second homes that they aren't using year-round, and the use of these homes can be donated and utilized as well. So this new home in Orlando is just one step in a larger process for the organization.

Finally, I wanted to know if Marci had any advice for other people hoping to win the next $10,000 prize?

Marci's answer to this question will resonate loudly with all of the readers here. Her best advice is Network. We all know the power of networking, and it applies in so many different ways. Marci utilized her network of friends via email because she doesn't have a blog, but she assumes the process would be similar to the way bloggers garner attention. It's all about the social network!

I really enjoyed speaking with Marci. She's a warm, friendly person. I wish her and her organization much success, and I hope all of you will take a moment to find out more about this wonderful organization.

Next, I turned my attention to Ami Kassar. I wanted details about Ideablob. One thing I noticed is that the contest, which awards $10,000 to one idea each month, ends after 6 months. So, I wanted to know what would happen after that.

Ami said that Ideablob is not going away. They are already working on new functionality and features that will keep the momentum going. Members enjoy the advice section, and that will still be available.

It was obvious to me that this was a great way to promote Advanta's small business products. I asked Ami if he would recommend that other businesses utilize this type of technique to promote themselves? In other words, I wanted to know if he thought Ideablob had been a success in terms of marketing Advanta and its products?

Ami's answer to this question was one that I may print out and hang on my wall. "If a company can do something that is good for its customers, that in turn is good for the company". I take that as a "yes" to my question of success. :) Finally, Ami explained that Advanta/Ideablob's ideal is to create a tool/resource so people can gain awareness and recognition for their ideas that they didn't have before, and to network and gain resources that they didn't have before. Ideablob gives that to everyone in a fun, informative, and engaging way. Marci reiterated at that point that not only was it fun, but it was also easy.

So this post has accomplished several different things. First, it highlights a non-profit organization that deserves some recognition. Second, it gives "idea people" a resource for sharing and networking, and since many search professionals are also idea people, it's tailor made for us. Finally, it underscores the fact networking, good marketing and focusing on customers/users, is a universal method for success – whether you are an SEO or not. Just in case you were wondering, no, this post is not any kind of paid review (or paid anything). I just really love the concept behind the Ideablob site, the marketing lessons to be learned from how it all ties back to its parent company, and how it can be a resource for "idea people" like me. And to be able to highlight a charitable organization was just the cherry on top of the cake. :)

Hat tip to Allison Clark for making this interview possible. :)

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