3 Marketing Lessons I Learned at the Iowa State Fair

In her continuing series, we welcome special guest, Stelter Editorial Director, Katie Parker.

“It’s dollars to doughnuts that our State Fair is the best state fair in our state!”

Lyrics from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical “State Fair”

The state of Iowa just finished 11 days of eating fried food on a stick and I’m celebrating (while walking off the calories) by noting the clever marketing techniques utilized by one of the most resourceful brands around.

Here’s three nifty approaches I spotted at the Iowa State Fair, and how you can use them in planned giving:

1. Lean into Nostalgia

The Iowa State Fair’s 165-year history is a leverage point. They recognize that three-plus generations have been eating corndogs on their hilly grounds, so they harken back to memories from your childhood…and your parents’ childhood.

Their branding team also knows that just a year ago you may have missed out on a concert, a food item or a display. Repeating and hyping these ensures that you get your second chance.

Examples in action:

  • Use of black-and-white vintage photography on the billboards.
  • Menus labeled with “Voted Best Food Item of 2018.”
  • Press releases touting stats, like the top-selling concert of all time (it was Sonny and Cher in 1972, by the way).

Planned giving marketing takeaway: Invite memories of your brand—whether the donor’s own memories or the communal history of your brand and its impact over time—through photography, storytelling and reflective statistics.

2. Leverage Social Proof

Consumers adapt behavior based on others. Social proof has root in our psyches, and people-watching at the Iowa State Fair is a great place to spot social proof.

Examples in action:

  • I ordered the pineapple whip after seeing a happy fairgoer enjoy it.
  • I found the source of the fuzzy pig ear headbands so my daughter could match the kiddos she was eyeing across the grounds.
  • I watched three adults lug their prize stuffed animals across the midway. It made the token feel attainable…maybe not every booth is rigged?

Planned giving marketing takeaway: Letting other donors vouch for your brand invites new donors to come forward (it’s the show not tell of marketing). Share stories and quotes, as well as imagery of people interacting with your brand and furthering your mission.

3. Play Up Anticipation

The State Fair marketing wagon doesn’t begin rolling on opening day. The contests, announcements and special-invitation events are actively promoted for months before the gates swing wide.

Examples in action:

  • Countdown clock displayed on the digital board outside the Fairground.
  • Invite-only events for supporters ahead of the opening.

Planned giving marketing takeaway: Prime your prospects for a big campaign or an important date with anticipatory messaging that activates their excitement in the lead-up. This marketing can be broader and cheaper—leveraging social media channels, for instance—especially if you don’t have immediate action they can take.

Any fairgoers out there? (I hear good things about the Texas and Minnesota fairs!) What grassroots marketing did you see in action?

2 thoughts on “3 Marketing Lessons I Learned at the Iowa State Fair

  1. Thanks for the reply Brad. The need for providing ‘Social Proof’ in planned giving has been critical as donors general trust in charity has dropped with every generation.

    Katie Parker and our editorial team do an amazing job making this a key element of our clients planned giving campaigns.

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