Our 2011 Holiday Gift Guide was posted today. Thanks SO MUCH to all of you who took the time to nominate businesses and products that you love, for consideration. Your help makes the job much easier, and helps heighten our awareness of new products and creative entrepreneurs as they hit the scene.
The history of the gift guide, and the Grocery Guide for that matter, harken back to the start of this campaign in 2007. I never intended to launch a full-blown initiative, I was actually just tired of seeing neighbors and businesses I loved struggling, and decided one small way to help was to watch where my dollars were going.
Realizing my own buying habits could stand a change, I set out to find Michigan-made products and locally-owned businesses to support as alternatives. After doing a bunch of research, it seemed only fitting to share what I found in the hopes of changing other people's spending habits as well. So on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in 2007, I launched www.BuyMichiganNow.com and posted my first guide, which was a combination of gifts and groceries.
Now of course, there is an online directory of 3000+ businesses, the Grocery Guide, and each season, a new gift guide. Creating the gift guide is one of the biggest challenges of the year, and often people wonder how I make the final determinations of what goes in and what does not. It's not a scientific process by a long shot, but there is an awful lot of thought and strategy that goes into it nonetheless. Here are a few of the considerations:
Does it make a great GIFT? This has to be the very first question that comes to mind. There are tons of fantastic products and services out there, but not every one of them is gift material. With each possibility I ask myself whether or not I can conceive of someone who would be truly excited to receive that item as a gift. If the answer is yes, or maybe, it's still a contender. After that, the questions appear in no particular order.
Have we heard from fans of the product? For obvious reasons, rave reviews from customers go a long way toward helping a product make it into the gift guide. If users love it enough to write us about it, that really says something.
Is there a SPECIFIC product recommendation from a company? Often we hear about, or know of a particular company, or line of products, and while the quality may be consistently high, some of their products are naturally going to make better gifts than others. Thus a recommendation for one specific product and why it's a spectacular gift idea, carries more weight than just naming a brand.
Where is the company based? Our campaign is designed to be a STATEWIDE initiative, so when a gift guide is produced, I try to make sure as many different geographic areas of the state have been represented as possible. This is sometimes a challenge, as we tend to receive a lot more recommendations about companies in highly populated areas.
How available is this product? There are several layers to this question. If a product will be sold in a lot of retail locations throughout the state, it is much more likely to make it in the guide. The fundamental reality is that many people wait until the last minute to make purchases, and delivery times, can sometimes limit that possibility. Media, also often want to talk about gifts the closer we get to the holiday, which means we want to be able to tell them about products that people can still get their hands on in time for the holidays. Also, some of the products we feature are handmade, which often means they are not in stock, waiting to be ordered, but will be made when an order comes in. If the process from order, to shipping is too long, it likely doesn't make it into the gift guide.
How much does it cost? It's important to be able to show a wide variety of price points. We don't want to leave out more expensive products, because there is always a customer for every item, and yet, it's important, especially these days, to show affordable options that offer high value.
How much competition is there? Sometimes we simply receive too many great nominations of the same type of product, and can't fit them all in. People often ask me why not just include everything? The first answer is the simplest...people get an awful lot of catalogues at this time of year, and very few of them list every available product, because most of us don't have the time nor inclination to browse through thousands of ideas. In order to get people to really look at what's been included, I limit the amount to approximately one hundred each year. Second, many of the companies make products that are very similar to one another, so if you have more competitors, it's tougher to get one of your products in the guide (e.g. food, lotion, candles, jewelry, etc.)
Are we demonstrating variety? Obviously there are thousands more ideas that people can be purchasing locally than just what I choose to include in the gift guide. One of the key purposes of it is not just to say, please buy these specific products, but to show people that we are making more products than they probably knew about here in Michigan, and that you can find something for everyone if you're willing to try. With that in mind, I actively seek out unique categories of products, and avoid repeating products that have been previously featured.
During the process itself, there are other factors that arise, but these questions are essentially the guideposts. Hopefully they will help those of you who are interested to understand why some items are included and some are not...and also how to increase the chances that something you nominate makes it in next year. As I stated upfront, it sure isn't an exact science, but it is done with a lot of love and support for the amazing Michigan businesses that are going to bring our economy back. I hope you'll support them with your dollars, and support this initiative by sharing the guide via email, newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and any other way you choose to communicate. Happy holiday shopping to all!
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