Aquinas rolls West reaches 5A title game by Sean Kosednar

Friday 5A semifinal matchup between Olathe West and St. Thomas Aquinas Saints got off to a great start for the visiting Owls. They recovered a surprise onside kick to open the game. Things quickly went downhill from there, as STA marched to a place in the state championship game with a 67-21 win.

The Saints came into the game without their starting quarterback, Tate Raboin, and running back Tank Young. The undefeated Saints showed their depth as sophomore Blake Anderson stepped in and ran the offense like a pro.

“Blake Anderson obviously was incredible,” Aquinas head coach Randy Dreiling said, “he came in at quarterback and did a great job for us. Of course our backup running back was our rushing record holder before this year, so he is pretty capable.”

Anderson said he had the full support of his team this week.

“It’s crazy,” Anderson said. “I got a lot of help from the coaches and Tate [Raboin] in practice. I was able to get a lot of reps, and everyone was helping me out. The offensive line had my back the whole game and made things easy for me.”

Running back Cameron Jackson had three touchdowns on the night. The senior knows it’s next man up on their team.

“We run really deep,” Jackson said. “Everyone works hard at practice, so whenever anyone goes down there is always someone there to step up.”

The Saints are looking to avenge their loss in the 2017 state championship game.

“There is nothing like practicing the week of Thanksgiving,” Dreiling said. “That’s what your goal always is. You can’t win it if you don’t get there.”

Senior defensive end Ben Turla and Jackson both echoed their coach’s sentiments.

“That’s all we are going for this year,” Turla said. “Our motto had been ‘every week is the state championship,’ but next week is when it really counts.”

“After losing last year it hurt,” Jackson said. “Being back in the same place this year feels really good, and we hope we can finish it off this time.”

Watching warm ups you wouldn’t have known there was a trip to the state championship on the line. The Saints were loose from before the opening whistle.

“That’s how we play,” Jackson said. “We want to come out and have a good time. We work hard in practice all week and getting to play in late November makes us feel good.”

Teammate Turla agrees.

“We like to act as normal as we can before games,” Turla said. “In practice we get what we need to get done, but we also have fun while we do it. We like to bring that same attitude into game day.”

The Saints will need to stay loose when they face Wichita Northwest in the Kansas 5A state championship Saturday, Nov. 24 in Pittsburg, Kan.

Mustangs still kicking by Sean Kosednar

It only took two plays for Graham Mertz and the Blue Valley North Mustangs to score their first touchdown Friday, Nov. 9 against the Trailblazers of Gardner Edgerton. It only took four total plays for North to score their second of seven touchdowns on their way to a 49-28 win.

“Gardner is a great team,” Mertz said. “All week were stressing how it was going to be a battle and that’s exactly what it was.”

Blue Valley North head coach Andy Sims said it all starts with their quarterback.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of offense you run,” Sims said, “the quarterback is such a vital sport because they touch the ball so much. We have a very, very good one. I am so proud of Graham, the way he has come back and battled. He is one of the best around.”

Mertz had six touchdown passes on the day, including two to fellow senior Cameron Burt. In the third quarter, Burt broke the single season reception yardage record for Kansas 11-man football.

“It was a lot of hard work,” Burt said. “I didn’t start keeping track [of the record] until I started getting close to it. I kind of knew where I was at but didn’t want to be too selfish and bring it up or anything. We have to spread the ball around. It was good breaking it though.”

Mertz and Burt have played together their whole lives, and they have developed a connection because of it.

“[Graham] puts it where we need it every single time,” Burt said. “I don’t have to worry about coming back for the ball. All I have to do it get open.”

“I know where he is going to be,” Mertz said, “he knows where I am going to throw it. So that helps a ton. I a m proud of him, and I couldn’t be more-happy.”

As the defending Kansas state champions, it would be easy for North to be looking ahead to bigger games to come.

“Blue Valley North isn’t the type of program where we can just roll the balls out and play,” Sims said. “We had to hit the reset button going into the playoffs and refocus. I don’t believe in doing extra game planning for the future during practice. We need all hands-on deck. Now we have to treat this like any other week, and it starts tonight.”

It may be to total opposite of the Mustangs’ air raid, but Gardner’s triple option is just as taxing on defenses.

“The defense the last two weeks has played phenomenal,” Sims said. “That’s a very, very tough offense. They just grind on you and wear you down. Our guys did a great job of battling. We did a great job of any time [the defense] got stops we turned it into points.”

The Mustangs will face Olathe North in the semifinals Friday, Nov. 16.

Making history every week by Sean Kosednar

It was only a matter of time before Olathe West pulled away against F.L. Schlagle Friday, Nov. 2. The Stallions only suit up 22 players. By contrast West brought 26 cheerleaders. It was a close game for two and half quarters, but the Owls wound up with a 49-15 win and their first regional championship in school history.

OWHS found themselves on the doorstep twice in the first half. Schlagle managed two goal line stands stopping the Owls inside the five each time. After a second quarter touchdown and two-point conversion put the Stallions up 8-0, the Owls responded on ensuing kickoff.

“Instincts took over,” senior defensive back Brendon Bolden said of his 80-yard touchdown, “I saw the ball, saw a hole, and followed my blockers in there.”

Bolden picked up a bouncing ball on the 20 and sped through the oncoming defenders untouched. The senior cut towards the left sideline and was gone.

The half would end with the Owls trailing by one.

“We felt comfortable,” Olathe West head coach TJ O’Neil said. “We just didn’t finish drives in the first half. We did pretty well defensively. We felt good going into halftime.”

After halftime both teams scored on their first possession. After that it was all Olathe West.

“We got back to running the ball [in the second half,” O’Neil said. “Eventually it took its toll, and we were able to break some big runs and gain momentum.”

Senior quarterback Zac Krause agreed that the team got back to basics in the second half.

“We just did our job,” Krause said. “The first half we were caught up in the moment. In the second half we just did our job and let the game plan take care of itself. We made those adjustments and came out firing in the second half.”

One of the biggest plays came on the last play of the third quarter. After stopping Schlagle on fourth down, the Owls took over on their own 30-yard line. On the first play Krause found junior Conor Delong for a 70-yard touchdown.

“We saw on film that they were coming up on hitches,” Krause said. “We decided to call a hitch and go. I had to run around and it worked out.”

Krause avoided the rush by stepping up in the pocket. He found DeLong open down the field who evaded the first tackler with a spin move. Then broke one more tackle before reaching the end zone and effectively ending the game.

“All of this is momentum for us,” O’Neil said. “Everything is the first time for us, and this just allows us to keep getting confidence moving forward.”

“Being the first year, this is mind blowing,” Krause said. “No one really thought we would be here. I’m excited. I’m excited for the team, and we will see where this goes.

Where it goes next is a match up against De Soto High School Friday, Nov. 9. 

Let's do this again by Sean Kosednar

With massive tailgate parties, pre-sold tickets, pre-game fireworks, and a sideline crowd that resembled a USC game, it would have been easy to mistake the Rockhurst Bishop Miege matchup Friday Sept. 28 for a college game.

The two schools haven’t played in more than 30 years and crowds started filing Dixon Doll stadium two hours early to be sure not to miss a second of the action. It would be hard for the action to live up to the hype. Rockhurst escaped with a 14-13 win in a game that won’t soon be forgotten.

“This one lived up to the hype,” Rockhurst head coach Tony Severino said. “We beat a good football team. We are a good football team. It comes down to a one-point game. If this were a playoff game, it would have been absolutely perfect.”

The result of the game may have been perfect, but the beginning was anything but. The teams traded punts on the first five possessions. The only way either team moved the ball was through penalties. Uncharacteristically each had multiple personal foul penalties, and the game was marred by flags all night.

Finally, near the end of the first quarter things start to go right for the Rockhurst offense. The Hawklets drive 90 yards in nearly eight minutes before facing a fourth and goal from the one-yard line. There was never a doubt Severino’s team would go for it. Senior running back Michael Johnson got the ball and scored easily.

Then the turnovers started.

Three of the last four drives in the first half ended with turnovers.

“Our goal every game is to get three turnovers,” Rockhurst senior Andrew Stafford said. “We are always looking to make plays on defense and tonight we happened to get a couple.”

Stafford would be involved on the offense side of the ball as well. He finished off the Hawklets’ opening drive of the second half with a 27-yard touchdown reception.

“They called a corner route and I saw the ball go up,” Stafford said, “I like going up and catching the ball over guys. When I came down I didn’t even realize I was in the end zone until I looked down.”

After moving his team 60 yards down the field to open the second half, senior quarterback Luke Boehm dropped back and looked down the right sideline. Two Stag defenders were closing in on Stafford leaving a small window in which to fit the pass.

“I thought the corner was sinking, and saw the safety coming over as well,” Boehm said. “I dropped the ball in the perfect and spot and Andrew [Stafford] made a hell of a catch. One hell of a catch.”

After it all was said and done the main talking point will be the fake point after attempt by Bishop Miege. The Stags high powered offense struggled to move the ball all game.

“[Rockhurst] are a tremendous defense. That was the first struggle,” Miege head coach Jon Holmes said. “We had some injuries, and turnovers. We talked about not being able to turn the ball over and we did that tonight.”

Despite that Bishop Miege had a chance to tie the game with six minutes left in the game. Hudson Bentley had just made his own acrobatic catch over two defenders to pull the Stags within one.

“That’s a play we like,” Holmes said. “Sam [Pedrotti] usually does a good job with it. He just got tripped up a little. If he doesn’t get tripped it’s a whole different story.”

Rockhurst was fortunate the play went like it did, as the Hawklets were shorthanded at the crucial moment.

“We only had nine [players] on the field,” Severino said. “I thought about calling timeout, but I thought they would kick it. I never thought they would fake it. It almost backfired.”

The Hawklets travel to Columbia, MO to take on Battle High School Friday Oct. 5, and Bishop Miege face the Blue Valley Tigers.

Tigers get Rocked by Sean Kosednar

Rockhurst and Blue Valley have a combined 15 state titles and are only separated by 10 miles, but Friday, Sept. 21 was the first time the two storied programs have faced each other on the gridiron.

“We see [Blue Valley] in the summer,” Rockhurst head coach Tony Severino said. “We have been playing 7 on 7 against them for years not ever thinking we would play.”

The highly anticipated matchup was a let down on the field. Rockhurst won easily 42-7.The Hawklets did it by dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

“That’s our strength,” Severino said, “We knew going in our front seven on offense, and our front seven on defense was our strength, and we want people to have to put the ball over the top on us.”

The Tigers were unable to do that most of the game. Senior quarterback Walker Kinney was never able to get in a rhythm. Pressure from the Rockhurst defensive line caused the Tiger quarterback to spend most of the game scrambling. The one bright spot came when Kinney made a pin point pass to Cameron Green for a 54-yard touchdown.

“We knew what we were in for,” Blue Valley head coach Allen Terrell said. “They are enormous, and super talented kids that are well coached. Our kids were up for it. We got behind early and tried to battle back, but they just had more juice than us tonight.”

The Hawklets did most of their work on the ground. Senior running back Michael Johnson got the ball early and often racking up well over 100 yards on the night. Johnson and the rest of the Rockhurst backfield had massive holes through which to run thanks to a road grading offensive line.

“Our line did their job tonight,” Johnson said. “Our line is outstanding. In practice they go hard each and every play. They work on their techniques. In the games that means big holes for me.”

Three of the Rockhurst’s six touchdowns came on the ground. However, the most electric one came in special teams. Reed Levi fielded a bouncing punt at his 18. The Blue Valley coverage team seemed to slow up thinking there wouldn’t be much of a return. Levi had other ideas. Four broken tackles and 82 yards later he was crossing the goal line and putting Rockhurst up 21-0 early in the second quarter. The Hawklets always seemed to get a big play when they needed it tonight.

“We talk about how no matter what we have called believing it is going to work,” Severino said. “We made some plays early that gave us a chance to put the game away.”

Put the game away they did. The Rockhurst players wanted to send a message with this win.

“This is our first time playing Blue Valley ever,” Johnson said. “This was an intense game, and we wanted to come out and show the city that we are the best team.”

Rockhurst will have another opportunity to make that case Sept. 28 when they travel to Bishop Miege. Blue Valley go to Blue Valley Northwest.

Make that 28 in a row by Sean Kosednar

Anyone who has followed high school football in Kansas City knows Bishop Miege can’t up points. So, the 40 spot the Stags put on Mill Valley Friday, Sept. 14 isn’t a surprise. Three blocked punts, two turnovers, one special teams’ touchdown, one defensive touchdown and only seven points allowed should get people on both sides of the state line to sit up and take notice.

“Hats off to [Mill Valley],” Bishop Miege head coach Jon Holmes said, “coach Applebee and coach Hudgins had a great game plan for us. Our back only had 20 yards at halftime. Proud of our guys because they didn’t quit.”

At the end of the first quarter the score was 7-0 Stags, and Mill Valley had already forced an interception. It was looking like Miege was in for a fight. Half way through the second quarter everything changed.

Senior quarterback Sam Pedrotti started a drive for the Stags on their own 8 yard-line. After a bomb to both Phillipe Wesley and Hudson Bentley, and less than a minute later Brinson Cobbins was leaping over the line and into the end zone.

“Sam Pedrotti grew up tonight,” Holmes said. “He made some big throws that he had to make. Our receivers played tremendous games. We ask a lot of them. We have some injuries at that position, so those are four guys.”

The story of the rest of the game was the Stags’ defense. Miege pinned the Jags deep on their next possession. A sack forced Mill Valley to punt from their own end zone. Punting had already been an adventure with multiple bad snaps to that point.

“We like to get after the kicking game,” Holmes said. “Our special teams coordinator Zach Mann does a tremendous job getting us ready week to week. We felt like we could get some blocks after we saw some bad snaps on film. We thought we could take advantage of that tonight.”

They certainly did. This time it was a good snap but backed up to the end line meant a Stag defender could break through the line and get a hand on the punt. Junior Tyquez Agnew-Whitten picked it up on the bounce and ran into the left corner of the end zone. It wouldn’t be the last defensive score of the day for Miege.

On the very next possession, Mill Valley was moving the ball out near midfield and the clock was ticking down to halftime. Jordan Preston completed a quick out when senior line back Dylan Downing forced a fumble near the sideline. Jaylen Scruggs was alert and scooped the ball up then used his speed to beat everyone to the end zone.

“[Mill Valley] has a really good offense,” Scruggs said. “It feels really good to hold them to only 7 points. Shout out to Dylan Downing for being the one to force the fumble. I just happened to be there and pick it up and score.”

Scruggs wasn’t done. Near the end of the third quarter with the game well in hand the Jaguars were driving. Scruggs got beat on a great play by the wide receiver, but the senior cornerback recovered and forced a fumble of his own.

“One thing about DB is you can’t give up,” Scruggs said. “I kept playing and I forced a fumble.”

That perseverance is important to a young Miege defense. That expects to be good for years to come.

“Jalen Williams, Dylan Downing and Jaylen Scruggs are the only seniors we start on defense,” Homes said. “Those three are the heart and soul of our defense. I’m so proud of their effort tonight. They played a really good game against a really good offense.”

Eagles soar past Falcons by Sean Kosednar

It looked like it was going to be a shoot out after the first drives for Olathe North and Olathe East on August 31, but it wasn’t to be. After each team marched down the field on their opening possession, the Eagle of Olathe North flew away to a 49-20 victory.

This victory meant a lot to the returning players from North.

“We worked hard all off season. It was great to be back with my team,” sophomore Arland Bruce IV said. “Last year we lost to East after being up. We let them come back, so this was a good win to get back at them.”

Both teams found the end zone to open the game. North did it by marching down the field. Bruce led the way gaining 10 yards seemingly at will. Daymonn Sanchez capped off the drive with a 12 yard touchdown run.

“Arland has what I like to call football savvy,” Olathe North head coach Chris McCartney said. “He gets it. He understands the hard work that it takes. He is coachable and a hard worker. On top of that he is a natural. That is why he has so much success.”

Things looked bright to start the day for East. They scored after having the ball for just two minutes. Senior Tre’von Kearney broke a 48-yard run for a touchdown. A missed extra point would be just be the start of trouble for the Hawks.

Over the next two and a half quarters Olathe North would score four unanswered touchdowns extending their lead to 35-7

“Our offense, we have some weapons,” McCartney said “and our coaches do a great job. They were ready to go.”

 Olathe North simply ran the ball all over the place. The offensive line was opening up holes all night for Eagle ball carriers.

“There were so many holes that were wide open,” Bruce said, “I could go any where. Left, right straight ahead. They just opened up huge gaps for us.”

McCartney attributes it to hard work.

“We have some offensive linemen who work extremely hard,” McCartney said. “We have really talented backs that can do a lot of things. We just work really hard. Really hard.”

Olathe East would add two touchdowns in the second half. They were able to move the ball well at time in the fourth quarter.

 the end North was too much and added two more touchdowns themselves bringing their final tally to seven. It was an impressive win to start the year.

“We were close last year,” McCartney said. “I think we know what that is and what that feels like, and we want to take the next step.”

September 7 North is hosting Shawnee Mission North, and visits Lawrence Free State.

emfluence And Then Some 2018 Recap by Sean Kosednar

I attended the And Then Some conference hosted by emfluence on August 24. It was a day full of ways to improve your email marketing. After the conference they sent a list of “10 things to do post-conference.” Not only is this a great example of email marketing, but it makes my job recapping the conference easier, so I really appreciated it.

#1 GDPR – The GDPR deadline came and went a couple months ago. The biggest thing that has come from it so far is that no one was truly prepared for the requirements. No more checking permission boxes automatically. Tell people exactly what information you will be collecting from them. Don’t collect more information than you need. If you can make these changes right away that will help a lot. These regulations are coming to the US, so it would be smart to get ahead of it.

#2 Post-Sale Series – If you make a sale, add a new subscriber, or anything similar add that address to a workflow to send them a series of emails explaining what is to come. These are going to be some of the most opened emails you send, because they are going to someone who is interested in your product or service.

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#3 Get Personal – Everyone prefers to read an email that feels like it was sent only to us. That personalization comes from the loads of data we are already collecting. Instead of sitting on that data we should put it to use.

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#4 Button Size – This one is pretty straight forward. It is the height of frustration when you try and click on a small button and click something else by mistake. Solve this problem by making all your button 44 pixels wide.

#5 Don’t Reply Dont’s – If people are replying to your email that means they are engaged. Why would you discourage that by sending from a “do not reply” address? Don’t sound like a robot. That leads into the next point…


#6 Be Human – Instead of “no reply” addresses and faceless from names, show your subscribers you are a real human. Treat them with respect.

#7 Email Headers – Think of preheader text as a second subject line. Often it can entice people to open as much or more than the subject itself.

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#8 Live Chat – Today some people prefer a chat option to having to wait on the phone. It is a fairly simple and inexpensive thing to add to improve customer service.


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#9 The 8-Second Rule – People got things to do, man. Keep emails short.


#10 This is just an ad – I didn’t even notice until I went to write the description. Good example of how marketing doesn’t have to stand out as marketing.

Big time breakthrough by Sean Kosednar

The best seniors from both sides of the state line got together Thursday for the BeYOUnion.com Kansas vs. Missouri All-Star Game. For the first time in seven years Kansas bested its Show Me State rivals. This time it was never close, as Kansas won 30-0.

It was Kansas’ defense that got them on the board first. After being stopped on the doorstep on fourth down the Kansas team wasted no time getting the ball back. Lawrence Free State’s Gage Foster came untouched off the left edge and blew up the Missouri running back in the end zone for a safety.

“I knew their tackle was going down every play,” Gage said, “so the opportunity to blitz off the edge was there, and I hit the running back. That lifted everybody’s spirits. We came out a little timid and that got us going as a team.”

Next up it would be Kansas’ special teams. Jamison Phelps from Olathe South took the ensuing kick to the house. Phelps backpedaled to receive the kick and took off up field. After slipping a couple of tackles he out-raced everyone to the end zone and gave Kansas a 9-0 lead.

“It was kicked farther than I anticipated,” Phelps said. “I caught, saw a big hole, and I took it to the house. It was a momentum changer.”

After forcing a punt, Kansas marched down the field on their next possession. Brody Flaming, Mill Valley, found Shawnee Mission Northwest’s Hayden Goodpaster on a 14-yard slant for a touchdown. The extra point made it 16-0 Kansas.

“I told the offensive line all you need to give me is one second,” Flaming said. “They did it perfectly. Hayden [Goodpaster] ran a perfect route and made a great play.”

The second half was more of the same form the Kansas All-Stars. Bryce Mohl from Desoto snuck in from the one on Kansas’ second possession of the half.

The only time Missouri’s offense ran well at all was with Kansas City Central’s Javion Shelby at the helm. Shelby, along with teammate Dre’Shaun Sanders, was the first player to ever represent KC Central in the All Star Game and was named Missouri’s MVP.

“It’s a big honor,” Shebly said, “a very big honor. I dreamed of this day and it finally came true. Shout out to Kansas for having a good game.”

Ironically Shelby’s biggest play came catching the ball rather than throwing it. Late in the third quarter Shelby pitched the ball and took off down field. He hauled in a wide-open pass and was tackled 30 yards later inside the 10. Missouri was unable to score however.

With only two weeks to prepare and unfamiliar teammates it can be hard to have a cohesive offense.

“It was tough to walk into a brand-new offense,” Kansas MVP Flaming said. “Big props to my offensive line, running backs and receivers for helping me out because I didn’t know what I was doing.”

The final score of the game came on an ad lib from a St. Thomas Aquinas tight end.

“I was originally just supposed to pass block,” Joseph Clune said. “I know Brody Flaming. He is used to rolling out and I didn’t see anyone on the right side and just went for it.”

Clune went 41 yards to the end zone capping off a great game for the Kansas team.

“My whole life I have been working as hard as I can playing football,” Clune said. “Being selected to play with all the other great players from Kansas was great. We came together and played a great game. It was the best day of my life.”

Subject Lines, Like Headlines, Are The Only Thing You Read by Sean Kosednar

 

I attended the Digital Summit – Kansas City on May 16-17. Over two days I was able to see presentation on everything from podcasts to SEO from a variety of industry experts. The highlight for me was a four hour workshop on email. Honestly, I could write 10 blog posts about what I learned from Michael Barber. Perhaps I will in the future. Today we focus on subject lines.

I hate to break it to you, but most people aren’t opening your emails. That means the subject line is often the only part of your campaign that anyone reads. They can quite literally make or break an email marketing campaign. How much thought are you putting into subject lines?

We all know that the audience is busy and needs a reason to open your email. Should you include prices? For a long time we thought prices were a one way ticket the spam folder. Not only is that not true anymore, but having a price in the subject line increases click-through-rates by 246 percent. “Worth” and “deal” increase 134 and 91 percent. Finally, “buy one get one” has an 89 percent increase in open rates. As with everything there is a catch. You need to be sure to mix things up. Customers will start to expect deals if you include them too often. So be sure to vary your subject lines.

That brings us to effectiveness decay. Even the wittiest subject line will be less effective tomorrow than it was today and even more so next week. How often do you change the subject lines of the emails you send out? If you are anything like me even when you change the actual words the format is essentially the same. This leads to the same decay.

Can’t figure out a solution?

There is hope. Questions are effective. Especially those that start with “can’t or “won’t” they do better than questions with “will” or “who.”

  Barber mentioned a company, Phrasee, that studies subject lines. The charts were hard to read so I created my own with the main information. The first is a list of action words and how they perform in subject lines. Not surprisingly words and phrases associated with spam contests decreased open rates. Avoid “claim your” “get” and “would you like.” On the other hand things like “introducing” and “discover” increase open rates.

 

Subject lines that include sales words are much more effective than those with just the action words. Anything that references a sale explodes open rates. This list reinforces that BOGO and prices make people open your emails. Words like “your order” and other phrases found in transactional emails also scored high. Transaction emails are some of the most opened emails marketers send. It is because people are actually looking for those messages.

 

  The punctuation chart is the one I found the most interesting. First, we can forget about not using exclamation points. People are more likely to open an email with three exclamation points than one, but they are more likely to open emails with only one exclamation point than two in the subject line. I’m not sure that actually means anything, but it is fun to think about. Using an ellipse led to high scores in all categories. Including two or more commas also scored very high.

We have all heard that shorter subject lines are better. However, in reality there is no correlation between the length of the subject line and open rates. The fact that subject lines with two or more commas shows this. If you have a lot to say then say it. If you subject line is good people will open your email regardless of how long it is.

Finally, we come to emojis. You should start using them. People are more likely to open your email when an emoji is used in the subject line. Also, don’t be afraid of using them in B2B emails; 42 percent of white collar workers have used an emoji in a work email. They aren’t just for teens anymore.

The bottom line is subject lines are important. Arguably, they are more important than the content of the email. Don’t treat them as an afterthought.

Winning clients through empathy by Sean Kosednar

I’m no salesman. To be honest, I’m not really sure why I chose Scott Schaper’s presentation at Word Camp KC 2018. I am very happy I chose that room. A lot of what Schaper said resonated with me.

“The best clients,” Schaper said, “are not sensitive to price if you are empathetic to their needs.”

Retailers all think our marketing services are too expensive. They don’t see why it costs so much for email or to set up a Facebook account. No list of feature will convince them. Instead, when a retailer says “That’s expensive” say “Yes. It is expensive. I know choosing how to spend limited resources is a big choice, but here is how I can help.”

We need to frame everything in how we can help the retailers. We aren’t selling we are solving. We aren’t vendors we are partners. Vendors sell stuff. Partners solve problems. Vendors produce expenses. Partners produce value.

In 2017 the average net profit for an independent grocery store was .09 percent. We know our retailers are working on razor thin margins causing them to be hyper focused on price. However, if we focus on what their problems are and try and solve those they will be willing to pay our rates. It is all about producing value. Email, social, texting, none of them are difficult on their own. However, when you are trying to run a business and you a thousand other things that need to get done having someone else send a marketing email for you helps. We should steer retailers away from the price discussion and focus on the value of the services we offer.

The email program was just featured in Cara’s weekly email so my inbox has retailers reaching out for information. I’m going to send them the one sheeter, but before I do I am really going to try and learn about what they are doing as a store. What are they struggling with? I’m going to show them that I am on their side.

View Schaper’s presentation here.

IP targeting: Cool or Terrifying by Sean Kosednar

Imagine you had a list of addresses. That doesn’t seem farfetched. I bet you have thousands. Direct mail is good. It’s even better when paired with targeted ads online. In the old days you needed people to actually go to your site in order to target them with ads. Not anymore.

 

 

You are now able to use your address list to find the IP address associated with each location. Every computer network has a numerical label assigned to it – its IP address. Now through a proprietary service companies are able to match IP addresses to physical addresses with a 60 percent success rate. Direct Mail mail can have a 5.1 percent success rate. That can be even higher when paired with targeted online ads. The ads are targeted only to those on the mailing list, so companies are able to build a true one-to-one relationship.

If that’s not minority report enough for you just wait…

Matching an IP address to a physical address is nice. What about all potential customers whose addresses you don’t have? You can’t leave all that money

 

on the table. The good news is that it is possible to reverse this process as well. You can create a virtual perimeter around a location such as a stadium, conference, or grocery store. When users visit a website or use an app inside that perimeter their device ID is captured. Then when they return home and connect to their home IP address you can look up their physical address. You are even able to capture device IDs going back six months. The is a great way to find both IP and physical addresses of potential customers.

This is the classic case of just because you can does that mean you should? It all comes down to how much do you respect your customers’ privacy. Presumably you came by all the physical addresses honestly, so serving them online ads really is no different. The ethical questions arise when you are finding addresses simply because someone went online in a certain place. Those people have not opted in at all. Even if they were at your store they still may not want to be contacted by you.

Even though it might take more work it is better to get customers to opt in to communications form you than it is to gather their info surreptitiously.

Do you need online shopping customers' approval on produce? by Sean Kosednar

Time and again when online shopping is brought up some Negative Nancy inevitably says “What about produce?” like they are the first person to think of this potential problem. Setting aside the fact that the average person really doesn’t know how to pick out ripe produce, stores train their staff in how to spot a good tomato. If a store is going to be really successful in the online shopping game then they will have a well trained staff who know what produce to select for you. Despite hearing this, some customers will remain unconvinced.

To combat this Walmart has patented the “Fresh Online Experience”. According Supermarket News, customers would be able to “order produce, meat and bakery items online using stock photos, but then have the opportunity to approve the actual items being purchased via image scans (either two- or three-dimensional) sent to them by Walmart store workers.”  After the customer’s approval the items wold be tagged with an “edible watermark” to show it was indeed the item the customer selected.

Perhaps this technology will become the standard. However, it seems like Walmart is throwing a lot of money and time at a subset of online shopping customers that could be won over in other ways.

It’s important to show customers the items you selected when they come to pick up their purchases. This way there won’t be any surprises when they get home. Even before that, however, allow customers to choose from a variety of options when selecting their produce.

It all comes down to training. Train your pickers to select the correct ripeness and not just the first items they see. Building the trust of your online shoppers will notonly keep them coming back, but it will save you time and money as well. This Fresh Online Experience is great in theory. How long will you have to wait to get approval from the customers? Add that to the time it will take to go pick new items. Now consider the cost it will take to implement. Simply training your staff to pick the correct items and showing them to the customer at pick up will accomplish the same goals. It seems counterintuitive to try and solve a tech problem with a low tech solution. The best way for retailers to compete with the likes of Walmart is to foster a sense of community between your store and customers. Go that extra mile and show off your expertise when they are picking up their order. Show them their produce and make sure it is all to their liking. They will appreciate one less step in the order buying process.

First time champs by Sean Kosednar

The weather may have felt like September but it was championship time on Nov. 25 when Blue Valley North squared off with Derby in the Kansas 6A State Championship at Emporia State University. The Mustangs outlasted the Panthers 49-42 for the first football title in school history.

It looked like it was going to be a long day for North as Derby needed only five plays to take the lead. A quick three and out saw the ball right back with the Panthers.

“We knew what we were capable of,” senior tight end Dylan Freberg said. “We rallied [after the quick three and out]. There is no giving up on this team.”

The Mustangs would go on to score touchdowns on seven of their next nine possessions.

While some of his teammates may been nervous on the championship stage, junior quarterback  Graham Mertz has been here before.

“I have been in this situation twice at [Bishop] Miege, so I knew what we had to do,” Mertz said. “I told everyone ‘this is just another game’ and ‘that we had to get the job done.’ Everyone trusted and we executed.”

Mertz went 24/30 for 462 yards and four passing touchdowns. If that wasn’t enough he added a 15 yard rushing touchdown as well.

“We just had to score,” Mertz said of his game wining touchdown with 57 seconds left. “Everyone knew we had to and we made the play to win it.”

In a game with gaudy offensive numbers, two of the biggest plays were made by the Blue Valley North Defense. Late in the third quarter Derby was knocking on the door. Huter Igo looked to his left and seemed to have a open receiver in the end zone. North safety DreSchaun McCallop got in the passing lane and tipped the ball. The senior then had the presence of mind to find the ball and snag it just before it hit the ground. North sealed the game with an interception in the dying seconds as well.

“Those were crucial,” Blue Valley North head coach Andy Sims said. “We you hold on to the ball and don’t give it away you usually have a better chance to win. We were on the right side of that and today was our day.”

The biggest call of the day came just over two minutes left. The Mustangs found themselves out of field goal range facing a 4th and 12.

“There was never a question in my mind,” Sims said. “At that point in the ball game I was tired of trading [touchdowns] with them. The play broke down and the call went our way to keep the drive going.”

The call Sims is referring to is a crucial defensive pass interference call that saw the Derby defender fall down in front of the wide receiver. There was contact and the ref threw his flag immediately. The automatic first down kept the drive alive and the Mustangs scored four plays later to take the lead for good.

After the game Sims reflected on what the win means for Blue Valley North.

“We have never been a football Mecca,” Sims said. “I hope students look at Blue Valley North for what we are. We are great community and the kids we have playing football here want to play football. It means something to them and my hat is off to them. Blue Valley North is a great place to be right now.”

Free State hits same road block by Sean Kosednar

It was almost like a video game when both players choose the same team on Friday November 10. Lawrence Free State was clad in all green with white numbers and Derby wore all white with green numbers. There was a number 5 under center for both teams. And just like all games between evenly matched teams - regulation wasn’t enough. Derby advanced to the 6A State semifinal altering beating Free State 55-49 in overtime.

“They are [a mirror image of us],” Derby head coach Brandon Clark said. “They are a run first offense. They threw the ball well. We weren’t expecting that. It was run, run run then set up to pass the ball.”

Free State head coach Bob Lisher agrees.

“Oh, absolutely,” Lisher said. “Offensively we did pretty well. If you would have told me this morning that we would score 49 points I would have liked our chances. Derby, they made some plays tonight. Got to give them credit.”

The game didn’t start out like one with over 100 combined points. Both teams punted on their opening possessions. Then Free State would score back to back touchdowns. One after forcing a fumble inside their own 10-yard line. That wouldn’t be the last red zone turnover of the game. On the first play after the fumble senior running back Jax Dineen broke off a 65-yard run. It would prove costly for the Firebirds. Dineen would be forced from the game with a leg injury.

“It wasn’t only Jax,” Lisher said. “We had a lot of guys get banged up tonight. We were down to our fourth running back. Luckily, he is a good little freshman. He made some plays for us. We had a lot of guys sitting out late and that hurt us.”

Getting down 14-0 didn’t seem to faze Derby. Sophomore running back Tre Washington took the ensuing kickoff down to the 8-yard-line. On the first play Hunter Igo kept the ball and ran straight up the middle for his first touchdown of the game.

Igo scored again to tie the game after Derby forced a quick three and out. Not only did Igo score but he also converted 2 fourth downs on the drive.

Not to be outdone Gage Foster answered right back with an amazing 25-yard touchdown run of his own on the very next possession.

Each team would add another touchdown with under a minute to go in the first half. Free State looked like they would take a seven-point lead after their touchdown with 37 seconds left. Then their squib kick back fired, and Derby drove 50 yards in 30 seconds and tied the game with only six seconds left.

Derby got the ball to start the second half and Igo scored another short touchdown to open the half.

Free State would be playing catchup the rest of the game. Foster connected on a 53-yard bomb to Jake Rittman.

There were many times it looked like the Firebirds’ defense would get them off the field.

“Their offensive line, running back and quarterback are pretty good,” Lisher said. “We haven’t had the problem all year long, but we had a problem stopping them tonight.”

With eight minutes left Derby was facing a fourth and goal from the 19. The Panthers dialed up a double pass. Igo passed the ball to the wide receiver along the left boundary. He then found Keenan Garber on a slant out of the back field for a diving grab in the end zone.

“I don’t think we even ran a reverse this year,” Clark said. “We put in 10 trick plays this week and we ran eight of them. Thank goodness we did.”

With the game tied at 49, it looked like Free State was setting up to advance in the playoffs when disaster struck. The Firebirds had the ball in the middle of the field on the 12-yard-line with the clock ticking down. Foster ran the ball to the middle to set up the game winning field goal. Derby forced a fumble and recovered with 26 seconds left.

A missed field goal sent the game to overtime. In a game with few stops Derby’s defense came up big. They kept Free State out of the end zone on four plays. It only took one for them to punch in the game winning touchdown.

How to beat national chains at online shopping by Sean Kosednar

A recent Reuters story talked about how it is hard to sell groceries online. Shoppers surveyed said they are very loyal to their local food stores and don’t want to shop for groceries online from places like Amazon. Those interviewed described themselves as “avid internet shoppers” and still weren’t interested in online grocery shopping.

This runs counter to everything posted on this site for the last two years. AWG retailers can find a positive, however. Customers are loyal to their local store. They aren’t going to jump to a national chain simply because they offer online shopping. They do want to shop online. You can give that to them.

The top hesitation for online shopping is picking produce. Your customers are shopping with you because they like the selection you offer. Make it clear that when they order online they are still getting the produce section that they know and love. Training whoever picks the groceries is crucial. Show them what makes a good tomato. If the customer wants three yellow bananas and three green ones make sure that is what they will get. Talk with your customers while they are shopping, and tell them about your online program. All of these things will help build trust.

Obviously, it is hard to compete with national chains on price and selection, but what AWG retailers can do is build the sense of community that national chains simply can’t. The good news is you have already done all of that in your brick and mortar location. Now simply bring it online. Promote local products. Use the limitless space online and tell the stories of the community farmers. It is tough to give all that information in your store, but online you have tons of space.

If you are not offering online shopping you need to start. Click here for how AWG can help.  If you do offer online shopping start thinking about how you can capitalize on your advantages as a local retailer.

Playing with Fire by Sean Kosednar

It was too little too late for Park Hill Trojans as they traveled to Lawrence Free State on Friday, September 15. Free State held the number one team in the metro without a touchdown until the fourth quarter. The Firebirds’ 21 first half points would prove to be enough as they hung on for a 21-16 win.

Things could not have started better for Free State. They marched down the field for touchdowns on their first two drives. Each of which were led by junior quarterback Jaxon Webb.

“Those two quick touchdowns were almost too real,” Webb said. “It was unbelievable. No one has been able to do that to [Park Hill] all year. Missouri is really good, so props to them.”

The Firebirds came out firing on all cylinders. They were ready for whatever the Trojans threw at them.

“We game planned out what they were going to be doing defensively,” Free State head coach Bob Lisher said “The guys came out and they executed. The first two drives were pretty special.”

Things slowed down after that with both teams exchanging punts.

Early in the second quarter with the home team backed up in their end things looked to turn around for Park Hill. Back to back false starts put Free State inside their 10. On the next play Webb dropped back into his end zone and was immediately sacked for a safety. This would be the lone bright spot in the first half for the Trojans.

After stopping Park Hill on fourth down with just under two minutes left in the half, Free State started a drive from their own 17. It looked like they might play it safe and go into the half up 14-2. However, they started racking up yards and were quickly to midfield. Jax Dineen broke a run down the left sideline and was into Trojan territory. A face mask penalty added 15 yards and the Firebirds were easily in scoring range. With the seconds ticking down Webb found Jack Theisen on an inside route. The senior caught the ball in traffic and fought through two tackles before reaching the ball across the goal line with nine seconds left. That would be Free State’s final score of the game.

“This is by far the best win I have had in my career,” Dineen said. “To beat the number one team from Missouri is by far the best feeling ever.”

It looked like the game was over.

No one told the Trojans.

As fourth quarter started, quarterback Billy Maples lead is team from the shadow of their own goal line. The drive was topped off with a perfect 30-yard pass to senior wideout Ronnie Bell. Bell ran straight pass his defender and Maples dropped it right over the top.

Two and half minutes later Maples connected with Bell again. This time it was for 8 yards. It cut the lead to 21-16.

“We stumbled a bit in the first half,” Park Hill head coach Josh Hood said. “We felt we beat them in the second half. We just didn't have enough time there left at the end.”

As students rushed the field after the final horn it was clear this was a big win.

“Our guys realize what kind of football team they can be,” Lisher said. “We told them if we execute on offense and match intensity on defense we can be a good football team. I think for the most part we were tonight.”

Free State welcomes Shawnee Mission Northwest next Friday, September 22, and Park Hill face off with Lee’s Summit West.

Trends in email marketing by Sean Kosednar

The marketing platform company emfluence held their annual conference Friday, Sept. 25. The event had plenty of speakers and there were tons of people there to learn from. If you are involved with digital marketing in anyway I highly suggest you attend. The session I got the most out of was a panel discussion about trends in email marketing and automation. Here are some of the trends they highlighted:

  • Web-based email account for 31 percent of all opens. Gmail claims 21 percent market share.
    – The big news this year is the increased ability in adding creative elements to emails. Gmail now allows for responsive designs, improved font styling and better support for many CSS properties.
  •  HTML5 Video is now supported in iOS 10.
    – Apple supporting HTML5 allows video to be embedded in emails. This allows for a more interactive experience right in the email instead of having to go to a website.
  • Interactive emails
    – More things are able to be done right in the email than ever before. This lowers the barriers for engagement and makes clickers have an even higher intent. Add-to-cart functionality is the most interesting item that I saw mentioned. Stores that offer online shopping could allow customers to add items straight to their carts instead of following a link to the item page.
  • List quality and personalization
    – Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to email lists. The chances of your whole list being interested in every email you send is low. Segment the your lists so the correct messages go to the correct people. This will increase engagement
  • Consistent customer interactions across all channels
    – It is important all of your communication with customers is consistent. Whether that is email, social, print, radio etc your customers not only expect the same look but the same tone as well. Be sure to set up a style guide. emfluence allows you set type faces and color pallets to keep things consistent.
  • Automation
    – If you don’t have automated emails set up you are either missing out on important communication or don’t have time to do anything else. Created automated emails for a chain of events. “Thanks for signing up!” “How did you enjoy your purchase?” “It’s been a while since you ordered…” Messages such as these are just some of the possibilities of automated emails you can create. They build customer engagement without you having to be constantly checking lists and sending things out.
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Kansas vs Missouri All-Star Game by Sean Kosednar

June 15, 2017

Despite the overcast sky the stars were out at Blue Springs South High School Thursday June 15. The best high school players from either side of the state line faced off in the 26th annual Papa John’s Kansas vs Missouri All-Star Game. After a scoreless first half, Missouri used two quick scores to capture their seventh straight win, 17-7. 

Missouri opened the scoring just over a minute into the second half. Kearny quarterback Anthony Pretzel hit Center’s Cristian Cox for a 68 yard touchdown. Cox ran right by his defender, caught the ball in stride and ran the rest of the way untouched for an easy touchdown. 

On the ensuing drive, Kansas looked to be moving the ball when Matt Dercher rolled out of the pocket. The Blue Valley quarterback was being chased by two defenders, as he tried to throw the first got a hand on the ball.

“My lineman [Deonaven] McKinzy tipped it, Center linebacker John Taylor said, “I saw I had a chance to catch and I went for it. He hit me and I almost fell over, but I ran to daylight. Touchdown.”

Touchdown indeed. The second touchdown of the day for the Show Me State would be all they would need. However a long drive capped off by a field goal in the fourth quarter would seal it. 

“That drive in the third quarter was huge,” Missouri head coach Bryan DeLong said. “Even though we only got a field goal it took the wind out of their sails. Our line stepped up and we just ran the ball between the tackles. It was big. It took a lot of time off the clock, and we were able to establish our style of football.”

Kansas’ Israel Watson from Shawnee Mission West had numerous catches for the sunflower state including their only touchdown. 

“I had to breakdown my routes fast because they kept playing cover three,” Watson said. “I knew if I broke down fast I would get the ball. It was very competitive out there. Kansas is over looked and we had a lot to prove out there.”

All of the participants felt honored to be selected to the game.

“Just getting a chance to coach with these coaches is a honor,” Kansas head coach Rod Stallbaumer said. “It’s a a whirlwind getting ready for the game. You have got to hand it to these kids who have all graduated and they come back and give time out of their summers to play in this. 

DeLong was in disbelief. 

“I was blown away,” DeLong said. “When they asked me I thought they had the wrong number. There are so many great coaches on both sides of the state line. We play a great brand of football in the Kansas City area. I was just blown away.”

Taylor thought the All-Star Game was a great end to a high school career.

“Being selected as one of the most elite in the metro was special,” Taylor said. “It shows that what you do during your high school career pays off and that people are watching you. It feels good to win this for the seventh time in a row for my home state of Missouri.”

Diving into 2016 ACSI Retail Report by Sean Kosednar

The 2016 American Customer Satisfaction Index report was released at the end of February. Supermarkets saw a jump of 6.8 percent in their average score to 78 out of 100. While no AWG banners appeared on the list there are some good takeaways from the report.

Numbers are up across the board. As usual convenience leads the way but remains unchanged. The biggest jump came in courtesy and helpfulness of staff. What you will be most interested in is that customers’ satisfaction with overall food quality is up despite “ability to provide name brands” is down. This can only be a good thing for our private label brands. As customers realize the quality combined with the savings more and more will move toward your stores to take advantage.

Website satisfaction is up a point. It still hovers right around the average with plenty of room to grow. We talk about how important your website is until we are blue in the face. A solid website can set you apart from your competitors. That leads to the last point.

Finally, the biggest jump came from the “speed of checkout process.” Even though it moved up 4 points it is still below the average, and it is probably the best way to improve scores with customers. Online shopping is the way of the future, and we have written about it many times recently. Not only will providing online shopping give customers another option, but if people are shopping online then you will be able to checkout in-store shoppers faster.

One point of concern should be the 10 percent jump Walmart made. Its score of 74 is still four points below the average, but shows the retail giant’s intent. The report speculates the increase comes from Walmart focusing on customer service during the holiday period and noticed they increased all categories. That is a plausible reason for the increase. If Walmart figures out the supermarket game then I could see their scores climbing rapidly.

Take a look at the top stores and compare your store. What are they known for that you could emulate? This blog post talks about how Wegmans is the social center of her town. Why can’t that be your store?

Overall, this report is good news. Your customers are happy with their shopping experience. This should lead to them spending more. Take time to read through the report. How would you rate your store in each area? Use this as a time to find places to improve.