January has come and gone. The Downtown Sioux Falls Burger Battle has officially come to an end. The final MarketBeat Burger has been grilled and served, and Chef Lance finally has a welcome reprieve from making pork belly and brisket patties. Approximately 25,000 burgers were sold as part of the 2021 DTSF Burger Battle. Nearly 2,000 of them were sold at Chef Lance’s on Philips. Call to Freedom will receive a total donation of more than $25,000 as part of the project. And, we had a lot of fun in the process.

The MarketBeat Burger placed second in the battle overall and Papa Woody’s took first place (they made a great burger!), but we consider the project a huge success. We brought significant visibility to a new downtown restaurant, highlighted the work of an important South Dakota non-profit, and elevated the MarketBeat brand in the Sioux Falls community. There were also some unexpected developments and lessons that we learned along the way.

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Here are a few things that I learned participating in the DTSF Burger Battle:

Lesson #1: It is easy to get press when you are doing something interesting.

Many small businesses have trouble getting featured in local media. They are sometimes told by local media outlets they are not newsworthy and are instead directed to buy advertisements to get their message out. Usually, the challenge is that there is no unique angle that makes a small business interesting or newsworthy. With the MarketBeat Burger, Chef Lance was taking a genuinely new approach to the DTSF Burger Battle. They were the first restaurant to partner with a non-profit and have a corporate sponsor as part of the Burger Battle.

With a few phone calls and emails, the MarketBeat Burger was featured on SiouxFalls.Business, in the Argus Leader (twice), on Dakota News Now and on ESPN Radio. The key was that Chef Lance’s and MarketBeat were doing something fundamentally different than other restaurants, and that became newsworthy. If you want to get your business featured in the local news, do something unique that your competitors are not doing and let reporters know about it.

Lesson #2: It is worth taking a risk on eager volunteers.

Ngoc Thatch, Kristi Wire, Maureen Ohm, Matt Paulson and Rebecca McKeever.

A few days before the Burger Battle started, Ngoc Thach from Mixmaker reached out and asked if she could help with public relations and marketing for the project. She has a strong background in public relations and was eager to help with the human trafficking awareness aspect of the project. Normally I am somewhat hesitant to let people that I do not know get too heavily involved in my charitable projects, but I took a chance this time because of her interest and experience.

Ngoc developed a communications plan, social media postings, a press release, and a human trafficking awareness flyer. Her work was fantastic, and I could not have asked for more from her. Ngoc’s involvement was a good reminder that it is worth taking a chance on people and that I should open my circle of trust a little bit, because there are many outstanding people in our community that I have not met yet.

Lesson #3: More marketing is not always a good thing.

Chef Lance’s has been in business for less than a year and is run by a relatively small staff. They also have limited seating due to COVID-19 and can only handle so much carry out business in one day. There was far more demand for the MarketBeat Burger on evenings and weekends than the restaurant could handle, which meant they had to turn away some customers who wanted to eat in their restaurant. Some carryout customers had to wait between 1 and 3 hours to pick up their orders because of the sheer demand for the burger. The MarketBeat Burger was a home run in terms of taste and quality, but some potential customers were unsatisfied because they never even got to try the burger. Their cooks were also exhausted by the end of the month because of their big ramp up in business.

During the last couple days of the contest, I had to turn off social media ads for the burger because every table was reserved for the entire weekend. That makes me wonder if I promoted the MarketBeat Burger a little bit too heavily. New customers trying Chef Lance’s for the first time was a solid win for them, but maybe they would have been better served if I were more intentional about coordinating my marketing efforts with their business capacity.

Lesson #4: Get feedback on projects before releasing them to the public.

Our initial plan was to donate $5,000 to Call to Freedom up-front and another $5,000 if Call to Freedom if Chef Lance’s on Phillips won the burger battle. We thought this was a simple way to support a charity that means a lot to Chef Lance and Jenny White, but some people thought differently. There were social media comments saying that we were “trying to buy votes,” that we were “holding a donation over people’s heads” and that we were giving Chef Lance’s on Phillips an unfair advantage over the other restaurants.

Initially, our team was going to ignore all of the nasty social media comments because I can deal with some public criticism and responding to haters usually isn’t a productive activity. However, DTSF politely asked us to consider a different approach to the donation. One of my prerogatives in life is to support small businesses and non-profits, not make their lives more difficult. So, we were happy to oblige, and a relatively brief collaborative discussion with DTSF staff led us to an even better plan than either DTSF or my team had thought of on our own. We changed the approach to donate $1.00 to Call to Freedom for every burger sold at every Burger Battle restaurant just before the contest started and the criticism quieted down pretty quickly.

The lesson that I took away from this misstep is that I should get more feedback on my projects before releasing them to the public, especially when the intended audience of the project is broad and includes people that have never met me. While our team had great intentions about the project, some others thought we had bad motives that really were not there. If we had a few more community members give us feedback on the project prior to launch, we probably could have avoided that headache to begin with.

Lesson #5: You can develop a project where everybody wins.

When I think about what happened as a result of the MarketBeat Burger project, it is hard to find anyone that came up short. Chef Lance’s on Philips got hundreds of new customers that have never been to their restaurant before. Other restaurants also gained some increased business because we made donations for their Burger Battle sales as well. DTSF won because there were more burger sales than any previous Burger Battle before. Call to Freedom gained exposure to a new audience and received a generous donation. Our team had a lot of fun and increased our brand equity in Sioux Falls as well. The MarketBeat Burger was really a win-win-win-win project.

I have no idea whether or not our team or Chef Lance’s will want to collaborate on another burger next January, but the whole project was a lot of fun and the MarketBeat Burger was delicious. Big thanks to Lance and Jenny White and Call to Freedom for partnering with us on the MarketBeat Burger. Even more big thanks to Kristi Wire, Ngoc Thach and Maureen Ohm for helping coordinate various aspects of the MarketBeat Burger project. Finally, hats off to Chef Lance for designing a great burger!