How a young St. Cloud company is mastering the art of digital marketing.
By Lisa Meyers McClintick | Photography by John Linn
Luke Riordan had nursing in mind when he chose Saint John’s University. It was an internship in social marketing, however, that took the 2011 graduate down a different path and ultimately led to the creation of DAYTA Marketing, one of the St. Cloud’s area’s most lauded and cutting-edge new businesses.The company creates and manages clients’ social media platforms and also develops and produces websites, online videos, design services and photography.
DAYTA got its start before Riordan’s senior year at Saint John’s University, when he was hoping to obtain extra credits so he could graduate early. Riordan had an interest in digital marketing and noticed the orthopedic and sports medicine clinic where his dad and four physicians worked in Stevens Point, Wis., didn’t have an online presence beyond a basic website. Twitter was three years old and Facebook was picking up steam.
Riordan put together a summer internship proposal and got to work. He made educational videos, posted local sports news about patients, produced healthy tips of the day and introduced contests that brought new patients through the door and drew positive comments from established patients.
When school began that fall, the clinic didn’t want to lose the momentum that Riordan had created, so they hired him to continue as a consultant. The vision for DAYTA Marketing began to take shape on his drive back to school from Wisconsin.
Riordan got much-needed support when Saint John’s connected him to the St. Cloud Area Chamber Executive Dialogue Group for feedback and advice, a process that resulted in three members becoming DAYTA customers. Riordan’s uncle, John Riordan, a self-described serial entrepreneur, believed in the DAYTA plan enough to relocate from Wisconsin to St. Cloud to help his nephew launch their new venture.
DAYTA takes a holistic approach to its work, steering new clients through a 130-step process to assess their online health and reputation. The DAYTA team goes deep, Riordan said, to determine the client’s mission, strengths and weaknesses before developing plans to build brand awareness, manage a business’s reputation and engage followers through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and SnapChat.
“That’s what social media is about,” said Riordan, who’s now 27.
“It’s human beings interacting online.”
As social media marketing rises, DAYTA’s reputation for successful, cutting-edge expertise has taken Riordan from a mostly self-trained, one-man consultant to leading a thriving team of 28 in just five years—with plans to keep growing.
“He’s a very energetic young man with a vision and talent,” said Dan Bullert, business finance manager with the Initiative Foundation, which invested in the company in 2016 to help it reach the next level of growth.
Riordan said there is no “magic bullet” for effective, successful social marketing, and platforms can be swiftly moving targets that require constant research and development.
“If you think digital marketing is easy,” he said, “you’re doing it wrong.”
To address those challenges, DAYTA is developing proprietary software to help clients track every aspect of their digital marketing efforts, including social sites, website hosting, reviews and responses to customers, analytics, annual campaigns and events. The dashboard-style tool also provides quick ways to set up meetings with DAYTA staff and is a repository for documents that outline the client’s mission, buyer personas and strategies.
Tucked between railroad tracks and Third Avenue in Waite Park, DAYTA’s offices buzz with the energy of millennials who good-naturedly jostle for scarce conference room time. (Riordan anticipates needing a bigger location by 2018.)
The company already has moved four times since its humble beginnings. Today, DAYTA’s leadership team includes Amy Jo Paul, who went from intern to head of operations (Riordon refers to Paul as “the glue that holds everything together”); Brian Myres, a former head of sales at Capital One, as chief operating officer; and Stephen Woods, a former software engineering manager at Native X, who is the company’s chief technology officer.
Solid leadership will be key to gaining the more than 1,000 customers DAYTA hopes to attract within the next five years.
“We want to continue to expand our reach across the United States while keeping our headquarters here,” Riordan said.
Recipe for Success
That goal seems like a safe bet. Minnesota Business Magazine named DAYTA one of Minnesota’s 100 Best Companies to work for in 2014. A year later, Riordan was awarded Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year by the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce and recognized as one of the community’s Five Under 40 People to Watch.
His success is part of a carefully crafted work-life balance philosophy that guides the company. “We work to live, not live to work,” Riordan said. “No matter how great work is, nobody is going to choose work over family. That’s a huge value for us.”
It’s a win-win for the region, as well, providing college graduates with attractive jobs and the chance to settle down and raise families in a growing community.
“Most people want to be proud of where they work,” said Brian Myres. “That’s not limited to millennials. DAYTA Marketing is making a difference beyond the bottom line.”
A Timeline Of Success
- 2011 Luke Riordan starts DAYTA Marketing with a laptop and a basement shared with spiders
- 2012 John Riordan joins the company. Within three months they rent their first office, add their first employee and finish the year with 35 clients and $97,000 in revenue
- 2013 Five employees are added to help handle 250 percent growth in business.
- 2014 Named one of Minnesota’s Best Companies by Minnesota Business Magazine.
- 2015 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year Award through the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce
- 2016 Staff of 28 works with 150 customers nationwide.
Tips for success in a fast-growing industry
1. Get employees involved. Allowing workers to be ambassadors and post about work activities can generate new customers while also letting potential new employees get a feel for your business culture.
2. Make business personal and playful. Even a non-retail business, such as Tom Kraemer Inc. (dumpsters and storage containers), has more than 2,000 likes thanks to videos that let customers go behind the scenes of this family business.
3. Watch for new social opportunities. Every social platform tweak or upgrade can yield new and improved ways to reach customers. Facebook’s Canvas ads, for example, allow personalized customer interactions, such as a jewelry store that walks customers through ring selections based on their preferences.
4. Offer internships. For businesses requiring unique skills, hands-on training can be the best way to prepare, find and train future employees.