"It was very difficult to gain any additional marketshare," notes eSoft VP Marketing Reid Hislop. "The market is incredibly mature. We have some unique technology, but the novelty of a competitive offering is just not real.
"Plus, we've got maybe a couple of hundred competitors," he adds.
"You can envision the sales rep picking up the phone and the prospect saying 'Who's eSoft?' 'We're VPN firewalls.' 'Oh, ok, let me put you in the camp with hundreds of other people who call me on a weekly basis."
How can a very established company in a very established marketplace stand out enough to generate lots of new interest in its offerings?
Starting last October, Hislop and his team had two main goals:
#1. Make the brand stand out so IT guys across America knew exactly who eSoft was and why they should buy eSoft products
#2. Generate about 1,500 high-quality new sales leads per quarter
Their media budget? Under $200,000.CAMPAIGN
First, the team had to define what the brand message would be. eSoft's brand positioning at the time, "integrated comprehensive security appliance", was so broad-sounding that it didn't strike any sort of chord in the marketplace except, "if you're comprehensive, you probably don’t do anything well."
So the team pulled together a Big Box -- a pile of every piece of marketing and sales support material eSoft currently put out, plus ads and brochures from competitors.
They immediately noticed that the competition all seemed to look alike. "They usually have images of people breaking in and hackers in black masks, or very technical drawings with a visual of some technology." In other words, either fear mongers or boring boxes.
To find out what other sort of messaging might work better, eSoft hired a third party research firm to conduct in-depth, hour-long phone interviews with sales prospects. Four keys to success:
#1. Bribe them. Offer a choice of a $100 gift certificate to an appealing retailer such as Sharper Image, or an equal donation to the charity of their choice.
#2. Anonymity. The research firm promised every interviewee that his or her identity would not be revealed to eSoft in conjunction with his or her answers. There was no guilt, no fear of reprisals, and hopefully more honest answers. However, the interviewees did know that eSoft was behind the research.
#3. No sales pitch. Interviewees only feel interested and secure when they’re sure the interview is being lead by a non- salesperson and no sales rep will ever contact them regarding their particular answers.
#4. Script it. eSoft worked with the research firm to script the conversation to a large extent, so interview results could be compared (and added up) apples to apples. Questions included strengths and weaknesses of eSoft's competitors, preferred product functionality, and how marketing messages in various mediums (postal mail, print, email, Web) influenced decisions.
The research team also asked respondents to describe eSoft's products in their own words -- these word choices would be ultra- useful when conducting search marketing campaigns later on, because the terms companies use to describe products and those prospects use often don’t match.
Survey results were fascinating.
Although IT pros admitted to reading a few favorite email newsletters religiously, and paying attention to email campaigns when the offer spoke to an immediate need, most said, "If it comes in the [postal] mail, it goes in the garbage."
The team was able to brainstorm a new brand positioning based on what they learned about real-life IT pros' pain. The new statement could be summed up in one word: Simplicity.
"It really resonates with the target audience," says Hislop. "The target audience want to be able to plug the product in, turn it on and forget about it. Any given month, we've got new features, but that doesn't separate you from the rest of the pack. 'Simplicity' rises above that."
The creative team began to design a new site, and then from that basis, all new marketing and sales support materials including white papers, tech specs, space ads, etc. Each piece - online and off -- used the same colors and typefaces. Each, no matter the offer, also carried the Simplicity message.
Plus, whenever possible, everything featured a photo of a real- life IT guy (recruited from eSoft's own IT department who adored being in a photo-shoot) relaxing and enjoying himself with the extra time he'd have by buying from eSoft.
For example, one image shows an IT guy sitting back with his eyes closed and earphones on, waving his arms about as an imaginary conductor. He looks happy, relaxed. He's obviously not clip art, a hacker, or a box.
Next, eSoft tested a variety of offers and online media to learn which would work best for lead generation. However, again everything had that same Simplicity messaging, and all led to similar landing pages with the happy, relaxed IT guy taking a break. Offers included:
o A white paper entitled, "Why your network may not be as secure as it should be: How simplifying can make your network more secure".
o A "vulnerability scan" offer whereby eSoft would look over a prospect's IP address for weaknesses and report back on them at no charge.
Online media tested included email newsletter sponsorships, email blasts to targeted segments of IT pro lists, paid search marketing, banners on key sites, and white paper syndication on the Bitpipe network.
The team had two rules for online media: always test at least two different offers in each placement to see which works best; and, always run messages with the best responding media multiple times because multiple impressions can add up to more clicks.
Some people just need to see your offer two, three or even four times before they are ready to respond.
(With email blasts, the team would alter the creative a bit each time so prospects didn’t think they were being bombarded with an identical message every week.)
Last but not least, once the online marketing tests proved which messages and offers worked, the team began to buy print ads in key trade magazines to support the new brand. This had a secondary benefit of impressing VARs to boot.
Although it took a bit more work, the team built campaign landing pages that tied directly into eSoft's current CRM system to make processing leads more easy and efficient.
"We enforce following up as soon as possible," says Hislop. "Our reps live in our CRM system, so I didn't want them to have to check email or the Internet side and copy and paste leads -- it's all integrated into the tool they use."
After leads were qualified by inside sales, they were emailed to VARs for action. However, VARs had their own deadline as well. "We expect the VAR to report back on the status via our resellers' [extranet] site. If they're not doing what we ask them to do, then they lose that lead."
"My dollar to lead ratio is the best I've ever seen." says Hislop happily. "It's important to understand, we did our homework. We didn't just come up with this wild idea, let's try this and see. We figured out our target audience and what mattered to them. That's the way we designed the campaign."
More results data:
- Clicks on blast emails sent to rented lists ranged from 2.5%-9% well above average. The list with the highest percentage of new names, in terms of recency of list joiners, did by far the best for response. So, it's worth asking to mail newer names as a specific selection.
- Clicks on text ads in newsletters ranged from .99% to an astonishing high of 7.16%. The media buyer noted, "With newsletters I've seen a third insertion outperform a first or second insertion. We're very hot on touch at least three times."
- Clicks on banners ranged from a solid .25% to 5%.
- In general about 25% of visitors to the landing page filled out the (very) short form to receive whatever offer they replied to.
- Turns out a truly compelling banner may not always be your best choice. The banner that was the most successful campaign in terms of clicks and leads, was by far the least successful in terms of value of lead.
The inside sales team had to do a heck of a lot of weeding before handing over names from that campaign to VARs. And the marketing team wound up canning the creative fairly quickly.
- Google campaigns resulted in four times more impressions than Overture campaigns with the same keywords, however Overture click rates were more than double Google's (we suspect partially due to less Overture competition in the keywords eSoft tended to use.) Google cost per click was $1.27 and Overture was $1.60.
Lesson learned - don't focus only on Google or Overture alone. Both produced solid lead streams and brand impressions at a reasonable cost.
- eSoft's white paper is currently the #1 download on the Bitpipe network (which hundreds of marketers use to distribute thousands of tech white paper offers.) Hislop credits the wording of the title of the paper and the careful copywriting of the Bitpipe description.
We suspect many marketers dash off their Bitpipe copy instead of polishing it as much as they would copy for say their Web site home page -- which is a mistake. We've included a sample of eSoft's copy to inspire you below.
- Leads that were followed up with in less than 24 hours of receipt stood a significantly greater chance of winding up as sales.Useful links relating to this article:
1. Samples of eSoft's various campaigns and advertising materials including print ads, email blasts and an offer landing page:
2. Leopard, the business-to-business marketing agency that conducted eSoft's research project, created much of the creative, and handled media buying for the online and offline campaigns: