June 05, 2023

Marketing insights MarketingSherpa hid from you this year


For every marketing case study we publish, there are about 30 to 50 case study pitches that never see the light of day.

Normally, we hide these from you. You never get their insights.

But in today’s article, we gather insights from the most helpful examples that are often just missing a few details that keep us from publishing.

Read on for examples from New Era, a roofing and siding company, advertising and marketing agencies, a publisher, a TV streamer, and a software agency.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

Marketing insights MarketingSherpa hid from you this year

Summer is a season when we all tend to have some time to reflect. So for the next few weeks, we’ll be looking back at our last year’s worth of content and summarizing it into key insights you can reflect on this summer. Insights that we hope will spark a new idea in you, for a campaign or new marketing strategy.

In a couple of weeks, we’ll share lessons from the 150 or so marketing case studies we published over the past year.

But first, I wanted to take the opposite approach. We receive about 80 to 120 pitches per week with marketing case studies seeking publication on MarketingSherpa. Over a year, that’s more than 5,000 pitches. Or as a data-driven marketer might look at it – a wealth of information from which to extract key insights.

As I went through these pitches to find commonalities, I realized these insights are very broad and not as granular as the examples we share in our marketing case studies. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Hopefully our detailed case studies give you ideas on how to execute specific tactics. But it is worth stepping back from time to time and taking the 10,000-foot view about what it means to be a marketer.

Don’t let the fact that we didn’t originally publish these marketing examples as case studies dissuade you.

Sometimes the pitches we get just aren’t very helpful – too obvious, too self-promotional, questionable results, shady tactics.

But often, they have very helpful information, and there was another reason we chose not to publish. Maybe it was pitched by an agency, and the client wasn’t on board publishing the brand’s name. Or the team simply couldn’t get the details or information we requested. Or they may still be working on getting that information (case studies can take many months of work until final publication).

There were many diamonds buried in the haystack (to mix a metaphor). Here are a few I thought you might find helpful, organized into some overarching insights from all the pitches we received.

Insight #1: AI is becoming an FTE

We’ve gotten a lot of pitches over the past year about artificial intelligence. Most lack the transparency we require to publish a case study. We throw a bright spotlight behind-the-scenes of a marketing campaign to give you ideas for your own campaign, but AI can have a black box problem.

To quote a recent article in The Economist, “One of the problems with machine-learning models is that they are ‘black boxes.’ A conventional program is designed in a human's head before being committed to code. In principle, at least, that designer can explain what the machine is supposed to be doing. But machine-learning models program themselves.” (from How generative models could go wrong).

However, regardless of how those black boxes work, a key trend I noticed in all those pitches is that AI is becoming an R2-D2 for marketers – a co-pilot in the back of our X-winger fighter.

Our R2-D2 has almost become an FTE. Those letters stand for full-time equivalent, which can be a major metric for marketing departments and advertising agencies. Because marketing was very human work.

But as many agencies and departments now use artificial intelligence to assist those humans, is AI now an FTE on your team? Or several FTEs?

For example, KNB Communications leveraged generative AI to create 50 image iterations targeting healthcare marketers. The campaign achieved over 8x the click-through rate (CTR) of the previous campaign.

Creative Sample #1: Landing page with AI generated image

Creative Sample #1: Landing page with AI generated image

Typically, each graphical execution would cost around $500, totaling $25,000 for 50 images. Moreover, the entire process would take approximately 100 days to complete. However, by harnessing the power of AI, the team managed to generate all 50 images for less than $10, in a fraction of the time – only four days.

“This state-of-the-art technology not only enabled us to achieve exceptional results but also significantly reduced the cost and time traditionally associated with such campaigns,” said Laura Hill, Marketing Manager, KNB Communications.

AI can be your graphic designer (partially). And it can be your software developer as well (somewhat).

Realtime Agency had been using Kochava’s off-the-shelf reporting for one of its television streaming clients. But, one of its programmatic leads and media manager for the client, Ken Macdonald, wanted to see if they could further tailor the reporting to this client.

Using ChatGPT, Macdonald built SQL code – a language that he had no prior experience in – that could be plugged into Kochava to create new reporting views for the client. In this new report, the client could see unique user behaviors between their own website and owned apps – a vantage point that is able to help the team optimize on an even more granular level.

“This was relatively easy,” said Ken Macdonald, Programmatic Lead, Realtime Agency. “I laid out exactly what we wanted to include in the code – specifying dates, event names, app names, etc. We then copied this code into Kochava and are now able to better measure and understand the cross-app user journey for this client.”

For the client, this new data analysis is going to help improve attribution models and optimize their media budgets – reducing CAC and improving LTV modeling.

Insight #2: AI has not yet replaced the flash of genius created by the human marketing mind

Some of my favorite pitches are about an idea or concept the marketer has come up with. That’s what I love about a career in marketing, so much revolves around the big idea, the concept.

And while generative AI can help with brainstorming (neural-network-storming maybe?), it is still the human that must have the flash of genius.

I love that term. I first came across it in the movie of the same name, which took the phrase from a patent law term that referred to the singular epiphany of the inventive act (as opposed to a discovery that derived from tinkering).

Here’s an example. A website that publishes tips and guides for writers was interested in growing its brand and backlink profile. The company previously engaged in HARO (Help A Reporter Out) link-building and other activities. They had a backlink profile but minimal mentions from reputable media.

The company hired an agency, who started brainstorming a relevant idea for the client that journalists would want to cover.

Here is the backstory of the team’s idea…

Recent studies have found that, as America becomes more diverse, regional accents and dialects are dying out. A few years ago, the UK government made huge strides to protect Welsh by making it an official language, and it has since started to thrive.

The team wanted to run a poll in each state to find out how many people would support similar laws to protect their state’s dialects. They ran the survey and illustrated the results in a slideshow quiz where readers can test their knowledge of unique phrases from across the country.

They posted the quiz on the client’s website, drafted a press release on behalf of the client, and pitched journalists in their distribution lists that work for national media outlets across the nation.

“Our campaign received 36 media mentions (and backlinks), including TV coverage, from the likes of Penn Live, the Daily Herald, CBS 42, Atlanta News First, and TV coverage on WDEF,” said Gabriela Covay, Founder and Chief Strategist, Bright Valley Marketing (the publisher’s agency).

Keep in mind, if you’re a professional marketer, you probably hold the bar quite high for what a flash of genius idea looks like. Maybe you studied the classic copywriting masters. Or know all the One Show and Cannes winners.

But if you’re an entrepreneur, the flash of genius idea might be something quite simple. Here’s an example.

Niki O’Brien and her husband are owners of a small exterior remodeling company based in Northern Colorado. It had been difficult for them to work with marketing companies since so much knowledge is required to understand their business process. Taking that knowledge from their crews and leaders and passing it along to an outside marketing company often lost important details in the process and was never effective. They opened their doors in 2018 and have never gained traction on the internet.

After four years of failed attempts at ‘marketing,’ they decided to bring their marketing in-house. But they had no budget for a marketing team. “So, I immersed myself in Udemy for weeks learning Canva, WordPress, Premier Pro, and the basics of video creation,” said Niki O’Brien, Operations Manager, Custom Exteriors.

She had the idea to build landing pages that helped potential customers. “When building it, my primary consideration was to provide our customers with the information they may need to make an informed decision when replacing their siding,” O’Brien said.

She built service pages for the surrounding towns and cities in their service range. For example, a page that focused on ‘Greeley siding company.’ The page includes external links to explore the color choices for two of the most popular siding manufacturers, informational videos from siding job sites featuring one of their hands-on owners, custom-created informational assets, photos from their job sites, and clear expectations for siding replacements.

They published the page with no real expectations. Greeley is a city of nearly 110,000 residents, so they thought it would take time to work up the search engine results page.

After two weeks, Custom Exteriors ranked #6 for that targeted key phrase, with only one other siding contractor ranking higher. They achieved these results with a DA score of 5, moving to 6 during the two weeks. The company has started to set appointments in the area from their website.

“Many companies often fall into the trap of using their website primarily as a platform to showcase their qualities rather than as a tool to equip their customers with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their property. By neglecting to provide valuable information and resources, we feel strongly that they are missing an opportunity to connect with customers. We are working hard to establish trust throughout our community and build long-term relationships with our customers. We are using our website as a business tool to establish ourselves as a reliable source of information and empower our customers to make well-formed choices,” O’Brien said.

Insight #3: Never stop tinkering

As I mentioned above, patent law had specifically differentiated a flash of genius from tinkering. It comes from a Supreme Course Decision written by Justice William O. Douglas, “The new device, however useful it may be, must reveal the flash of creative genius, not merely the skill of the calling. If it fails, it has not established its right to a private grant on the public domain.”

Patent law eventually changed after this ruling, and the patent statue was updated to say, “Patentability shall not be negatived by the manner in which the invention was made.”

I think that’s a good change – if it’s a good idea, does it matter how it was derived?

And I can tell you, marketers are tinkerers. While that flash of genius is fulfilling, the hard work of tinkering – we might call it continuous optimization – is a core activity marketers must engage in to compete in ever-changing marketplaces with constantly evolving technology.

And MarketingSherpa got loads of pitches where marketers shared their tinkering. Here’s an example.

A software agency that creates tailored software solutions for e-learning businesses was struggling with stiff competition from bigger companies. Expensive cost-per-click (CPC) rates and a high bounce rate made it hard to improve paid campaigns.

The absence of complete tracking made optimization even more challenging.

“After doing a thorough audit, we found several important issues that needed fixing. First, we installed a new attribution software called Attributer, which tracks leads back to their original campaign using the first-touch attribution model,” said Sajad Entesari, Co-Founder, Republic Marketing.

“After setting up the attribution, things became clearer, and we were able to link deals in the CRM with the Google Ads keywords people clicked on, as well as the last URL they visited before converting,” Entesari said. They identified the blog topics and service pages that generated the highest deal value and focused more on those topics and keywords.

“Another problem was the anonymous data on Google Analytics. Many B2B service companies use tools like Calendly to schedule calls. Although Calendly and GA4 have native integration, the results displayed on Google Analytics can be disappointing, as most conversions tend to be classified as ‘Direct,’” Entesari said.

So the team implemented a custom HTML listener code to record events more accurately, which helped identify the most successful channels for generating traffic and leads.

Creative Sample #2: Custom HTML listener code for Calendly

Creative Sample #2: Custom HTML listener code for Calendly

The team also used ChatGPT to modify a JavaScript code and add auto-fill functionality. This way, when a prospect completes the first lead form, the information is automatically passed to Calendly, making the user experience much smoother.

“Our client had some ideas about the content they thought would resonate with their prospects. These were mostly based on sales calls with CTOs, so they believed writing for those personas was the best approach. However, when we looked at the most successful blogs, we noticed that those focused on building a business case for using custom software development agencies tended to attract better clients. This changed the paradigm, not only for marketing collateral and ad copy but also for Sales calls and what to highlight more in the credentials deck,” Entesari said.

Their efforts led to a 43% increase in revenue year-over-year and a 45% reduction in bounce rate. Within just 90 days, they saw a 12.6% increase in new users and a 29% increase in average session duration. One of the search campaigns experienced a 114% increase in conversions.

Here’s another example. New Era ran an experiment on its ‘Size Guide Page’ from December 21, 2022, until January 13, 2023.

“This experiment confirmed our expectations of increased revenue on specific pages on our website. This insight allows us to confidently use this opportunity in other areas for further growth. We believe that experimentation brings controversial ideas out of a meeting room and into the real world while mitigating the risk if something doesn’t go to plan,” said Michael Nong, Head of E-Commerce, New Era.

The experiment involved a variation where a 30% off promo code was displayed on the Size Guide Page, and a control test where the promo code was not displayed.

Creative Sample #3: Experiment variation with promo code

Creative Sample #3: Experiment variation with promo code

 At the end of the experiment, the results showed that the variation that displayed the promo increased revenue quite significantly (especially during December), compared to the control test where the promo was not displayed.

“Experimentation is business insurance that pays dividends. It enables you to use data and insights from real customer behavior to insure your big bets and ensure you are improving your customer experiences. Moreover, it creates the cultural mentality within your organization that is necessary to survive in an increasingly digital economy,” said David Carlile, Senior Product Strategy Director, Optimizely.

Bonus Insight: Inform your marketing strategy with a consistent methodology

The above stuff is…well…hard.

There are more and more AI tools popping up every day and it’s difficult to know which ones to use, and for what. Let’s face it – those flashes of genius are not easy to come by. And what exactly should you tinker with?

Which brings up: there is some other content we’ve hidden from you and not published in MarketingSherpa articles – lessons that are shared in social media.

We use the patented MECLABS Institute marketing methodology to help marketers build their funnels in the  MECLABS SuperFunnel Research Cohort (MECLABS is the parent organization of MarketingSherpa). One way cohort members can ‘pay’ is by sharing what they learned in the cohort’s Marketing LiveClasses on social media.

Here are two social media posts that I thought would be particularly helpful for you. And if you would like to watch, we have Marketing LiveClasses on Wednesdays at 4 pm EDT. You can RSVP now to join us, and get ideas for your own marketing as we work with cohort members to build their marketing funnels.

From Sam Grecner, Growth & GTM Strategist, Deepstar Stategic:

🔥 Unlock Conversion Success 🔥

Being part of the AI SuperFunnel Research Cohort has taught me a lot, but one concept has really transformed the way I look at conversion.

🔑 The Power of Micro-Yeses 🔑
Combine consumer insights, messaging, and positioning with the Micro-Yes Framework from MECLABS Institute for immense impact.

Micro-yeses are strategic small commitments from prospects that create momentum, trust, and rapport. They increase success rates by leveraging consistency and demonstrating the understand of your ICP and respecting their buying journey.

📚 The Micro-Yes Framework: Unveiling the Steps 📚

Step 1: "Yes, I'll Pay Attention"
The first micro-yes is grabbing prospects' attention. Compelling headlines that clearly communicate how your product is going to make my life better, captivating visuals, and intriguing statements create initial engagement.

Step 2: "Yes, I'll Engage"
After capturing attention, the next micro-yes is engagement. Use intriguing storytelling to pique curiosity demonstrate expertise and understanding of their problem

Step 3: "Yes, I Get It"
Use clear and concise language to explain your product/service so prospects easily understand what you do and how you are different.

Step 4: "Yes, I Believe You"
Stay away from empty claims. Use testimonials, case studies, social proof, and credible evidence help prospects believe in the product or service's ability to deliver on promises. Showcasing real experiences and positive outcomes fosters trust and credibility.

Step 5: "Yes, I Want It Now"
At this stage, prospects must desire the offering. This is triggered by emphasizing benefits and unique value and also offering a path to better future. Appeal to emotions and create a sense of urgency to propel your prospect towards conversion.

Step 6: "Yes, I Want It from You"
Demonstrate and reiterate your unique selling propositions, competitive advantages, and differentiation. Demonstrate superiority over others in the market, building a strong brand connection and answer "Why you"

Step 7: "Yes, I'll Trade"
Once prospects are convinced of the offering and brand value, they need to be willing to take action. At this stage reassure prospects that the value you are offering is worth it, address any uncertainties and anxieties

Step 8: "Yes, I'll Finish"
Ensure a seamless, user-friendly conversion process. The goal here is to reduce any potential friction and double down on value.

Creative Sample #4: Illustration of the MECLABS Micro-Yes Framework

Creative Sample #4: Illustration of the MECLABS Micro-Yes Framework

From Mahmoudou Sidibe, CEO and Founder, Wellness Marketing Maestros:

The most helpful advice I received in MECLABS Institute SuperFunnel Cohort LiveClass last week, which came from Flint McGlaughlin, centers around rethinking our approach to competition.

When assessing our competition, our gaze often falls upon direct competitors - those who offer the same or similar products or services.

But according to Flint, there might be more impactful perspectives.

His advice? Rather than simply asking, "Who offers what I do?" we should ask ourselves, "Who is getting the dollar instead of me?"

This shifts our attention to a broader spectrum of competition - not just those who provide services similar to ours but also those who are securing potential revenue that could have been ours.

In the realm of functional medicine and naturopathy, this means you should not limit your gaze to other clinics or practitioners.

Instead, we should consider wellness apps, pharmaceutical companies, health food stores, fitness centers, self-help books, and more.

All these different players are competing for the same healthcare dollar.

This broader perspective doesn't just redefine competition; it allows us to understand our value proposition in a more comprehensive way.

We can compare our unique claims and the reasons that support our value proposition with a wider competitive set, leading to more distinctive ways to differentiate ourselves.

Imagine offering a blend of personal touch found in functional medicine clinics with the convenience of a wellness app.

Or consider forming partnerships with local health food stores, offering discounts and wellness tips to our patients.

By challenging our perception of competition and looking beyond our direct competitors, we unlock new opportunities for innovation, growth, and success.

Related Resources

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