December 10, 2015
Case Study

Inbound Marketing 2015: The top 3 lessons from MarketingSherpa case studies this year

SUMMARY: In a world with unlimited information and choices, distinguishing your brand to customers is essential. Marketers are increasingly utilizing inbound marketing tactics — content, social media and SEO — to grab (and keep) customers' attention.

Read this collection of the most popular Inbound newsletter articles from 2015 for innovative ideas to integrate into your own efforts.
by Courtney Eckerle, Manager of Editorial Content

More and more often, inbound tactics are infiltrating every aspect of marketing. Customers have so much information at their fingertips, it can be the quickest and most effective way to differentiate your company or product.

Marketers spent 2015 doing just that — distinguishing themselves to customers and laying claim to a voice that is unique to their brand, that will be recognizable, trusted and even evoking something akin to friendship.

The following eight case studies will cover how to spice up your brand's personality, drive engagement through visual elements and how to most effectively communicate with your customers.

Lesson #1. Your product is never “boring”

Inbound Marketing: Construction software company doubles submission goals in bracket contest for customer projects

With more than 4,000 construction companies and 45,000 end-users using construction software from HCSS, the company was looking for a way to leverage those clients' stories into engaging content.

Every week, the HCSS team has customers in training to implement software, and the result of this customer and brand interaction is a lot of stories about the product. However, the marketing team had no way to easily obtain consent for sharing consumer information.

"They tell us about amazing projects that they do and how our software is really helping them. So we knew that these success stories were out there. It's just tough to engage them more than just once every month or so," Dan Briscoe, Vice President of Marketing, HCSS, said.

He added that the HCSS marketing team wanted a way to have these stories at hand, not sound "too marketing driven" and be in the customer's own words.

Kara MacDonald, Marketing Manager, HCSS, added that "one of the struggles that we've had in the past with getting these stories is they [love] to tell you sitting there at lunch but the minute you want to start interviewing, they freeze up."

She explained that they've found that most customers have a competitive streak, so they decided to develop a campaign that "helps play on that a little bit to get them out of their shell and to volunteer this information."

The HCSS team started the "Most Interesting Project Bracket Challenge," which used email, social media and blog content to encourage customers to submit their projects to compete against other customers.

The competition ran for the length of the NCAA March Madness Tournament, or 29 days, but submissions began coming in on January 1, and voting began March 10 alongside the first basketball game.

All told, the campaign saw 117 projects submitted by 89 different companies, leaving the team "really blown away" with the campaign's popularity.

Inbound Marketing: Beef jerky company develops content strategy around brand character to increase social media fans 2,113%

Old Trapper is a traditional brand that needed to modernize along with customers. To reconcile the two ideas, the company created a brand mascot that would embody Old Trapper values but on modern platforms.

Alongside a relaunch of the website, the social media presence was launched mainly across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. With those in place, Old Trapper was able to target national and select top-selling regional locations.

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They did this most effectively with the creation of brand mascot "The Old Trapper," which represented the rugged, American values of the company.

"It was an entire, comprehensive thing that just required modernization, and Old Trapper was just ready to take the next step for the business," Robert Leary, Director of Marketing, Old Trapper, said.

The team developed videos, messaging and content that aligned with the new Old Trapper packaging, and began slowly building the audience up on social media.

One of the goals of this brand expansion into digital was to grow ecommerce sales. However, the ecommerce sales were small compared to other sales channels, and the team also didn't want to compete with retailers selling Old Trapper products. Thus, Leary mainly used ecommerce as a way to communicate with customers and gauge the successes and failures of a rebranding effort.

"Social media sits at the center of almost every single one of these discussions, because that's just how people interact with almost everything now in some way, shape or form," he said.

See how the team was able to increase social media engagement 1,400% and social media fans by 2,113% through a content and social media effort dedicated to bringing the brand to life for consumers.

Lesson #2. Visual elements drive engagement across all channels

Social Media Marketing: Visual storytelling drives 4.4 million Instagram engagements for Lilly Pulitzer

Fashion brand Lilly Pulitzer has an authentically American heritage that provides rich content for growing a social media community.

The marketing team wanted to use the visual resources at their disposal to grow its heritage brand into the digital world and keep up with customers — the "Lilly Girl."

"Our job on social is to first keep telling that story and making sure that everybody knows why we do the prints that we do and the stories that we have," Eleni Tavantzis, Senior Manager of Social Media Marketing and Public Relations, Lilly Pulitzer, said.

From there, she added, the objective is advancing the story in a way that establishes Lilly as a heritage brand while staying modern in the digital world.

"I think we're doing a really good job of it with our social strategy, which is all about visual storytelling to reinforce what we see as our key competitive advantages in the fashion marketplace, which is all about Lilly's resort chic [and] our emotional connection with our Lilly Girls — which is my favorite one," she said.

Social media is a great opportunity, but it is also always a challenge for the team to "play with our brand voice and make sure that we're never getting too cutesy and that it's always chic — a little cheeky, and sometimes that it might shock her just a teeny bit because it should. That's very much the Lilly way," Tavantzis said.

Lilly Pulitzer is known for its colorful prints, and that is what led the team to the Lilly 5x5 campaign. This campaign connected customers with designers and invited customers into the current story of Lilly beyond just telling them about the brand's history.

The 5x5 prints are published on Instagram and Pinterest five days a week, because "many people still don't know that all of the prints that are on our dresses and our clothes are all created in-house by an in-house team of artists. There are just 10 of them who paint, sketch and watercolor and play with acrylics to create these gorgeous prints that make it on the line. It's such a unique thing," Tavantzis said.

The team was able to grow the Instagram community by 170%, and drive 4.4 million engagements on Instagram with this 5x5 series.

Social Media Marketing: Over 120% increase in daily activity for app due to visual social media campaign

To gain visibility for the launch of the latest version of its health and wellness app, Owaves created a contest to encourage downloads and usage.

By getting users to share their interaction with the app visually, and pulling in key influencers, the marketers at Owaves were able to increase daily downloads by 100% and develop engaging content for and with customers.

With Owaves, users log and can visualize the percentage of the day they spent doing certain activities. The objective is to achieve balance in their lives and stay focused on health and wellness goals.

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To reach their target market of Millennials, the team came up with the "Share Your O" campaign.

"Basically what that was, was a contest for whoever could share something on their own social media and get the most likes," Claire Akin, Marketing Manager, Owaves, said.

The team reached out to key influencers, athletes, Olympians and others associated with fitness and a healthy lifestyle, hoping they would join the campaign. The objective was to start a grassroots campaign that would spread through followings.

Owaves is active on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn. For this campaign, however, the marketing team focused mainly on the more visual platforms, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

"For the campaign, Instagram was super popular, but typically we use mainly Facebook," Akin said.

In the Share Your O campaign, users had to share their day — as visualized through the app — to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and the person with the most "likes" or retweets would win. There was one winner for each platform. The team used the hashtag #oTime to track the contest.

Inbound Marketing: Entertainment venue Topgolf increases Twitter followers 182% with relevant outreach

Entertainment venue Topgolf was created for "all ages, all skill levels, all year round," according to Adrienne Chance, Director of Corporate Communications, Topgolf.

Topgolf's latest Las Vegas location is opening late spring of 2016, and the company announced it in February of this year.

"With the announcement of Las Vegas, it's very hard to really make a true splash among all of the major casinos and the entertainment that's offered on the strip. It's hard to really make yourself known as a smaller golf entertainment company that isn't truly nationwide yet," she said.

The marketing team realized the importance of this announcement as an opportunity to present Topgolf to a large audience who may not be familiar with it yet, and began using the brand's social media content to its full potential, utilizing the hashtag "#ILoveTopgolf."

The marketing team came up with an idea, through Topgolf's partnership with AT&T, to install a social media wall at all locations.

"The purpose of the wall was to raise awareness about Topgolf social media at the site, make it more top of mind so people wanted to interact with us on social," Chance said.

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#ILoveTopgolf was created for people to use to appear on the social wall. When someone tweets with that hashtag, the tweet appears on the wall at all locations.

"So you can see what Topgolf looks like from Phoenix to Chicago to Dallas, wherever you are. It's a really neat visualization at our site," she said.

By integrating social media with in-person interactions and events and reaching out with relevant social media conversations, Topgolf was able to increase its Twitter followers 182%.

Lesson #3. Know which strategies or platforms will resonate with your customers

Inbound Marketing: Pinterest-based strategy leads to 77% new site traffic

When your product is highly visual, finding a platform that is most conducive for showcasing those products is essential. Publish content on the wrong platform for the wrong audience, and you could end up showcasing to an empty room.

Murals Wallpaper leveraged Pinterest as a way to generate new visitors to its online store as well as engage with highly motivated prospects in the research phase of interior decorating transformations.

The team successfully created engaging Pinterest boards, managed a blog and leveraged collaborative boards that led to more than 5% of site sales conversions originating from Pinterest.

Social media plays a large role in the company's strategy for reaching new audiences, particularly Pinterest. But, it didn't start that way.

"Initially, Pinterest was used as an internal ideas board. When our designers were coming up with new designs for wallpaper, they'd use Pinterest to find their patterns they liked," Michael Palmer, Digital Marketing Manager, Murals Wallpaper, said.

It wasn't until 2013 when the team realized more and more traffic was coming from Pinterest to the website.

"We realized it was time to get a strategy in place to use Pinterest as a marketing platform," Palmer explained.

Murals Wallpaper needed a way to take what content it was posting on Pinterest and turn it into a way to generate traffic to the site.

Palmer and the team at Murals Wallpaper began to think of Pinterest not just as a way of discovering new trends in interior design, but as a way to drive customers to the Murals Wallpaper store and generate conversions from highly interested prospects.

Content Marketing: Organic search traffic increased 400% in one year using content and SEO keyword strategy

Growth for Cartelligent was reliant on "organic" leads with "no real strategy behind growing leads [and] growing the business," Jessica Carstens, Marketing Manager, Cartelligent, said. To begin to grow leads outside of repeat customers and referrals, Cartelligent revamped its content process to optimize for SEO and engage new customers.

Cartelligent helps its customers buy or lease any new car, outside of working with a dealership. Using other common online car shopping sites, Carstens explained, customers' information is sold to a dealer who will honor a pre-set price, but nothing about leasing, financing or trade-in values is arranged.

Carstens' biggest challenge in customer growth is that people don't naturally think a service like Cartelligent exists.

"You have to interrupt them in their day-to-day life or in the car-buying process and say, 'Hey, here's something you hadn't considered, but it's pretty cool. Why don't you check it out?''

A year ago, Carstens faced the additional challenge of launching Cartelligent's new website.

"Once we had the new website up, we knew that one of our focuses was going to be obviously SEO. That was a big part of what we put into URL structure and all of the stuff that goes into a new website," she said.

Carstens knew that spending more time developing inbound content would be a big step, both with SEO and developing customer trust.

"We'd had a blog on the other website, but … it was old, it was outdated. It didn't do a good job, so we weren't putting a lot of effort into driving people to it," she said, adding that with the new website, "our big focus is — we've got this beautiful new thing, how do we get people to it? How do we get people interested in our service?"

Carstens began putting together content about car buying, publishing once or twice a week instead of the once a month Cartelligent had been doing before. She was also inserting keywords to build up SEO into old and new content.

What Carstens said Cartelligent has found works for it in inbound marketing is that "[it] isn't about something that people are looking for, but finding a way to get them to discover it on their own."

Inbound Marketing: How focusing on customer stories saw a 35% increase in content engagement

Finding a vantage point to observe customer stories is incredibly important. Knowing this, online learning and teaching platform Udemy was looking for a way to engage in the conversations its users were having outside of brand platforms.

After dedicating more time to the external social media and content created about Udemy by their students and professors, the marketing team gained insight into important conversations and shared that content.

Udemy is an international website, so about two-thirds of users, both students and instructors, are outside of the U.S.

Because of the huge group of users for Udemy, including five million students, over 10,000 instructors and hundreds of companies, "we needed to make sure that we were actually listening to the conversations that were happening out there and [that] we had a pulse on what it was that people were saying. So it wasn't just so much that we needed to know what people were saying about Udemy on Twitter, but that actually needed to be across multiple channels and multiple types of media," Shannon Hughes, Senior Director of Marketing, Udemy, said.

Customers — whether that's students or instructors — are really the best ambassadors for the Udemy brand, she added, "and we want to make sure that we're connecting with those people when they're engaging in conversations online and make sure that we're supporting them."

Before this campaign, Udemy was unable to see discussions that were happening on instructors' personal blogs or those conversations happening outside of the U.S.

The Udemy team enlisted a vendor to help them curate the independent content and social media mentions of the company, and began cultivating key influencers, as well as sharing newly culled customer insights.

This effort resulted in a 43% increase in Udemy mentions across social media channels and a 35% boost in people engaging with content.

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