May 05, 2020
Case Study

Creative Inspiration: 9 mini case studies of marketing campaigns and business ideas sparked by unorthodox inspiration


Where do you get your brilliant marketing ideas?

I hope one place is MarketingSherpa case studies. When I was a copywriter, my peers’ ads and campaigns informed my own concepting (#ShouldersOfGiants).

However, sometimes you need a fresh source of inspiration to get that next powerful idea. So in this article, we take a look at nine mini case studies of marketing campaigns and business ideas sparked by unorthodox inspiration.

Read on to see examples of an SEO landing page dreamed up while playing with Hot Wheels and Legos, a New Jersey governor’s race that encouraged a complementary business idea, and a dog’s passing that inspired a new blog.

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


(As seen in the MarketingSherpa newsletter. Click to get a free email subscription to the latest from MarketingSherpa.)

At MarketingSherpa, we have a ton of case studies — from AAA to ZweigWhite, from the travel industry to wholesale distribution.

While our readers love a case study or mini case study from a company in their industry, I worry sometimes marketers can be too literal. If the case study isn’t in their industry or even in their specific niche within an industry, they feel like it doesn’t apply to them.

Inspiration is everywhere.

Case studies from any industry or vertical can help you gain an edge with that next great marketing concept. B2Bs can learn from B2Cs. B2Cs can learn from B2Bs. And we can all learn from nonprofit and political marketers as well.

While you can find inspiration in a case study outside your direct industry, I must admit that inspiration also springs up way outside the case study box.

So this week we bring you some out-of-the-box places your fellow marketers found inspiration, along with a mini case study about their resulting ideas and output. We hope these mini case studies inspire your next great idea and encourage you to find your own inspiration, wherever it may be.

Mini Case Study #1: Data pattern recognition can generate 74% increase in response for social network — and also help FBI negotiators free hostages

According to Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director and CEO, MECLABS Institute, the goal of an FBI negotiator is similar to the goal of a marketer — to get to “yes.” (MECLABS is the parent organization of MarketingSherpa).

One way both marketers and FBI negotiators try to do this is by looking for patterns that can transform data from just information into customer wisdom.

Here’s an example from the book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz:

“A few weeks after the Haitian kidnapping boom began, we started to notice two patterns. First, Mondays seemed to be especially busy, as if the kidnappers had a particularly strong work ethic and wanted to get a jump on the week. And, second, the thugs grew increasingly eager to get paid as the weekend approached…we had two key pieces of information that totally shifted the leverage to our side.”

This data pattern recognition led the negotiators to come up with a hypothesis, namely, these kidnappings weren’t politically motivated (as previously thought) but were a way for the hostage-takers to get some spending money for the weekend. This new understanding of the hostage-takers shaped the negotiators’ strategy.

Marketers can take inspiration from this approach by the FBI negotiators and look for patterns in their own data.

For example, a private social media network for physicians engaged MECLABS conversion marketing services. The MECLABS team reviewed the data and discovered a high amount of variability in the conversion rate for the social network’s articles.

Creative Sample #1: Conversion rates for social network’s articles


MECLABS analysts hypothesized that there was a high degree of variability in the audience’s motivations.

The original email template only featured one main piece of content.

Creative Sample #2: Control email template for social network


Based on the new hypothesis informed by the data, the team created a treatment for an email template with many pieces of content.

Creative Sample #3: Treatment email template for social network


The treatment that appealed to multiple motivations generated a 74% increase in response.

You can learn more about this experiment and other lessons from FBI negotiators that can inspire your marketing in the MarketingExperiments lecture Get to Yes: Three conversion lessons learned from an FBI hostage negotiation, which we’ve embedded below. (MarketingExperiments is the sister publication to MarketingSherpa.)

Mini Case Study #2: Playing with Hot Wheels inspires creative statistics landing page that increases traffic 1,196% for law firm

Data can be an effective way to communicate a problem, the value of your category or the value of your product. But it can also be boooring!

David Kranker found a creative way to communicate data that drove results.

“I was playing with Hot Wheels cars with my little nephew, pushing the car around the floor with a little miniature Lego town to drive around, when I started to imagine statistics showing up on the walls of the buildings. A lot of sites will put together pages with some pretty graphs and statistics to build links, but I wanted to do something even more eye-catching,” said David Kranker, owner, David Kranker Creative.

Kranker downloaded California accident data from the state website and started coding and designing a new interactive format for an SEO landing page that would allow users to interact with accident data in a more visually appealing way for a law firm.

Creative Sample #4: Creative data visualization for law firm landing page



Creative Sample #5: Creative data visualization for law firm landing page


I included some screen grabs above, but you can experience the page for yourself here.

This page currently has 28 links from 13 referring domains, four of which are other lawyers. Over the course of the first year, website traffic increased 1,196% to 1,400 organic visitors a month, and conversions increased 1,000% to 412 conversions a month.

“This page is almost entirely responsible for the boost in [domain] authority [this website] received. At one point, WalletHub had linked to the piece before they redesigned their page,” Kranker said.

“Never shut off the marketing portion of your brain. I think a lot of us want to go home and stop thinking about work. We try to compartmentalize work thoughts until we're back in the office. However, I find the best inspiration comes outside of the office. A lot of my best thoughts come while I'm driving or in the shower or laying in bed before going to sleep. Sometimes they come when I'm playing with Hot Wheels cars. You never know,” Kranker said.

Mini Case Study #3: School newspaper interview inspires questionnaire change for business directory that triples response rate was trying to fill up its homeowners’ portal with business profiles of reputable vendors for a few months.

“Our challenge has always been to show home professionals that we aren't selling anything and there is no other catch — which is true — in our offer,” said Laura Bierman, Editor-in-Chief, “It’s challenging to build a relationship with someone, even if you really don’t try to sell them on anything.”

Email open rate was 25-27%, and the response rate was about 1% for emails with subject lines like “Get featured as one of the Best Property Managers in your area.”

Then inspiration struck. “Recently, my niece came from school very excited. She told me that she was interviewed for her school newspaper where she was asked about her hobby, dancing, and other things she likes. I saw that she was excited because she felt like a celebrity. She enjoyed answering questions about herself, what is important to her. This appealed to her little ego,” Bierman said.

Her team transformed the previous questionnaire to an interview-style questionnaire. To support the new style of questionnaire, the team changed its email approach as well. For example, one of the new subject lines read, “Interview with [Location – City]’s property managers.”

 Open rate increased from 25% to 42%, and the response rate increased from 1% to 3%.

“Just like your friends and family members, business owners love to get attention and feel important. Appealing to one’s ego is an extremely effective technique whenever you want to get their attention and start building a business relationship,” Bierman advised.

Mini Case Study #4: Personal pain leads to high-engagement blog post for dog review site

I reviewed a lot of possible mini case studies for this article. A whole lot.

And many of them follow a typical pattern: my client’s product, my client as a thought leader, me, me, me, us, us, us, and then a tangential connection to helping the MarketingSherpa audience.

However, this next one really struck me. Because it does what all great marketing and business should really do — tap into a universal human truth and serve a pressing human need.

I usually end mini case studies with advice to you from our source, but for this one I’m going to start that way because I believe the advice is so profound.

“I'd suggest to marketers to consider how their own pain or struggle might be shared with others. I think many times we think we are only allowed to share our struggles once we've come out the other side. But sharing your own pain as it's happening can be immensely moving and may ring true to many others in similar situations,” Meg Marrs, Founder, K9 of Mine told me.

Marrs started her dog content site when her own dog died. “I first started K9 of Mine when my family dog Benzy passed away. I found myself suddenly with a dog-shaped hole in my heart and started K9 of Mine as part of my grieving process, she said.

One of her first articles featured comforting words about losing a dog.

Creative Sample #6: Image quote from article


To this day, it’s one of the website’s highest-trafficked articles, has 92 comments and has thousands of social shares.

 “I didn't really think much would come of them. I simply enjoyed making them as part of my own grieving process and thought others might enjoy them, too,” Marrs said. “The success of this article was what made me decide to give K9 of Mine a real shot at becoming a business, driving me to commit to building and growing it.”

Mini Case Study #5: Zappos-inspired customer service reduces churn 3% for software company

Everyone says they care about customer service (or fancier terms like “customer support” or “customer experience”) but do they live up to it?

Since getting involved in customer service here at MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute, I highly advise it. Not just to truly help people (which is why I prefer “service” over “support” or “experience”). But also because it increases your customer intimacy and improves your customer theory — vital assets for a marketer.

Adam Hempenstall also gets directly involved in the customer service for his company. “My inspiration for success is Zappos, the company that sells shoes. It’s completely unrelated to what we do — we sell software — but I admired the principle. It’s to make your customers happy, provide exceptional customer experience and support and create a place where people love to work,” says the CEO and Founder of Better Proposals, who works on customer support himself.

“As the company CEO, I handle a good part of customer questions and complaints through the chatbox on the website, the support email and our social media groups and pages. I love interacting directly with our customers, and they’re always surprised to see the company CEO helping them out,” he said.

From these customer service efforts, the company has reduced churn (the number of people who unsubscribe from using the app) by 3% in the last year since this approach started.

“People love using a product when they see that the company gives a damn about them. We showed our customers that we are here for them and that without them, our product is nothing,” he said.

“Look at businesses from unrelated niches that have become well-known for some aspect of their product or service. For example, Hubspot has become famous for its culture. There are a million ways to stand out from the crowd; a great product or service is just the beginning,” Hempenstall advised.

Mini Case Study #6: Applying lead generation lessons to a job search

As marketers, we are adept at marketing our products, but sometimes we struggle with marketing ourselves. And what else is the job search, really, but a marketing campaign for our own personal brand?

“In my most recent book, I leverage my strategic and targeted approach to lead generation that I used for 20+ years when I was working with a leading consumer public relations agency, and apply that to the transition executives are experiencing as they look to secure the next job in their career,” said Mark Beal, Assistant Professor of Practice in Public Relations, Rutgers University School of Communication & Information, and author of Career In Transition: 101 Lessons To Achieve Job Search Success.

Beal recommends a three-step process.

First, research your potential prospects and identify companies and organizations that are in an industry where you have relevant experience. Identify as many as 10-20 prospects that you will strategically target and engage for your next job. Decide which factors, such as proximity to your home and how long you are willing to commute, should be considered to determine which companies make your list, Beal suggests.

As someone who has been a hiring manager, I like what Beal recommends. It felt like some applicants were just spamming their application out to every company. But the applicants who stood out felt like they were targeting our company specifically as a key place they wanted to work.

Once your prospects are identified, search your network to find at least one personal connection at each of the 10-20 prospective companies. “According to the University of Michigan Career Center, referrals account for just 7% of all job applicants, but 40% of all hires,” Beal said.

One reason for this is Applicant Tracking System (ATS) technology; it scans resumes and weeds out applicants if they aren’t a close enough match to the job description. Networking can help get around this. “In the case of the senior executive who was initially rejected by the ATS technology, he followed this strategic prospecting and was ultimately awarded the SVP job with the Fortune 500 company,” Beal told me.

Finally, conduct extensive secondary research before the interview. Some sources Beal recommends:

  • Recent news
  • Acquisitions
  • Quarterly earnings
  • Relevant news regarding main competitors
  • And I’ll throw another one into the mix — a MarketingSherpa case study or article (which will give you insights into not just the company in general, but its marketing, specifically).

He also recommends you collect primary research from friends and family — for example, a simple online survey that features questions about the category and industry where this potential employer competes. “You can then take the research data and insight and bridge it to some topline recommendations that demonstrate your strategic approach to research and analysis,” Beal advised.

A word of caution though — read the room and make recommendations humbly. I’ve been in job interviews where the interviewee didn’t have the context to judge a company’s marketing, yet came in with some very bold advice along the lines of “You don’t know what you’re doing. You better hire me.” That can be a poor way to win over potential future colleagues and employers.

Mini Case Study #7: Employee inspires philanthropic campaigns for business phone service

Not all campaigns are externally facing. What internal campaigns can help increase retention and employee satisfaction at your company?

At Nextiva, the inspiration came from an internal employee who wanted to do something for breast cancer awareness month. When she presented it to business leaders, they told her to put together some ideas.

“The next day, she came back with an amazing plan for us to partner with the Mayo Clinic to do some fundraising and events to raise awareness of breast cancer among our team members,” said Yaniv Masjedi, CMO, Nextiva. “She then led the effort over the next few weeks, which was a huge success for everyone involved. Mayo even sent several people to our offices to hold an event for us.”

Inspiration from this single employee sparked a series of employee-led efforts, including a food drive in November and a toy drive in December of that year. It has now evolved into a program called Nextiva Cares, which gives employees a chance to partner with various non-profits throughout the year.

“All of this was inspired by one team member who had the courage to ask us if we would support a cause she cared about,” Masjedi said.

Mini Case Study #8: Janitorial company owner inspired to start security company when he realized the value delivered was similar

When you have a clear and well-defined value proposition, it may inspire you to discover new business opportunities. These areas may not necessarily be in the same industry or are thought of in the same way, but can also leverage your value proposition.

Joseph Ferdinando found a business complementary to his undefined value prop through a chance encounter. He was running a janitorial service. While helping a relative of a close friend run for New Jersey governor, he met the colonel of the New Jersey state police who suggested he open a security firm because of the way he was handling many aspects of his janitorial business.

“I was drug testing, uniforming and ID badging my cleaning staff, which was way beyond what any security company, let alone janitorial service, was doing at the time,” said Ferdinando, Founder of Building Security Services.

Plus, he had the right connections to get business since the buildings he served with his janitorial company also needed security.

Mini Case Study #9: Monitoring the news inspires online retailer to launch campaign that nets 846,438 pageviews

If you are looking to get press coverage, don’t just spam out news releases about new products’ features, hires or acquisitions. Only in very rare cases are those newsworthy. Instead, monitor the publications you seek coverage from and learn what is important to their audiences and reporters.

“Last year, our team made it a priority to monitor the news so we could understand our audience and capitalize on current trends. We noticed that a few major publications covered ‘dream job’ campaigns. While these campaigns performed well, we knew we could make them more newsworthy by centering them around a trending event,” said Lily Walker, Communications Specialist,

The online retailer of DISH Network launched a “Dream Job” campaign looking for someone to watch 15 hours of “The Office” to mark the show’s 15th anniversary.

In return, the lucky fan would get $1,000, a Netflix gift card and a dream job kit with The Office swag (“which may or may not include Jell-O and a stapler”).

In just 7 days, the website received 846,438 pageviews and 113,415 applications.

“We have also seen coverage from Woman's Day, Thrillist, Complex, and People, to name a few. Mindy Khaling even tweeted about it!” Walker said.

Creative Sample #7: Celebrity tweet about viral campaign


“Monitor the news to capitalize on current trends and strategize your content around that to create something your audience will enjoy. Oftentimes, marketers can get ‘analysis paralysis,’ and that can kill creativity and innovation. Don’t be afraid to take risks, make fun content and promote it! Great results come from thinking outside the box,” said Jill Saunders, Marketing Manager,

Related Resources

Marketing Career: What you need to understand at each step of the job seeker’s journey (even if you’re not looking)

Email Marketing: Ideas and inspiration from 11 years of award-winning campaigns

List Growth: Blockbuster Express’ Hollywood-inspired intrigue increases audience by more than 300%

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