I can’t deny that BIG has its benefits.
Pricing power. Brand recognition. And boatloads of resources.
But we can all learn from small organizations. After all, constraints drive creativity.
So today we bring you examples from a software company, a book publisher, and a sports coach.
This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
When you don’t have massive budgets to throw at marketing challenges, you better play it smart. Find the right approach.
Like with copy changes. The right words can make all the difference. For example, changing “Sign In And Order A Sample” to “Request A Free Copy” increased subscriptions 82.5% (as seen in Conversion Lifts in 10 Words or Less: Real-world experiments where minor copy changes produced major conversion lifts).
And the same is true for strategy.
To spark your creative thinking, in this article we bring you three examples of companies that made the most with the resources they had. First up, a small software company that leverages its competitors’ names to grab attention with ‘alternative-to’ SEO landing pages. Next, a book publisher that bucked small biz conventional wisdom by going broad instead of niche. And finally, a sports coach that increased conversion rate by charging for his lead magnet.
“Being a small company in a highly competitive space – SEO software – we at Morningscore.io have always looked for ways to ‘growth hack’ our way to profitability. Creative ideas that bring great ROI have been at the core of our approach, as in virtually all instances, we cannot outspend the bigger brands on the market,” said Martin Petrov, Head of Marketing, Morningscore.io.
A little over a year ago, the team decided to try to expand its organic reach with a strategy frequently used by software companies – creating ‘alternative-to’ pages that compare its product to its biggest competitors.
To pick which competitors to target, the team compared the brand’s size and whether their platform was genuinely a good alternative. “We did the whole process in a flat Google Sheets document which we could later filter,” Petrov said.
First, they collected as many SEO platforms as possible by searching for “SEO tools list.” Then, they used their keyword research tool to judge whether the competitor was large enough. “But naturally, any decent keyword research tool out there should give you that data,” Petrov said. They looked for the generic brand name and some popular variations such as with or without spacing.
This gave the team insight into whether the competitor brand had enough search volume. “It’s important to mention that we used a data-informed and not exclusively a data-driven decision process. In other words, we used the search volume numbers as an indicator that there is some search demand – and not as if they are the ultimate truth,” he said.
They looked at the country in which each platform was most popular. They picked the countries that fit with the company’s go-to-market plan – the US, UK, Germany, and India.
The last column in the spreadsheet listed the decision for that landing page. The competitors they could genuinely compete against (e.g., those who weren’t too niche) were marked with “Create.” For the rest, they put either “Wait” or “Skip."
Once they decided which landing pages to build, the team got to work building those pages. They included page copy discussing customers’ biggest problems with competitors’ solutions, but also tried to present a realistic look at the competitors’ abilities as well. “Doing this will help you both come up with enough quantity of text for Google, but also improve your conversions as you’re directly speaking to your customers’ needs,” Petrov said. “[For copy inspiration] find platforms that review business where customers can leave their opinion on the product or service. For us, those were Capterra and G2.”
This research allows you to come up with content that addresses both the positive and negative aspects of competing products. For example, if your customers appreciate good customer support, you can point that out in your copy. Similarly, by examining the cons customers mention about competitors, you can create contrast by stressing what you do better than your rivals.
The team made pages targeting several competitors and re-used portions of text about its own product. “There's an ongoing misconception that absolutely 100% of your own content on the website needs to be original, and words should not repeat. Otherwise, Google will punish you with a duplicate content penalty, and customers won't be happy, right?” Petrov said.
“I'm here to tell you that you shouldn't be afraid to re-use some portions of text, as from our experience, this is not necessarily the case. Firstly, you can make your copy original enough for Google by simply switching out the name of the competitor you use. Secondly, the original part of the text that matters the most is the one at the top.” The team wrote a unique description at the top of each page that fits the particular competitor the page targeted.
Creative Sample #1: Top of “alternative to” landing page for software company showing unique content
But they re-used some of the “filler” content shown at the bottom of different alternative-to pages to save time creating those pages.
Creative Sample #2: Repeatable “filler” copy on software company’s ‘alternative to’ landing page
They also included a comparison table attempting to show a realistic, objective comparison between their competitors’ offering and their own. This allows visitors to quickly judge whether the product is in their price range or supports the functionality they need.
The goal was not to only increase conversions but also save time working leads by letting prospects disqualify themselves if they aren’t a good fit for the product. “Featuring such rich data also tells Google that your result is worth appearing high at the top as it is undoubtedly helpful to the end-users,” Petrov said.
They added a disclaimer at the bottom of the comparison table that shows the date and source of their findings. They realized that competitors might change pricing and they wouldn’t hear about it right away.
Creative Sample #3: Comparison table on software company’s ‘alternative to’ landing page
From February 15, 2020 to June 30, 2021, the team generated more than 10,000 extra clicks with this campaign, which brought close to 2,100 relevant purchase-ready sign-ups that were sent to its sales department. The best-performing landing pages generated a 48.43% conversion rate (433 free trial sign-ups out of 894 sessions from the “google / organic” Source/Medium, according to Google Analytics).
I’m always interested in a strategy that zags when everyone else thinks it should zig. I won’t necessarily replicate this strategy but, if nothing else, it helps me challenge my own assumptions and deeply held beliefs about my own strategies. A very small company with few marketing resources is supposed to niche down its marketing strategy. The focus of our next case study took the opposite approach.
With the worldwide spread of COVID, in-person book launch celebrations came to a halt. These events were a key marketing tactic for Dark Helix Press, an indie publishing company. To navigate the book market, the company knew it had to take its book launches into the virtual realm.
This change also spurred a holistic change in strategy – instead of aiming at a tight target audience only interested in Asian authors for its niche product the team decided to broaden its audience to anyone interested in hearing from diverse voices. "The only thing that differs between a ‘niche’ topic, and one with a widespread interest is the appetite of an audience. Everyone is hungry for something new or something interesting, and this is especially true for book lovers,” said Chris Houston, Owner, The Idea Shop (Dark Helix’s marketing firm).
Their latest book, Belief, was launched in April 2021 just before May’s Asian Heritage Month. The book is the fourth anthology featuring Asian writers published by Dark Helix Press. The previous book, Immersion, was launched with a marketing campaign done solely by the company without any book marketing firm involvement.
“Selling books is a notoriously difficult thing for small indie publishers to do who do not necessarily have marketing people in house. In addition, selling a book featuring Asian authors is very niche and we wanted to reach out to as many readers as possible interested in diverse books,” says JF Garrard, President, Dark Helix Press.
"If we had taken the niche strategy, we would have focused on solely advertising to the Asian community – via newspapers/magazines/podcasts/websites solely focused on the Asian community. However, it's recognized the audience or market size is limited in numbers. If we further segment by populations represented by the authors – Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Filipino – the marketing opportunities are even smaller within North America. Asia is a different ball game and of course, since the book is in English, the market size is limited there as well."
The marketing firm helped Dark Helix Press reach a broader audience by attaining airtime on traditional radio stations (who also archive shows online), soliciting book reviews in newspapers, engaging with book reviewers and delivering a steady organic social media campaign on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The publisher hosted a virtual book launch in partnership with the Canadian Authors Association, promoted the book on social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr), hosted podcast interviews with authors, and gave away books via digital raffles.
Compared to the last book release, Immersion which took a targeted approach and did not engage in procurement of a marketing vendor, this campaign’s broad approach resulted in a 400% increase in book sales over the first two months of its release. The video of the book launch, which has been embedded on Dark Helix Press and the Canadian Authors Association’s website, has garnered close to 100 views. This is an increase of 270% in YouTube views compared to the 2019 Immersion book readings video.
“Using marketing efforts to reach a broader audience versus focusing on just advertising to a niche audience, sales have increased as well as video engagements,” Garrard said.
“I know the rage in marketing is to give away a ‘lead magnet,’ but I have found something 10X more effective,” said Bob Prichard, President, Somax Performance Institute.
Prichard promoted his business working with runners by doing stride analysis clinics at local running shoe stores. Usually 20 runners would show up on a Saturday. Out of the 20, he was typically able to convert one to a client for a success rate of five percent.
Then one of the runners told Prichard that his analysis was better than the $200 analysis the runner got at the top sports medicine hospital in San Francisco.
So he tried charging a small amount – 1/10th of what the local hospital was charging.
Only eight runners showed up for the paid clinic. “At first I thought ‘this is not good,’” Prichard said. “But then, 50% signed up to work with me.”
“Needless to say, I continued to market my business by no longer giving it away. Charging just a modest amount of money changed prospects from tire-kickers to buyers,” he said.
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