To sell a product, first you must get in front of the customer. Get their attention. Which for many marketers often means buying advertising.
But not always. In this article, we bring you three companies that got those eyeballs without paid media. Read on for examples from Cuisinart, a small direct-to-consumer business, and a nonprofit.
This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
Once you get in front of the customer, you can use conversion rate optimization to increase the number of customers who say “yes” to your call-to-action. (You can learn how to do that in The Conversion Heuristic Analysis: Overcoming the prospect’s perception gap from our sister publication, MarketingExperiments).
But first – you must get in front of those customers.
Typically that involves paid media – in other words, advertising.
Here are three brands that took a different approach – getting in front of more customers by partnering with influencers, improving email deliverability, and researching customer concerns to get more organic search traffic.
Influencer marketing campaigns earn $6.50 for every dollar spent, according to Tomoson.
“The whole industry is estimated to grow [to] $13.8 billion in 2021 [according to Influencer Marketing Hub], with platforms like Snapchat and TikTok growing their market share rapidly,” said Clayton Rannard, Co-founder, Collabstr.
All that data is to say – influencer marketing on TikTok may be an overlooked opportunity for your brand. If you’re new at it and looking to dip your toe in, this quick case study may help.
In the summer of 2019, Craig Mount and Erika Peterson started their little peanut butter company from their home in South Dakota. Family-owned brand Nerdy Nuts was able to turn an initial TikTok budget of $2,500 into more than $500,000 in monthly sales by leveraging the power of TikTok influencers.
At first, they sold their new peanut butter at local farmers’ markets. Selling in community environments means a lot of face-to-face interactions with customers. By coming to the town’s market every weekend, the founders of the DTC (direct-to-consumer) brand handed out samples and gathered real-time feedback on their product. “It became an excellent testing ground – and a perfect way for us to iterate,” said Craig Mount, Co-founder, Nerdy Nuts.
After carrying out market research, Mount decided that Nerdy Nuts should be branded as a flavorful and fun brand. After all, the majority of DTC peanut butter brands were already focused on advertising themselves as “healthy” or “keto-friendly.”
The budding company was experimenting with different marketing approaches when they decided to focus on using TikTok influencers – they believed in the platform’s potential to drive entertaining and creative content.
“Mount reached out to two influencers, Ali Grace Morsell and Hailey Peters, who had around 500,000 followers on the platform at the time,” Rannard said. To get them on board, he offered both influencers free products: “they were just so flabbergasted that anyone would want to send them something for free,” Mount said. He also promised the influencers a 10% cut of all sales.
The two women posted content using, explaining, and advertising the product, and within weeks they racked up over a million views, leading to 5,947 sales, which resulted in the rise to $165,200 in monthly sales shortly after the campaign launch. The hashtag #nerdynuts has been viewed more than two million times to date.
By starting small and only selling at farmers’ markets, Nerdy Nuts was able to improve their product’s market fit significantly. Listening to their customers’ feedback and learning why customers liked the product (flavorful, friendly, fun for children), they already knew what their campaign should be focused on when starting with TikTok.
“The same holds for influencers, as influencers won’t just promote any product – they will only promote something they see value in. So, having a product that consumers genuinely love is likely to result in a viral feedback loop when promoted on TikTok,” Rannard advised.
For Nerdy Nuts, the ideal influencers were the two middle-aged family mothers, Morsell and Peters. Both are known for sharing culinary tips, and they enjoy showing their followers the food recipes they would cook for their families. Their audience is mostly women and men in a similar age group, seeking delicious and fun lifestyle products for the whole family – the ideal candidates for buying a delicious peanut butter jar.
“It is critical to be picky with influencers that represent your brand. First, their audience must have an initial interest in the product you are selling. By choosing influencers that are highly relevant to your niche, you ensure you reach out to the right people,” Rannard said. “On top of that, only influencers that enjoy your product will cultivate the necessary authenticity among their audience. An influencer that likes your brand will not just promote you for a single transaction but become a brand ambassador advocating your products frequently.”
How can you find a good influencer-product fit? By researching profiles, reading descriptions, observing influencers’ content for a while, and watching their audience’s reactions to their content. “Make sure you enjoy the creative output of your chosen creators as well, including their color setting, the tone of voice, and the values they represent,” he advised.
The content chosen by Morsell and Peters as part of their original campaign with Nerdy Nuts was not only authentic but persuaded the viewer to purchase the peanut butter immediately. This happened because the creative part of the deal was left to the creators, giving them space to develop unique and engaging content with their own TikTok community.
“When working with influencers, it is important to be aware of the type of content they post and ensure that your vision aligns with theirs. The last thing you want to do is force an influencer to post a piece of content about your brand that comes off as disingenuous or scripted. Furthermore, they know what’s best among their audience, so don’t hesitate to trust them with their ideas,” Rannard advised.
Influencer marketing can help you get in front of more potential customers who are unaware of your brand, but improved email deliverability can help you get your brand’s marketing message in front of more previous customers and others who have already indicated an interest in your brand.
When Cuisinart’s email marketing program experienced a steep drop in deliverability due to mail blocks, bounces, and a blacklisted IP address, the home appliance brand paused all email marketing activities and sought a more effective email deliverability solution.
“Most marketers using the email channel do not make deliverability one of their KPIs (key performance indicators), but that perspective needs to shift,” said Mary Rodgers, Director of Marketing Communications, Cuisinart.
The team approached improving deliverability in three steps: they analyzed the present state, improved data and send health, and then sought to maintain data and deliverability health.
Because deliverability problems are not caused by one issue alone, the first step was to take a holistic approach and assess the entirety of Cuisinart’s current email strategy. The team conducted an in-depth analysis of 12 months of emails, evaluating email content, database health, and domain reputation to get to the root of the problem.
Every element of their email sending practices was investigated to determine what could have triggered spam filters and abuse reports.
The analysis began with live test sends of all email templates to 90+ applications, devices, and platforms for spam and deliverability testing. The email template code and renderings were analyzed to see how the emails appeared in the inbox. The team then measured the performance of the tests, based on email marketing best practices and benchmarks.
After reviewing the email content and code, the team took a deep dive into Cuisinart’s database. Since low deliverability is largely due to database health and hard and soft bounces (soft bounces are notices that an email cannot be delivered now but may be deliverable later; hard bounces are notices that an email is permanently undeliverable), the evaluation started there. Data maintenance and collection practices were also evaluated to determine if poorly maintained data was exacerbating Cuisinart’s deliverability issue.
The team reviewed key performance metrics and conducted rigorous diagnostic testing to examine Cuisinart’s domain reputation through their current email service provider. They then migrated Cuisinart to a new marketing platform, for a fresh start on a new, dedicated IP (Internet Protocol) address.
Once on the new platform, they developed a new database structure for Cuisinart that would accommodate data from multiple systems and allow the team to keep tight control of email content and frequency preferences. They also initiated a data cleanse to identify spam traps (an email address set up to catch unrequested email), hard bounces, and inactive subscribers. This prevented bad or old data from being imported into Cuisinart’s new database.
The team created an email preference center to help Cuisinart honor subscriber preferences and reduce their emails being marked as spam or abuse. They also implemented a double opt-in confirmation to ensure that only legitimate email addresses were mailed. This ultimately reduced the size of Cuisinart’s email database significantly but was critical in improving their overall database health and making sure that the people who wanted Cuisinart’s emails actually received them.
These tactics increased email deliverability to 99%. In addition, email open rates increased 24%, click-through rate increased six percent, and year-over-year website sessions from the email channel increased 193%.
Their task now is to maintain the health of their newly cleansed data and nurture their growing email deliverability rate. The team implemented user-friendly opt-in and unsubscribe forms, so the new templates meet all CANSPAM requirements and enable subscribers to easily update their email preferences or unsubscribe.
They’ve also started using a master email template with a flexible layout to ensure a consistent brand experience across devices.
And Cuisinart now segments their subscribers into distinct audiences to offer greater personalization, encouraging higher engagement and boosting open rates. They take a data-driven approach to content strategy, using Google Analytics pageview data to match email content to consumer interests. Cuisinart can now get ongoing deliverability metrics, and continuously test and update the master template.
“When growing brands want to take email marketing campaigns to the next level, metrics like deliverability – ensuring your emails get to inboxes – are often overlooked or assumed. However, there are dozens of roadblocks that can prevent consistent email delivery, especially as marketing teams move towards higher volume and larger scale,” said Michael Trapani, Senior Director – Product and Partnership Marketing, Acoustic (Cuisinart’s new marketing platform).
Businesses have long known that engaging, informative blog posts can attract web visitors and generate more leads or sales. Blog posts are a great way to offer tips and advice, provide well-researched information or unique perspectives on a particular topic. For one non-profit organization, The Live-in Care Hub, whose aim is to raise awareness of better types of senior care, their weekly blog posts had done just that for several years but web visits had reached a plateau.
“Senior care is an emotive topic yet the content being produced was focusing on practicalities for older people: mobility issues, understanding chronic illnesses, how best to pay for healthcare and senior care. It was not tapping into the real concerns and anxiety surrounding those practical elements of getting older,” said Michelle Symonds, Managing Director, Ditto Digital (The Live-in Care Hub’s digital marketing agency).
The team began by researching online forums aimed at senior citizens to find threads about this generation’s worries and concerns and discover the most common issues and challenges. This research revealed two major concerns: seniors were worried about being “forced” into a care home and being “forced” to sell their home to pay for their care. Ultimately, some sort of loss of control over their lives and life choices was the common theme.
Dominique Kent, Joint Founder, The Live-In Care Hub remarked, “We realized that not everyone knew there were alternatives to moving into a care home, but the research showed that many people were strongly against moving out of their own homes and are particularly worried about being forced by family or healthcare professionals to do so. We wanted the new-style content to address these concerns and highlight what the alternatives are.”
Armed with this insight, the copywriters began producing relevant content. So far this year just one of these new-style blog posts – entitled “Can Someone Be Forced Into A Care Home - Know Your Rights” – doubled traffic to the website. From January 1 to March 31, 2021 the single blog post accounted for 49.4% of all site visits.
Creative Sample #1: High-performing blog post for non-profit
“Several other blog posts were written using this approach. Two others drive notable amounts of traffic (10% and 7%) but what seems to be different about the post above is the idea of older people being ‘forced’ to do something they don't want to do i.e., move into a care home,” Symonds said.
Symonds attributes this success to being able to pinpoint, through continued research and testing, the pain points of the target audience. She advises all businesses to capitalize on the power of well-researched content to address pain points and, depending on the business, not be afraid to tug on the heartstrings of the audience.
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