In this run-down of 2016’s most popular inbound marketing case studies and articles, you will read how your peers explored the possibilities of social media, SEO and content tactics and how marketers challenged best practices when marketing to millennials and built customer trust while doing so.
These nine case studies and articles show the best of what inbound marketing had to offer in 2016 in five simple tactics.
As marketing evolves away from traditional tactics, marketers are experimenting with inbound tactics as a way to be transparent and to stay top-of-mind. This year, your peers addressed how to reach millennial consumers, build trust and work with social media influencers and other brands.
Tactic #1. Use transparency to build trust and relationships
People are increasingly turning to the Web for information on repairs and maintenance to extend the life of their vehicles. Once they find you, though, what are you going to say?
Steve Sanner, President, Jiffy Lube of Indiana, and his partner started their business more than 31 years ago on the principle of giving people the opportunity to grow through work.
Because of that philosophy, he said, there are a lot of programs operating internally, but, "we never really tried to promote them outside of the company until recently."
The world has changed, Sanner said, "to where my kids now like to shop with people who they consider to be good members of the community. That's something we've always valued ourselves in being, but never really viewed it as a marketing opportunity until the last few years."
Sanner thought it might be time to brag a little bit and to help customers understand that the same idea of growing people through hard work that him attracted and his partner to Jiffy Lube should attract them as well.
"We're in the repeat-business business, so that's something we preach to our guys all the time — that we go out of business if people only come once. So we need to do everything possible to get our guests to come back over and over and over," he said.
Sanner usually ends up writing most radio spots, and voices them as well, along with his family members. But as he and his team have purchased radio and TV ads over the years, the value has diminished as customers’ attention spans diminish.
Needing greater engagement with customers outside of traditional media led Sanner to social media and digital efforts.
"We're trying to reach out to people and talk to them about our company and what we can do to make their life a little easier, but we need to find out where they are. We don't want to annoy them, but we want to remain relevant and remain top-of-mind when they need our service," he said.
In order to reach car owners where they are, Jiffy Lube shifted focus from more traditional media campaigns, and launched a content marketing initiative spanning over Facebook, Twitter, email and the company's blog to help car owners extend the life of their vehicles.
Tactic #2. Speak the language of customers and prospects
With 19 industries to cover, SAP created an extensive content marketing campaign that delved into not only relevant topics across those industries, but how personas within them would want to consume the content.
A major challenge of this “digital transformation”-themed campaign was rising above the noise in the marketplace to reach these personas with valuable content.
“We [broke through the noise] by speaking in the language of our customers and prospects,” said Ginger Shimp, Marketing Director, SAP North America. “'How do we fit in to that mix and what help can we offer?’ That's where the industry specificity really came into play. Digital transformation hits each industry in a unique fashion.”
Developing the content was the first step, according to Shimp, and “we activated 19 industries with a full complement of industry-specific white papers, videos, infographics, blogs, surveys, presentations, email promotions and more by creating unique digital hubs.”
Each industry was customized for the particular audience while still maintaining a consistent look and feel, she said, “which was crucial because we also wanted to appeal to the ecosystems of each industry.”
By tuning the messaging around a hot topic, like digital transformation, specifically to each industry, SAP was able to uniquely appeal to each customer audience and demonstrate the benefits with examples from their own ecosystem.
“We adhered to the buyer’s journey in terms of targeting the multitude of assets we had developed. We also worked to ensure that we played to the various ways in which people consume information,” she said.
Not only did the team produce this content, but they built it out to appeal to different customer preferences for digesting information. According to Shimp, this campaign covered “email, tweets, blogs, LinkedIn status updates, posts on the SAP Community Network, radio, virtual events, in-person events, outbound and responder follow-up [calls], Account Based Marketing and individual account meetings.”
SAP had a dogged pursuit of not only topic relevance for customers, but consideration over how the customer would best absorb the content. The group was able to remain thoughtful of what content would bring the most value throughout a massive content campaign that could have easily become overwhelming.
Read the full case study to see how the marketing team at SAP executed this expansive campaign and drove over 9 million impressions.
Leesa, a direct-to-consumer luxury mattress manufacturer, sells exclusively online. There's no showroom to try out its mattresses. While customers can keep mattresses for 100 nights risk-free, the marketing team still has to build enough trust that prospects are willing to order and invest their time and money sight unseen.
"Generally, [our customers] are savvy online shoppers," said Matt Hayes, Head of Marketing and founding member, Leesa.
Leesa's product is a luxury version of a typical foam mattress, with the differentiator being that it ships compressed in a box directly to the customer's doorstep — a factor that appeals mainly to millennials.
"Millennials are looking for a better, easier way to purchase a luxury-quality mattress without the hassle of having to go to a traditional mattress showroom and dealing with all the pressure and marketing gimmicks that come along with that," he said.
Hayes believed unbiased reviews could be the most effective way to build that trust, so the company included them on its website. However, Leesa also needed to distinguish itself even further in the marketplace.
The team enlisted a vendor to help them identify which social media influencers had just the right audience that matched Leesa's target market. From there, the company offered key influencers an opportunity to try the product for free, in exchange for a review.
"The idea of having this very personal, authentic testimonial from someone that, me as a reader, I trust implicitly, that's really what we honed in on. Once we kind of nailed that — the content type — we were getting more and more prescriptive about honing in on the metrics that mattered to us," he said.
They did so by reaching out to social media influencers and customers for reviews as well as sponsoring YouTube channels. The effort resulted in more than 100,000 clicks to its website and more than 400 sales since launching the project in June 2014.
Timesulin, a startup based in Stockholm, Sweden, sells an insulin pen replacement cap that tracks when someone took their his or her insulin shot. With a recent FDA approval to sell in the U.S., the company was looking to increase brand awareness, increase Web traffic and bolster SEO.
John Sjölund, Co-Founder and CEO, Timesulin, has been living with Type I diabetes for over 30 years, and he often struggled with remembering whether or not he had taken his insulin injections.
"The consequences of screwing that up are pretty profound. You can really end up in the emergency room right away," he said. After setting out to find a solution for himself, he realized that his problem actually affected about 93% of insulin users in a month.
"Our journey was to try to figure out, as a very small company in the states dominated by the 'Pharma giants,' ‘How do we get any share of voice?’ … We used our blog among other channels to do that," he said.
"We used to have a very personal blog that was focused on the company, people, product and not very broadly focused on diabetes. You needed to be very involved in our company and the people behind it, such as myself, to find our blog interesting," Sjölund said, adding that it was very much a "corporate company blog."
As the blog started to gain a little momentum, it was clear it needed a different focus as well as a more formal publishing process and schedule.
"We were struggling with what we thought was an appropriate frequency to publish. I'm not a good writer, and none of us in the company are very captivating writers, so we were struggling with … finding interesting content and writing enough," he said.
Timesulin began increasing brand visibility and awareness by creating highly-targeted content utilizing keyword research and content focused on diabetes-related topics.
By utilizing key words and structured content marketing, Timesulin was able to increase website traffic by 600% year-over-year and increase average website session duration by 107% in the first two months.
Tactic #3. Look for opportunities to expand your base
BBC Earth and 500px were looking for a way to shake things up and offer Instagram followers a fresh perspective — the opportunity for that came in the form of a week-long "Instagram takeover." The two brands posted content for each other for a week, bringing each other's community and conversations with them.
BBC Earth, a brand used by BBC Worldwide to distribute BBC's natural history content, has its own photography community called Earth Capture. Its marketing team was contacted by 500px, a photo community and marketplace, with a unique opportunity for both brands and their Instagram communities.
"There was a natural overlap with the two communities there," said Kara Segedin, Community Executive, BBC Earth.
From that point, BBC Earth and 500px began taking steps to launch an "Instagram takeover" campaign — for one week, the two brands would post for each other to each other's audiences.
"Our users are really a full range of photographers, everybody from those who are just starting out with photography to very serious hobbyists and even professionals," said Ellen Desmarais, Head of Marketing, 500px.
From BBC Earth's perspective, Segedin said, "It was not just the beautiful content that we were going to get from 500px and the chance for us to show our content to a new audience, but sort of to help publicize our UGC [user generated content] communities, which is something we're always trying to grow and develop."
At the beginning of this campaign, both Instagram communities were relatively the same size, around 100,000 to 120,000 followers. By the conclusion of the week-long swap, both brands grew their Instagram following by 5%.
To raise greater brand awareness for Olivia Rose, a natural afro hair tutorial website, the company decided to target French-speaking websites with a paid social media campaign that could draw in subscribers.
Olivia Rose provides hair tutorials for women who have natural afro hair, according to Stephanie Thalmensy, Founder, Olivia Rose, and more specifically, English and French speaking women.
“Our customers are women who have afro hair and who would like to learn about hair styling and maintenance that is specific to afro hair,” she said.
The team decided to run a Facebook and Instagram video campaign to promote the Olivia Rose YouTube channel and to develop greater brand awareness.
The YouTube channel, according to Thalmensy, had been growing organically for almost two years, purely from posting quality video tutorials. The only issue was that the organic pace of the channel was a little too slow for an area the brand wanted to focus on.
She and her team wanted to see if they could improve the visibility and awareness of the channel to the right audience.
Thalmensy and her team ran paid social media campaigns using Instagram and Facebook on different languages and geographic areas for women who have natural afro hair.
The aim of the campaign was to generate traffic to the Olivia Rose YouTube channel and to convert new viewers into subscribers. The goals for this particular campaign would impact the number of video views on the channel.
The campaign began on January 10, 2016 and focused on reaching out to Oliva Rose’s niche audience on social media channels. By focusing on drawing people in using YouTube videos, they were able to gain over 200,000 Facebook video views and 1,000 new followers each for both Instagram and YouTube in just four days.
Tactic #4. Brand ambassadors start internally
To turn interns into tried-and-true brand ambassadors, HP launched a series of Twitter contests made available to its more than 2,500 interns around the world who wanted to receive expert coaching and support on building a professional digital brand for themselves.
“At HP, we believe in reinvention. We believe that technology should make life better for everyone, everywhere. This vision guides everything we do, how we do it and why we do it,” said Daniela Petkova, EMEA & Asia-Pac University Hiring Leader, HP Inc.
As part of HP’s human resources department, Petkova and her team’s mission is to position the company as a talent magnet and attract the best candidates. The mission comes from the belief that a brand is just a name before it’s given a personality — and your employees are the biggest component of that personality.
In this campaign, the team was looking to attract millennials to the company, who would bring with them an intrinsic enthusiasm for the HP brand. Petkova and her team believed it was important to leverage social media to build connections and to let brand personality shine through.
“Typically talent attraction has followed traditional channels such as job boards, employee referrals, university campus fairs and presentations. In order to reposition our employer brand as a millennial talent magnet and target the most relevant talent in the most cost-effective way, two years ago we launched a Global Millennial Social Media Competition,” she said.
The team wanted to provide a group they termed “HP Millennials” the opportunity to speak up in their own voice to their community of friends and family about their personal excitement with HP, while gaining internal visibility with the HP leadership team.
The goal of this campaign was to raise HP brand awareness as a best place of work for millennials while “leveraging social channels at scale and almost no monetary investment via a campaign that engages in a personal, authentic and a fun way,” she said.
At the beginning of each contest, HP selected three to six participants (“Twiterns”) from hundreds of applicants. Then, over the next three weeks, the company challenged the Twiterns to post engaging content about their internship experiences using the hashtag #HPTwitern.
HP used this content to give a face to the brand, build a continuous source of millennials interested and engaged with the company, and, as a bonus, drive a 95% satisfaction rate with interns.
Tactic #5. Build an ecosystem for your customers
After launching the company 15 months ago, David Lefkovits, Founder and CEO, My Pooch Face, has tried and tested as many tactics as he could discover. With a test, tweak and test again philosophy, the company has found its footing with a niche audience.
My Pooch Face’s style, Lefkovits said, is “a little more contemporary. It's fun. It's interesting. It's really artful. So it transcends just the pet, [and it makes] a really nice item to decorate your home.”
The value in pet portraits begins with the design and style, so one of the things he and his team wanted was a piece of art that would help bring the personality and happiness of a pet to life.
This business started with an extremely niche audience, so Lefkovits and his team wanted to make sure that every element was tested to ensure it would resonate with customers.
“I believe in bootstrapping businesses … so the first step was to prove the concept. Social media is a perfect way of doing it because you can easily test things out and see how much your audience reacts to it. So we put some preliminary images, pet portraits, out there. We started playing around with different audiences,” he said.
People began interacting with what was put up preliminarily; however, that meant that the My Pooch Face team had their work cut out for them.
“It’s a very complex environment, very complex matrix in terms of finding the right audience, and within your audience, figuring out what's the most conducive towards conversions,” he said.
It’s important to Lefkovits to build an ecosystem for animal lovers that transcends the product itself: “Ultimately our goal is to also transcend the art and offer many other products that are differentiated to this audience. This is a starting point. So we can build a strong brand known for quality, for innovation and then start cross-selling many other products to our audience.”
It’s important to explore the target audience at every step, he added, in order to accomplish that goal, and social media is one of the most effective channels do that testing and listening in.
With such a hyper focus on politics during the 2016 presidential campaign, the team at PoliticalBank, a free campaign website platform that lets candidates and voters interact, knew they had to use it to focus on local elections.
The world may have gotten swept up in the drama of the 2016 presidential election, but meanwhile, 97% of the people who run for office in the United States are considered local candidates.
“These candidates can range from school board members to township officials to city and town counselors,” said Scott M. Carr, COO, PoliticalBank.
PoliticalBank allows candidates to create an online campaign website that is just as easy to make as a social media profile.
“If you know how to create a Facebook profile page or a Facebook campaign page, you can create our page. So we seek to remove any sort of intimidation,” he said.
The challenge, Carr said, for him and his marketing team is in communicating “how simple and efficient having an online presence is, and how useful and resourceful it is for you as a candidate and an office holder even at the local level.”
Every election cycle, we will reach out to anyone who files to run for office. We also reach out to any current elected officials as another opportunity for them to have an online presence to engage with voters,” Carr said.
The team also reaches out to voters who want to engage with potential and elected officials over relevant issues in a dedicated and safe space.
In his experience with running political campaigns, Carr said that technology is used as a tool to help provide voter touch points. A candidate wants to reach a voter with these touches three to five times before Election Day.
PoliticalBank is providing that same model of outreach and also using it to contact a candidate while they’re deciding what role technology will play in their campaign.
“We want to make sure we're at the top of the discussion and in the front of their thought process as a tool that they can utilize for a winning campaign,” he said.
In their own campaign, the team utilized blog content, social media campaigns and email efforts in order to keep PoliticalBank top-of-mind. Read how they used paid and organic content growth utilizing creative blog content to grow web traffic 400%.
Submit your campaign for the opportunity to be shared with the MarketingSherpa audience
Get Better Business Results With a Skillfully Applied Customer-first Marketing Strategy
The customer-first approach of MarketingSherpa’s agency services can help you build the most effective strategy to serve customers and improve results, and then implement it across every customer touchpoint.Get More Info >
Get headlines, value prop, competitive analysis, and more.Use the AI for FREE (for now) >
Marketer Vs Machine
Marketer Vs Machine: We need to train the marketer to train the machine.Watch Now >
Free Marketing Course
Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages (with this free online marketing course)See Course >
Project and Ideas Pitch Template
A free template to help you win approval for your proposed projects and campaignsGet the Template >
Six Quick CTA checklists
These CTA checklists are specifically designed for your team — something practical to hold up against your CTAs to help the time-pressed marketer quickly consider the customer psychology of your “asks” and how you can improve them.Get the Checklists >
Infographic: How to Create a Model of Your Customer’s Mind
You need a repeatable methodology focused on building your organization’s customer wisdom throughout your campaigns and websites. This infographic can get you started.Get the Infographic >
Infographic: 21 Psychological Elements that Power Effective Web Design
To build an effective page from scratch, you need to begin with the psychology of your customer. This infographic can get you started.Get the Infographic >
Receive the latest case studies and data on email, lead gen, and social media along with MarketingSherpa updates and promotions.