December 09, 2020
Case Study

Marketing Strategy: 5 successful (and 1 failed) strategic approaches to everyday marketing challenges


The word strategy is often used broadly. And an overall marketing strategy for your brand is important.

But each campaign, each landing page, each ad, each product should have a strategy all its own as well.

To get some creative ideas to inspire the strategies behind your marketing, today we bring you examples from a consulting firm, wine club, environmental conservation organization, and niche business.

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

Marketing Strategy: 5 successful (and 1 failed) strategic approaches to everyday marketing challenges

This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

For any assignment we tackle in marketing – or in life for that matter – we have two choices for how to approach it. Heads down. Or heads up.

The heads down method is task-oriented, checking off the boxes on the steps that need to happen in order to achieve the short-term objective. You can get results from this approach when those tasks are applied with great skill.

But the heads-up method is always questioning. Always probing. Trying to look at each new assignment in a new way. And asking that ultimate question of “why?” For many marketing activities, that why question would be something like “why would the customer care?” or “why will this help us reach the customer?” or “while will this help us meet our objectives?” This method can lead to a radically different approach along with a radically better outcome.

To further explore this dichotomy, feel free to watch Optimizing Tactics vs. Optimizing Strategy: How choosing the right approach can mean all the difference in your optimization efforts from MarketingExperiments (MarketingSherpa’s sister publication).

Then read on for quick case studies showing how your marketing peers have attacked both major and minor initiatives with a strategic approach.

Quick Case Study #1: Consulting firm activates all employees to share on social media, web traffic from social increases 70%

Do you trust every single employee to represent your company to the world on social media? Or do you rely on a select few “thought leaders” or “subject matter experts?”

When I discussed this topic with Jon Iwata, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications, IBM, he told me “Our people — I don’t think it’s unique to IBM by any means — if they’re not going to give away trade secrets in a parking garage at midnight, they’re probably not going to do it in the Twittersphere.”

Trust is one issue. But activation is the other. It is one thing to allow employees to share on social media. It’s quite another to actually motivate them to do it with all their other tasks.

Everest Group is a midsize management consulting firm that competes with mammoth firms. The company is using traditional and digital marketing programs that include PR, SEO, and webinars, but sought differentiation. They invested in a social engagement program which enables their employees to share high-quality content on social and build their personal brand – not just a few execs or subject matter experts building a big audience.  

This social media presence is helping Everest Group take on global giants many times their size. More web presence has led to increased opportunities, and Everest Group’s overall revenue has grown by 38% year-over-year. 

“Web traffic generated from social has gone up 70% and overall web traffic has increased, too. Bounce rate for traffic from social has gone down by 57%. What that shows us is that more qualified visitors are showing up, and that translates into more people engaging with our content and ultimately sales,” says Peter Bendor-Samuel, CEO, Everest Group.

Bendor-Samuel believes that empowering people to build their own presence and reputation is the best way to also build the company presence and reputation in an extremely powerful and authentic way.

All employees have an easy-to-use tool that enables them to engage on social in a relevant way in minutes a week and management can trust the process because of a built-in compliance engine that acts as a guardrail.

The management consulting firm gamifies its social media program. To incentivize participation without making it an obligation, they launched a multi-month contest that rewarded users with gift cards if they completed specific types of social activities within the platform.

“One of the most exciting aspects of the platform is how it has helped our newest analysts and consultants to quickly jump into participating in social. They have been able to easily select content that’s related to their focus areas and others. In fact, the winner of our internal social media contest was an analyst who had recently joined the firm,” said Andrea M. Riffle, VP of Marketing, Everest Group.

“The power of many voices is more impactful than the power of a single voice,” notes Bendor-Samuel.   “You know what I’ve been hearing from prospects? ‘Wow, you guys are everywhere.’ They see our content wherever they look. They can feel our influence on the industry.”

Quick Case Study #2: Hyper-local B2B social media targeting generates quality leads for consultant

The best prospects for nonprofit consulting firm EDEN+ are often the board members of local non-profits. These are the decision makers the firm needs to reach.

Before and after doing a sales pitch in person, the nonprofit consulting firm’s team ran a Facebook ad campaign that targeted these people using the following parameters:

  1. within five miles of the rural non-profit
  2. had an interest in the mission of the organization and
  3. within the age range that board members spanned based on looking at the nonprofit’s website.

“Facebook tried to tell me that a target audience of 54 people ‘would not help me reach my goals,’ but in fact it was the complete opposite. I knew my 12 decision-makers were within that 54-member audience,” said Eric Heininger, Managing Director, EDEN+.

Heininger knew the strategy worked because board members told him during the sales pitches. His team has since replicated this process with similar results.

“Remember that you don't need hundreds of bad leads, you need 12 pinpoint precise interactions to make a sale,” Heininger advised.

Quick Case Study #3: Radio wine club only generates one sale

As Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.”

When it comes to advertising and marketing, the media you use to communicate affects how your customer interpret your message. For example, our research discovered that American consumers trust print ads in newspapers and magazines more than any other medium when making a purchase decision, while online pop-ups were the least trusted. So the same message in a newspaper ad and an online pop-up may receive a very different customer response.

Here’s a great example. Uncorked Ventures went through a long set of negotiations to set up a series of branded wine clubs for radio hosts.

“We were thrilled. We had these incredibly professional shout outs, including on the shows,” said Mark Aselstine, Founder, Uncorked Ventures.

After running the ads both during commercial breaks and with the hosts while on air, the company was only able to generate one sale.

“Yes, one wine club member from a show with close to 500,000 daily listeners. My takeaway – selling wine on the radio doesn't work,” he said.

Quick Case Study #4: Promoting customer doubles sales for environmental conservation organization’s program

This next example hits particularly close to home for me. At MarketingSherpa, we get relentlessly pitched by PR firms for advertising agencies, marketing platforms, and business consultants. The pitches are usually along similar lines – “our agency or platform does great stuff.”

But do you, dear reader, just want to be told that an agency or technology is great? My guess is no. Which is why we focus on specific examples of how the work was actually done, and focus on the brand-side/client-side marketer who is actually in charge of the project. Because we want to inspire your next great work, not just tell you to buy a piece of technology.

So the pitches that do work are the ones that say – “We have this great customer who did this great thing. Here’s how they did it. (and oh by the way we helped).”

Keeping that in mind, let me tell you about this next example to get your creative juices flowing. Click A Tree is an organization dedicated to reforestation.

Back in August the company teamed up with a restaurant called St. Ottilien as part of its Food for Future program – the restaurant plants one tree every time customers buy a specific dish.

In August, they sold 60 Food for Future dishes. In September, that number moved up to 75.

Then Click A Tree team went to work and contacted all the local press they could find. The lowest-hanging fruit was the magazines and websites that already wrote about this restaurant on another occasion.

These publications were contacted first, informing them about this new cooperation, and about the rising sales numbers and the clients’ interest in this idea.

Once they were done with press that had previously written about St. Ottilien, they contacted the rest of the press in the area.

“Within the space of three weeks, we landed three major publications, including the state-wide newspaper Badische Zeitung, the local Chilli magazine, as well as the state-wide radio station baden fm,” said Chris Kaiser, Founder & CEO, Click A Tree.

Thanks to this press, sales of the Food for Future increased to 152 in October – a more than 100% increase compared to September and over 150% more than August. That meant 152 trees being planted for October alone, and 287 trees over the past three months.

“The strategy is simple: Find a partner to work with, and then promote them. That way you don't come across as self-promoting, yet you nonetheless profit from the success of the campaign,” Kaiser advised. “It once again proves – we're always stronger together.”

Quick Case Study #5: Lead quality improves for unique, niche business thanks to change on FAQ page

Customers have a series of questions they need answered before deciding to purchase a product. The number and depth of these questions varies based on how complex, expensive, and unique your product or service is, so mapping the prospect conclusion funnel to show how different elements of your marketing answer key customer questions can be an effective strategy.

Here is an interesting example that came across my desk. Because the venture is so unique, the entrepreneur realized the importance of answering customer questions. While you may think customers already know so much about your product or service, an outlier example like this can be a great reminder that customers have a lot of questions that, if they go unanswered, will either cause potential customers to avoid your business (and you never know about it) or end up with marketing that generates a set of unqualified leads that burn your sales reps’ time with no good result. Now on to the example…

Samantha Varnerin is in a very niche field – she is a professional therapeutic cuddler. Being in a niche field, customers naturally have a lot of questions, so she crafted an FAQ (frequently asked questions) section for her website, Snuggle with Sam. The FAQ answered the questions that people asked her at networking events and in interviews.

“Despite that, 18% of my pre-session phone calls were with people that did not pass client screening. Why? Because many were hoping I was going to do more than cuddle.... Bleh.”

She tried her own marketing experiment with ads on Craigslist. While the experiment to obtain clients directly through ads did not work, it did give her ideas for improving the FAQ.

“I noticed that my Craigslist ad responses had different questions than the polite ones I was getting asked in interviews or at networking events,” she said. “This told me something important: people were uncomfortable asking the real questions they wanted to ask me, and potential clients were having a hard time figuring out what I stood for because they weren't asking and I wasn't answering them. I rewrote my FAQ’s to many of the questions I was getting from my Craigslist ad responses.”

An analogy for your organization may be only focusing on the questions potential customers ask your sales reps or customer service agents. But what questions do your customers have that they are uncomfortable asking in person or at all? What are their unspoken concerns?

Since the change to the FAQ page, visitors have been spending an average of 21 seconds longer on the FAQ page, and most of the initial calls have been scheduled right after a potential customer viewed the FAQs. Vernerin has also had 50% less calls that did not pass client screening. “More importantly, the clients I have on calls have been a higher quality and were booking more often,” she said.

Quick Case Study #6: Hoover leverages DRTV campaign for latest branded innovation, more than doubles distribution in major retail accounts

"We launched our newest carpet washing innovation (SmartWash) with traditional marketing tactics and a few key retail launch partners in April of 2018. In the fall of that same year, we went live with a direct-to-consumer campaign,” said Hannah Hennessy, Senior Media Manager, TTI Floor Care North America (parent company of Hoover).

“Due to the success of that campaign we saw an increase [in] consumer demand through a 4X lift in direct sales and we more than doubled our distribution in major retail accounts. We continued to leverage that momentum to launch the next generation in the carpet washing category the following year,” she said.

The team promoted the new SmartWash technology with 30-minute direct response television ads (DRTV) which allowed them to more fully tell the story of the new technology. “One of the things that direct to consumer allows you to do is shift and adjust and tweak your message so that you’re appealing to a multitude of your end consumer. In 30 seconds you’re rolling the dice that you picked the right point to feature,” said Mary Harden Williams, Senior Director, Marketing Communications, TTI Floor Care North America.

While the result of the campaign was to expand its retail presence, one of the reasons for taking a direct-to-consumer (D2C) approach was, as the name suggests, building a direct relationship with customers. “You know Amazon could decide one day to make an Amazon Basics SmartWash. And they could probably make a good product, and maybe for half the price. Then what happens?” said Ken Kerry, co-founder, Script to Screen. “If you have that direct-to-consumer relationship, you’re not as vulnerable.”

But the approach was appreciated by retailers as well. “A true a-ha moment for me was how much retailers appreciate the direct-to-consumer experience because at the end of the day…the beauty of long form, you’re passively engaging with some folks who are going to learn everything they need to know about your product or engage with your brand and get a really good feeling, and they may choose to purchase it at a retailer because that’s how they choose to buy,” Williams said.

One of the major challenges the team was trying to overcome was convincing potential customers that they really could effectively wash carpets clean as easy as vacuuming. To get this message across, they leveraged testimonials in the DRTV spots, stories of real homemakers using a Hoover vacuum to simplify their lives by making vacuuming and cleaning so simple and effective it gave them more time with their children and families.

According to Kerry, a good testimonial shows “the entire story told by an individual in context to their experience – that’s when a potential customer can really see what another person has gone through as well [as] be able to relate that experience to their own situation. It’s when there is contextual relevance in a story that the authentic nature of the comment exudes empathy and relatability.”

Related resources

Sell your strategy internally – Free template to help you win approval for proposed projects, campaigns and ideas

Repeatable Brand Strategy: How successful brands are outmaneuvering the competition with a 2,300-year-old strategy

Marketing Strategy: 4 steps to developing an effective and strategic test

Three Questions to Align Your Strategy, Marketing and Sales

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