July 14, 2021
Case Study

How the Pandemic Inspired Brands to Rethink their Marketing Strategy: 3 quick case studies


I have never experienced so much change in so many disparate facets of my life all at once.

It’s unsettling. It’s a little scary. But…it’s also quite exciting.

Because change – even scary, unsettling change – especially scary, unsettling change – has the power to break down previously impenetrable barriers to make space for a new way.

To help you navigate this change in a second half of the year that is (fingers crossed) trending upward, today we bring you examples from Webex by Cisco, Outback Queensland Tourism Association, and real estate agents.

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

How the Pandemic Inspired Brands to Rethink their Marketing Strategy: 3 quick case studies

This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

“As a global pandemic grips modern society, most of the conversation has focused around the negative impacts facing individuals, organizations and society as a whole. Many people are hurting today. That cannot be understated. However, even COVID-19 has a silver lining. Deeply painful experiences can also be deeply transformational,” said Flint McGlaughlin, CEO and Managing Director, MECLABS Institute (from The Hidden Opportunity Within the COVID-19 Crisis: Three ways to transform your work and your life).

Marketing is a tough job. Once you’ve sized up the competition, finally understood your customers, determined the best marketing technology to use, and identified your top-performing channels – well, everything changes.

Changes writ both large (a global pandemic) and small (a new feature in your competitor’s product) are thrown at us marketers constantly. The successful among us don’t just adapt to these changes, they find new ways to deliver value and thrive.

And lest you think this is a common phenomenon driven solely by technology, let me remind you of some wisdom from 2,500 years ago – even back then, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus said, “the only constant in life is change.”

It’s the only constant in your marketing career as well.

So to help you thrive in times of change, we look back over the past year and bring you stories of three brands that rethought their marketing strategy during the pandemic. First up, a tourism association that optimized its on-site SEO to be ready when the lockdowns lifted. Next, how Webex by Cisco saw the need to rebrand for customers who were forced to work and collaborate differently because of the pandemic. And finally, real estate agents that made a 180-degree shift on its customer strategy.

Quick Case Study #1: Tourism association increases website visits 88% by making on-site SEO changes

In 2019, traffic to the Outback Queensland Tourism Association (OQTA) was on a downward trend. The OQTA website had enjoyed a strong peak through the middle of 2019, however the traffic dropped back toward the end of the year as new website content started to slow and public relations around the Year of the Outback began to naturally come to an end.

2020 started reasonably solid, however, the lockdowns in March significantly reduced holiday interest in the region and traffic volume suffered greatly.

This wasn’t a new problem caused by the pandemic per se, but with so much beyond the team’s control thanks to the global souring of the tourism industry, the team had a new urgency to maximize the performance of everything they could control. While lockdowns were still in place, the team worked on search engine optimization (SEO) to make sure the website would be given the best possible chance of recovering and capturing traffic once lockdowns were lifted.

“SEO is the primary way that travelers find out about the holiday options that are available in the outback, and as a marketing channel organic search consistently delivers the highest portion of new visitors who have never experienced the region before,” said Denise Brown, CEO, Outback Queensland Tourism Association.

Outback Queensland’s website had enjoyed years of blog content creation and had amassed hundreds of blog articles covering topics about outback travel from every angle. Unfortunately, this content wasn’t guided by what is best from a search engine visibility perspective. This approach worked reasonably well when the website content was always being refreshed, but once the new content started to dry up, so did the traffic.

They team used an artificial intelligence (AI) tool to audit the website and identified numerous penalties on key traffic-driving pages – duplicate content, on-page SPAM penalties, and poor internal link flow. To remedy these issues, they:

  • Restructured internal link flow – pointed additional on-page contextual links internally to the focus pages
  • Removed broken links and cleaned up page rank leakage points – eliminated 400+ broken internal links, opening up link flow previously blocked or pooled in dead-ends
  • Rewrote meta title tags to be shorter and more focused on the key phrase
  • Boosted the domain rank of the home page by optimizing on-page content and its position within the site hierarchy based on the key phrase “outback”
  • Removed some links from the footer that were spreading page rank too thinly to non-relevant pages
  • Reviewed all internal anchor text and adjusted non-relevant anchor text (e.g. ‘click here’) to either contain the key phrase or a phrase within the basket of keywords
  • Reduced inter-page content duplication by adding unique content to target pages with a priority to increase the ratio of unique non-keyword focused content.

“The rise of AI tools for SEO is bringing about a renaissance in how we think about the field. There are AI solutions for content generation, backlink recommendations, schema mapping, and prioritization, all of which are driving better outcomes. Dealing with a site like Outback Queensland posed unique challenges in SEO, given the number of search terms they wanted to rank for. But we found that by targeting our main efforts on a few of the most important keywords, and then doing site-wide tasks like sculpting the site’s link flow and reducing algorithmic penalties on the ranking pages, we were able to lift the site’s rankings across a huge array of search terms,” said Chris Pahor, Chief Operating Officer, Brewco (Outback Queensland’s SEO platform).

The team increased traffic volume with zero investment in paid media, without prospecting for any new backlinks from external websites, and without creating any new pages or content (except for changing a few sentences on key pages).

Although rankings are typically more of a longer-term objective, the technical tune-up work had a flow-on effect to the whole site. For example, the site’s search engine results page (SERP) ranking for the critical phrase “map of Queensland” (due to the increase of road-trip style holidays) increased from #4 to #1, generating additional monthly search traffic exposure of 33,100.

The changes the team made lead to an 88 percent increase in traffic compared to the previous year (an additional 92,947 visits) and moved the company to position one in Google for 10 high-value keywords (like maps and town names). For every $1 spent on this SEO project, the website gained $22 of traffic value.

Not only did more people visit the website, they clicked on more content, stayed longer on the site and converted at a higher rate than the previous year. Pages per session increased from 3.82 to 4.25. Website visitors spent an additional 29 seconds on the site – average session duration increased from 2:10 to 2:39.

Ultimately OQTA is a referral website. When looking at lead numbers, in comparison to 2019 (before any dedicated SEO was done on the Outback Queensland website), operator leads from organic search increased 477%.

Quick Case Study #2: Pandemic inspires global brand Cisco Webex to rethink its entire marketing strategy and logo

“As the world was thrust into unchartered territory during the pandemic, with a confluence of work/life challenges imposed, we knew we needed to adapt our business to meet a whole new level of demand from a new cross-section of customers,” said Aruna Ravichandran, VP/Chief Marketing Officer, Webex Collaboration Marketing at Cisco.

Cisco Webex has traditionally been known as a web conferencing company. The rebrand was meant to shift legacy mindsets so customers would recognize the brand as a hybrid collaboration platform – helping customers as the companies continue to need to work with both in-office and remote employees at the same time.

Creative Sample #1: Cisco Webex logo before rebrand launch

Creative Sample #1: Cisco Webex logo before rebrand launch

“Branding should focus on one core principle – an ultimate reason for being,” Ravichandran said. For example, she says Webex by Cisco’s core purpose is about creating an inclusive global workforce, without boundaries, where the digital and physical are one seamless experience, focused on how people work, rather than where people work.

To further underscore the focus on inclusivity, the new logo’s “W” is a rotating double helix meant to show two hands coming together – a metaphor for teams in a flow state/in the zone, each member participating and contributing equally to create something wonderful.

Creative Sample #2: Webex by Cisco logo after rebrand launch

Creative Sample #2: Webex by Cisco logo after rebrand launch

The redesigned website defines inclusivity as “Equal experiences for everyone regardless of geography, language, or communication style.” (As someone who has occasionally worked from home while the rest of the team was in the office, I can feel that pain point viscerally.)

The top of the website clearly states the specific products the company offers – “One app for everything. And everyone. Calling, meetings, messaging, and events in the cloud for teams of all sizes.”

And lower-down on the page, the messaging leans into the new way of working – “The future of work is hybrid. Webex powers a new way of collaborating that’s centered around the work you do, not where you do it—whether it’s in the office, at home, or anywhere in between.”

“Since we are a SaaS-based (software-as-a-service-based) product, our branding is reflected directly in the product and early results show an incredible response. We’ve received very positive feedback from analysts, press, and customers, and early results show that the feedback has been extremely positive,” Ravichandran said.

Quick Case Study #3: Real estate agents change ideal customer focus to help increase come-list-me calls

“The epic housing shortage that began before the pandemic and then was exacerbated by it may finally be starting to ease up,” said Diana Olick on CNBC.

The increase in housing listings may be due in part to a shift in the marketing strategy by companies in the real estate industry

“We made a marketing pivot due to Covid-19 effects on the real estate market. We have always had strong Google search engine presence here in San Diego but primarily our on-page marketing was positioned towards attracting the luxury buyer. The real estate market in San Diego has always been fast paced however February 2021 due to high buyer demand and lack of inventory our real estate market is now unprecedented. Homes are selling in one to two days on market, no inspection or appraisal contingency, and over ask,” said Joy Aumann, co-founder, LuxurySoCalRealty.

As demand from buyers outstripped available homes in San Diego this year, LuxurySoCalRealty shifted its focus to luxury sellers from the prior focus on high-end buyers.

The team defined their new ideal audience based on the current trends and forecast in the market. 

Many sellers can’t sell because they have nowhere to go. For example, if a seller owns a home that they bought for two million dollars and can now get three-and-a-half million dollars – that’s wonderful. But where will that seller go? In order for the disposition and new acquisition costs to make sense, the family would need to upgrade the neighborhood, home size, amenities, etc. and that would probably cost them a million dollars more now as well thanks to increased home costs, higher property taxes, etc.

So the team decided their ideal client is a seller who lives out of state with a property in San Diego that is an investment property or second home, someone relocating out of San Diego, or someone with the intent on downsizing.

The team redesigned its website to speak directly to these types of sellers. The new seller page hosts a video explaining the real estate agents’ representation and listing marketing. It also includes a carousel of marketing videos for past listings so potential sellers can see for themselves how the agents market properties. This marketing attracts higher-end sellers looking for full service.

 “Having the video almost as a mini-listing pitch has enhanced our marketing efforts with our ideal audience,” Aumann explains.

There is also a new page under the new “Sell” tab in the top nav that offers updated monthly market reports to support the company’s focus on high-end clientele. The team continuously updates real estate market data important to HNWI (high net worth individual) sellers. “We didn’t have a ‘how’s the real estate market’ page. That is now one of our highest organic traffic sources,” she said.

Creative Sample #3: New content page on real estate agents’ website

Creative Sample #3: New content page on real estate agents’ website

Clients can also request a full real estate market report for every ZIP code in San Diego.

“Removing some components from the home page and focusing all copy on sellers now has us ranking on page one of Google for various keyword search variations of ‘Realtor’ or ‘real estate agent’ and ‘San Diego’ which was a huge win,” Aumann said.

So far the initiative has brought in four come-list-me calls in 90 days. Before the changes, the website only received one to two per year.

“For days I studied other top competitors nationwide and in Canada that use search engine marketing to start formulating a plan on how we could do better. This research is imperative even if you have an initial idea,” Aumann said.

Related Resources

An Inspirational Guide for Uncertain Times: 7 ideas and resources for marketers and business leaders to help spark your next great success

8 Examples of How Business Owners and Marketing Leaders Can Respond to the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic

What 2020 Has Taught Marketers: 8 essential marketing lessons

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