August 10, 2021
Case Study

3 Case Studies for Marketers: The specific questions businesses asked to get results


Before you can have good ideas to create an effective marketing campaign, you need to ask really great questions.

To spur your curiosity about your customers, your employees, and your projects, read on for examples from Sun-Maid Raisins, EXIT Realty International, and a plumbing service.

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

3 Case Studies for Marketers: The specific questions businesses asked to get results

This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

Think of any of humanity’s great discoveries. Before every one of them, someone had to ask the right question.

Why do the stars in the sky move? How do birds fly? What is on the other side of this ocean?

The same is true for marketing. Every good idea starts with a really great question.

As Flint McGlaughlin, CEO and Managing Director, MECLABS Institute explains in this one-minute video excerpt, the first question you should always ask begins with “why?” (MECLABS is the parent organization of MarketingSherpa.

Asking “why?” likely spurs follow-up questions starting with when, how, or what. To get your curious, creative juices flowing and inspire your own questions, here are three questions businesspeople asked and the results those questions ultimately produced.

Question #1: When you were a kid, did you ever imagine what it would be like to run the chocolate factory?

That little bit of nostalgia (and perhaps wishful thinking) is the inspiration behind the latest initiative for Sun-Maid Raisins.

Harry Overly, President and CEO, Sun-Maid, is in the process of pushing the dried-fruit company to be more than just fruit; he’s building a healthy snack company. To aid in this quest, Sun-Maid needed the most creative brains for the storming of new ideas; the type of minds that could conjure up treats and build a culture that would appeal to his target consumers. Now, where to find those brains? Kids.

Why not put a few of these kids’ minds together? And then, why not put them to work with the adults of Sun-Maid to remind them what a little childlike creativity and wonder feels like. After all, who better to reimagine snacking for Sun-Maid than its snackers?

With that, the Sun-Maid Board of Imagination was born, an initiative teaming kids ages six to 12 with the company’s staff.

The Board of Imagination backs up a new, larger brand effort – “Imagine That” – to position the brand as one that sees limitless possibilities through imagination. The campaign launch, which includes work across traditional, digital, in-store and social media platforms features “a world of amazing snacks,” where trains of wooden crates carry watermelon slices and other fruit to playful and wonderous snack-making machines, all against a backdrop of mountains of birthday cake, as waterfalls of chocolate yogurt under leaf-suspended gliders deposit raisins into mixers, blending ingredients into snacks.

Creative Sample #1: Imagery from new campaign for Sun-Maid Raisins

Creative Sample #1: Imagery from new campaign for Sun-Maid Raisins

While the Board of Imagination coincides with the launch of the new work, it isn’t just a promotion for this campaign. Overly, who holds the newly minted title of Chief Innovation Wrangler, wants to start an imagination-fueled movement within the walls of Sun-Maid. The Board of Imagination was designed to do just that – take the spirit of creativity found in children and instill it in the entire organization.

The newly positioned board members will participate in real brainstorming sessions. Over the course of their one-year tenure, they will answer questions pertaining to packaging, react to brand initiatives, influence culture, and of course, taste lots and lots of snacks. They will also be compensated for their time and hard work. Each board member will receive $5,000 to fund a 529 college savings plan and another $5,000 for their school, along with a year’s supply of Sun-Maid snacks.

Members were selected from online applications and will take part in several meetings as a large group and individually over the course of the next year.

“The Board of Imagination was a success, outpacing our KPIs (key performance indicators) and driving more quality applications than we ever could have imagined. The marketing efforts behind Board of Imagination drove more than 50 million impressions on both a national and local scale – including earned, paid and influencer channels. As a result of that, and a lot of word of mouth, we received a total of 1,384 applications via a custom landing/contest page we designed for just six spots on the final Board of Imagination. We, including our agency partners, narrowed it down to 15 finalists and left it to a public vote over a two-week period. We generated 21,883 total votes and that determined our seated board members,” said Fernando Herrera, Vice President, Marketing, Sun-Maid.

The first order of business when they met on April 14th? To officially vote on and declare the company's first “Imagination Day,” a day where Sun-Maid’s entire staff will be encouraged to take part in activities that enrich their thinking and enhance their creativity.

“It’s easy to ‘say’ you’re committed to an issue or a rally cry, but it’s a whole other effort to ‘do.’ That’s what the Board of Imagination is to us, it’s our act of showing up and really practicing what we preach. The Board of Imagination is a real board to us – not just a stunt. The first meeting we had in April was something our entire organization took very seriously – we prepared just like we would a real board meeting and had executives, including our CEO, leading official board business,” Herrera said.

Before that meeting, the kids received welcome kits with official board member supplies and snacks to help them feel a part of Sun-Maid. During the meeting the kids tasted products in the future innovation pipeline and provided feedback that was actually implemented.

“They also have voting power – which is so cool – they approved in April the first Day of Imagination for Sun-Maid employees – which took place on National Raisin Day – April 30. On that day we gave employees time to do imaginative activities and get creative outside of their normal day-to-day job. These kids on the Board of Imagination are an extension of us and giving us just as much value, if not more, than we’re giving them,” Herrera said. There are two more meetings planned for this year.

“These six kids represent the purest form of imagination,” said Overly. “They have big ideas, a lot of energy and open minds – all extremely important to Sun-Maid as we continue to innovate in the snacking category.” The board is intended to go a long way in proving year after year what the Sun-Maid brand can and will stand for.

 “We’re going deep into the world of imagination, as it is the core of what Sun-Maid is and does. This has resulted in a range of snacks that both kids and moms love because they are both better for you and good-tasting,” said Bill Starkey, Executive Creative Director, quench (Sun-Maid’s marketing agency).

Questions #2: How do we create digital marketing programs that fit the local market?

EXIT Realty International is based out of Canada with thousands of independent contractors stretched across many local markets. “Our challenge is to create digital marketing programs that use our corporate messages and adapt them, so they are localized to an agent in Alabama as well as a broker in New York. This challenge has three parts: How do we create digital marketing programs that fit the local market? How do we distribute them to local offices and agents? And how do we get people to use them?”, said John Lim, Director of Innovation, EXIT Realty International, an international franchisor with offices in the USA and Canada.

The team has three different audiences that they need to distribute digital marketing programs to. The first is regional owners, this audience owns the rights to sell franchises to people in a geographic territory like New York or Florida. The second is the Franchisee, or Broker/Owner. This audience needs to recruit real estate agents into their brokerage and help them market themselves and the home listings that they need to sell. The third is the real estate agent. They need to brand themselves as local experts, attract sellers, and generate buyer leads for homes that they are selling.

The international real estate company used a collaborative marketing platform to build an internal EXIT Ad Center – a gallery of ads these three audiences can quickly and easily leverage. For example, one ad blueprint allows agents to promote a home listing to an audience of potential home buyers. Another blueprint enables the promotion of a listing that just sold to an audience of people interested in selling their homes in the surrounding area.

MLS (Multiple Listing Service) data was used so listings automatically appeared as content within an agent’s blueprint gallery and CRM (customer relationship management) and website data automatically built relevant audiences for instant use.

“Through this traditional real estate model (territory owner, broker/owner, agent) we are really good at creating a distribution network for training people to sell homes and equipping them with traditional marketing material. But digital marketing introduced a new level of complexity that requires expertise with channel platforms, like Facebook and Google, and with data. We knew that to become successful at distributing digital marketing programs we needed automation technology that was simple for each of our audiences to use and execute,” Lim said.

The platform can automatically post the ads based on a set monthly budget (example: $2,500) and automation rules that govern how the budget is spent. For example, the rules can be set to spend $100 on newly active home listings valued between $150,000 and $300,000 and spend $150 on home listings valued between $301,000 and $500,000.

“We set out to enable our agents and offices with automated lead generation programs that use listing ads. Once this was achieved we shifted our focus to branding, awareness, and recruiting programs. All of our agents are independent contractors, and all of our offices are individually owned and operated. In addition to having the power of EXIT’s international brand, each agent and office wants to have their own brand within their local market. Enabling them to brand themselves and stand out from the competition, while using EXIT approved material, is a key driver of our digital distributed marketing program,” said Samantha Morris, VP, Digital Marketing, EXIT Realty International.

The use of this tech led to $450,000 in incremental marketing spend from franchisee-funded programs and a 300% increase in clickthrough rate (CTR). Users of EXIT Ad Center reduced the amount of time spent managing their online marketing programs from nine hours a week to nine minutes. The program has reached more than 6.5 million consumers with more than 15.5 million brand-compliant ad impressions and generated more than 60,000 leads.  

“By using the right technology, and supporting its rollout with an internal champion, EXIT has cracked the collaborative marketing challenge at scale,” said Spencer Smith, VP of Marketing, Evocalize. “Thousands of EXIT’s agents and offices are now enabled with sophisticated digital marketing programs that are simple to execute and drive real business results.”

The internal champion came from a surprising place. One of the beta testers was initially skeptical about the marketing program generating better results than programs she was running on her own. “But, after trying our program she was blown away by the results she was receiving,” Lim said.

He continued, “She became our champion and wanted to evangelize the tool to all the other brokers, owners and agents. We found that the best marketing technique to increase adoption is from word of mouth from inside our franchisee network and the enablement and training materials that [VP of Digital Marketing] Samantha [Morris] creates is a key driver of this.” The internal champion works closely with the marketing team to generate case studies, training videos and education materials, and other marketing assets to generate adoption from different audiences.

“The most important thing that we can do for our agents and offices is to make digital advertising easy for them because it’s a quickly evolving space and they (agents/offices) are focused on their main line of business, working with people to sell homes and hire agents,” Morris said.

Question #3: What is everything that could go wrong with this new project?

This last question isn’t from a marketer per se, but given how important project management is to marketing departments and advertising agencies, I thought it held an important lesson.

Also, I think we should all aim to be the plumbers of marketing. Here’s what I mean. It always struck me as a little gauche when people post on their LinkedIn that they are a “Rock Star Marketer!” I couldn’t place it exactly, just felt like an off note to me. And then, I read this in an interview with an actual rock star, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam…

Well, what’s it like to be a rock star?

You know, rock stardom…I have a hard time discussing that because I don’t really accept it. It’s not really that tangible. What’s really bizarre is how it’s used as a thing – you know, “He’s the rock star of politics,” “He’s the rock star of quarterbacks” – like it’s the greatest thing in the world. And it’s not bad, but it’s just different. I don’t understand it. Cause I’m going, “Well – am I that?” I want to be the plumber of rock stars.

And it made me want to be the plumber of marketing. Prepared. Reliable. And far better at project management than the most rock stars (not to mention, more likely to fix a hotel room than to trash it).

Which brings us to our last example. Before launching something new, the team at Mr. Blue Plumbing started asking “What is everything that could go wrong with this new project?”

It resulted in implementing a new project planning technique – the premortem. A postmortem is when something bad happens and a team evaluates what went wrong after the event. It literally means “after death.”

A premortem flips the script. The team conducts a thought experiment in which they imagine that the new idea they’re planning to implement fails dramatically. Then, they write a story describing why it went wrong.

This helps the team anticipate the potential pitfalls of a new idea. For example, the team did a premortem before they expanded into well pump service and it eventually helped them reduce service costs by 20%.

“Human beings have a bias to only think about all the good things of a new idea, especially if you came up with it. However, we have to counteract this bias by taking off our rose-tinted glasses and asking the hard questions. How could it go wrong? What am I missing? What is the probability that this goes wrong? How could my theory be incorrect?” said Arnold Long, General Ops Manager, Mr. Blue Plumbing.

“The smartest and wisest people in the world are those that are most aware of how little they know,” he said.

Related Resources

The Hypothesis and the Modern-Day Marketer

Five Questions to Ask to Understand Customer Motivation

Optimizing Calls-to-action: 4 questions to ask yourself while writing a CTA

Value Sequencing: A step-by-step examination of a landing page that generated 638% more conversions

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