February 15, 2007
Case Study

How to Make Your Technology Brand Famous Via Podcasts, Blogs & Games: 12-Month Viral Marketing Plan

SUMMARY: Are you a lesser-known brand in your field? It's tempting to think a cool podcast or viral game could make you suddenly famous.

But, Apple's 1984 Super Bowl ad aside, one single campaign won't truly impact your prospect's minds (let alone generate new business leads), no matter how cool it is.

Instead, you need a 12-month "waves of coolness" plan, with integrated marketing across multiple media (including offline). Find out how in MarketingSherpa's latest exclusive:

Founded in 2000, Arbor Networks wasn't the smallest enterprise security software firm on the block … but they weren't the most famous either.

It's a horribly competitive field with hundreds of vendors and solution providers jostling for prospects' attention.

As Director Global Marketing Communications, Lisa Quinby had to make Arbor Networks a well-known brand name among execs and techies at organizations around the world with 1,000 or more staff. In addition to that tall order, she naturally had to generate a steady flow of qualified sales leads.

That's how one cold December morning in 2005, Quinby found herself sitting at a conference table with her entire marketing team -- including agencies and vendors -- trying to brainstorm a way to make 2006 the Big Year of Fame.

The team's budget wasn't unlimited, so any campaign with a chance at going viral was their best bet. That way, prospects would do some of the heavy get-the-word-out lifting. However, putting all your eggs in a single viral basket is dangerous.

The team quickly set three best-practice ground rules to mitigate their risk:

#1. Don't blow your budget on a single campaign

No marketing campaign is a guaranteed win, especially if you're trying something new.

Plus, in the crowded enterprise marketplace, no single campaign, no matter how cool, can sustain attention and brand awareness for months on end. Business brand awareness is as tied to recency and frequency of messaging as it is to excitement around the message.

They decided to test a variety of viral campaigns through 2006, including an online game, an ongoing blog and a podcast series. Plus, they hedged their bets by continuing to write, offer and syndicate educational white papers. (Worth noting: White papers can go viral in large organizations, with more than 60% of readers passing a copy along to a colleague.)

#2. Don't rely entirely on one single media

Some marketers think that because their offer is online, they should focus all their ad spend to promote it only online. Quinby's team knew that would be a terrible mistake.

You can never predict which educational or news media an individual prefers. Some rely on online media or email. Others attend trade shows. Still others read print trade magazines. Often, these are very different people. However, even if they are the same people, reaching an eyeball via multiple media helps out on that recency and frequency brand-impact front.

Therefore, the team decided to orchestrate messaging via every possible media for each viral launch, including:

o Press releases and notes to individual reporters
o Trade show booths, activities, and sponsorships
o Postal direct mail (postcards) to key prospects
o Online ads in trade publications
o Print ads in trades
o Glued-in offer cards on different pages in the same magazines
o Email ads in trade ezines

Rule #3. Look different from the rest of the pack

"We tore out every print ad in the network security space no matter what kind of company it was and taped all the ads on the walls of an empty office we took over," explains Quinby. Turns out the rest of the pack all looked pretty much the same. The team made two rules on how to stand out -- without looking so weird it might turn off prospects:

A. "They were all blue." So, Arbor's creative across every campaign would be prominently green.

B. "No one really used the human element." So, Arbor's creative would feature people whenever possible. And not just any people, but people who looked a lot like their real prospects. Models were verboten.

Next, the team applied all these rules to each stage of the year-long series of campaigns. (See link below for creative samples.)

-> Online game

The game debuted at a big annual trade show. Arbor Networks hired a "scruffy" actor to give entertaining presentations about the game from their booth. And they asked him not to shave for a day or two beforehand.

The game's print ads featured a team of people (heroic virus fighters) who looked as "real human" as possible standing valiantly against a green background.

-> Blog

Again, the team picked a hot trade show to debut at. However, this time they selected an intimate 40-person gathering of security experts in London.

Why? Because attendees were likely themselves to be bloggers, so hopefully they'd write it up. Plus, Arbor Networks could afford a dominant sponsor position at this event, slinging a logo and URL on nearly everything that didn’t move.

As for the human element, the blog was written by real humans -- researchers and developers on the team instead of marketing or C-level execs who might appear to be suits.

Plus, the team armed their bloggers with digital cameras and instructions to take snapshots of everyone they met at shows throughout the year. Then they posted these real people photos via a public photo-swapping service and linked to them on the blog.

And, as you can guess, the blog's second color was green.

-> Podcast series

"Business podcasts tend to be narrations of white papers. We knew we could be more compelling and unique," says Quinby.

Inspired by TV series such as '24,' the team decided to create a dramatic series of 12 three-to-four minute podcasts. As with a TV series, each advanced the dramatic story -- in this case a fictional financial institution was being extorted by cyberterrorists who were taking down the network.

Each could also stand alone as a single episode, featuring short-but-useful tips from real-life experts on Arbor Networks' team on the situation. As a lead generation tie-in, for more information you could download a white paper on the topic-du-jour.

Again, the podcast debuted at a trade show where the team set up listening posts with headphones at the booth. The PR team also swung into action, personally inviting key press. The team also orchestrated a series of print ads, email newsletter ads and online ads to promote the podcast from then on.

To keep momentum going, a new episode was released every week with a matching RSS feed. Prospects who discovered the podcast midway through could click on the landing page (strongly featuring the color green) to start at the episode of their choice. Once the series ended, the team released a "lucky No. 13" broadcast that compiled all episodes into one MP3 download.
Together, the campaigns were a rousing success. The team decided to discontinue the game a few months after it launched because, after initial impact peaked, Arbor Networks wanted to move their messaging from lighthearted fun to more serious education with a fun angle.

During its first nine months, more than 40,000 visitors read blog entries. Traffic has nearly doubled quarter after quarter. Visitors often come in via search engines, drawn by a particular technical term, so they tend to be fairly qualified prospects.

As of today, 24,000 episodes have been downloaded of the first podcast series. That's a phenomenal success in the B-to-B landscape where a few hundred podcast downloads can be considered a home run.

Naturally, it has spawned more growth -- the "second season" podcast launched recently.

The team tracked the percent of sales leads they received across all advertising media through the year. (Please bear in mind that all media buys were not equally large, nor is brand awareness measured, so these numbers are not apples to apples, but rather general indicators.)

49% White paper offers
25% Banner ads
21% Email newsletter sponsorships
2% Text links
2% Glued-in inserts in print magazines
1% Print ads

Would Quinby divide her media buy any differently in future? Perhaps more online media, she says.

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples from Arbor Networks' campaigns:

Dickinson Associates - the integrated ad agency Arbor Networks used to help them brainstorm and execute the LOST campaign:

Lois Paul & Partners - the PR firm Arbor Networks relied on: http://www.loispaul.com

Mode Visual - the vendor that assisted Arbor Networks with their Asert blog:

Flickr - free, public, photo-sharing site Arbor used to post pictures for the blog:

Captains of Industry - the agency that helped create Arbor Networks’ podcast series:

Movable Type - the software that powers Arbor Networks' blog:

Arbor Networks:

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly case study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions