June 30, 2011
Case Study

Digital Branding: 'March Madness' browser promotion leads to 99.6% conversion rate for The Ohio State University

SUMMARY: From mobile to social media, marketing teams are constantly in search of the next hot tactic to help engage customers with their brands. In doing so, they may overlook more traditional avenues for communication.

Read on to find out how one online marketing team leveraged the venerable Web browser, a technology invented in 1991, and promoted a new, branded version of the tool to engage their most active customers.
by David Kirkpatrick, Reporter


Digital marketing is a rapidly evolving industry, and most marketers work to be at the forefront with the next hot tactic. But, as you strive to stay on top of the latest buzzword, don’t overlook how a new approach to a long-established technology may be able to significantly improve your results.

The Ohio State University (OSU), a public research university with more than 60,000 students, increased engagement with its audience by putting a new spin on the Web browser, the tool that pretty much gave birth to digital marketing.

The Ohio State University's "customers" are its students, alumni and people who are fans of the school. OSU realized a portion of this customer base was highly engaged with the brand and any news or information about the institution. Therefore, the marketing team created a tool that allows those customers to quickly access information about the university.

The result of this idea was an OSU-themed Web browser skin. Read on to find out how the school developed the theme, promoted the tool and even found out just how engaged its most avid customers really were.


Jeff Brown, Web Communication Specialist, The Ohio State University Department of Athletics, said the themed browser gave OSU an avenue to communicate with its most loyal customers.

He stated, "We do a lot with social media. We are fortunate to get pretty good local coverage both online and offline from news sources, and we utilize our own website. This is just one more way for us to get our message to a select group of fans who have downloaded this browser."

Step #1. Develop the marketing tool

In this case, OSU's new marketing tool was a themed browser skin with options developed for:

o Microsoft Internet Explorer (multiple versions)
o Mozilla Firefox
o Google Chrome

The idea was to give users an Ohio State "look and feel" when using the browser skin, and to provide easy, one-click access to a variety of

OSU's online athletic properties and information:

o Direct link to the OhioStateBuckeyes.com website
o XML feed of OSU news stories
o Link to the athletic schedule webpage
o Links to OSU athletic team pages
o Link to the ticket page
o Links to social media pages at Facebook and Twitter

"It's a way that even if people aren't on the official athletic site, but they are Ohio State fans, they can be on another page and still get that (athletic) information fed to them," Brown explained. "Or have a quick -- even quicker than a bookmark -- way to access our information,"

The themed browser was released in early 2011.

Step #2. Promote the tool through every channel

This step should be fairly obvious, but in this case OSU's timing in promoting the themed browser across all its marketing channels was interesting.

Instead of immediately pushing the new tool at the time of its release, OSU conducted what Brown described as a "soft launch."

The marketing team decided a "register to win" promotion tied to downloading the tool was the best way to introduce the promotion to its customers. With a major event coming up within around two months after the soft launch, it was determined to tie promotion through all the marketing channels to the NCAA men's basketball tournament ("March Madness") and the prize sweepstakes.

This channel promotion had three main elements:

o A graphic was added to the OSU athletic homepage with a "register to win" call-to-action, and a clickthrough to a landing page with more information about the themed browser and prize promotion

o A message announcing the new tool and prize promotion was added to OSU's popular Facebook page

o A single email blast went out to a list of almost 79,000, with the dual purpose of introducing OSU's database to the themed browser and making recipients aware of the prize promotion during March Madness

Step #3. Leverage real-time events to promote the new tool

Taking advantage of events related to your business can help give a promotion extra momentum and visibility.

Not long after OSU released its themed browser, it had a perfect opportunity to promote the tool during March Madness. To add more substance to promotions based around March Madness, OSU added a prize element to new, and then current, users of the themed browser.

"We obviously had high expectations for our men's basketball team leading into the tournament," Brown said. "In order to try and leverage what we perceived to be a popular product with men's basketball around trying to get people familiar with our themed browser, [we launched] a giveaway promotion."

Brown added that the marketing team knew the website was going to get a spike in traffic up to, and during, the tournament and decided that was an ideal way to both promote the new tool and to track how current users interacted with the themed browser.

People new to the themed browser could download the tool and register to win a prize. The browser launched in early 2011 and the prize promotion ran from March 9-21, 2011. Current users of the browser received an update to the software that included a new button to clickthrough and register to win.

Step #4. Don't overuse the new marketing tool

When the new marketing tool is a themed browser, of course you hope your customers use it every day. But, adding features and pushing new promotions on a constant basis can possibly lead to user fatigue.

Although OSU's marketing team was pleased with the results of the formal rollout and prize promotion, it realized the themed browser needed to be selectively used in future marketing campaigns.

Brown said, "It's a tool that we are probably not going to try to overuse, but it's definitely something that we know that we have available to us and that we know is going to be a very effective way to push out information to these very engaged users."

He added that he expects the themed browser to be used for special events or promotions.

For example, OSU athletics is in the process of redesigning its website, and once the new site launches Brown plans on adding a button to the themed browser, drawing users' attention to the new design and new site.

Step #5. Use the marketing tool to understand user engagement

The prize promotion had two elements. One was to simply drive downloads of the themed browser by tying it to the prize sweepstakes. The second element was to learn more about how people who downloaded the browser were actually using the tool.

"The promotion was kind of a trial run," explained Brown. "We weren't sure the best way to utilize the browser, and how engaged fans would be."

He continued, "These fans are obviously pretty fanatical about Ohio State, they downloaded a themed browser, but how can we communicate with them and engage them through this browser?"

The idea was to find out the effect a new button appearing on the browser after an update had on user behavior. Would users notice the new button? Would they be intrigued enough to click on the button?

The marketing team wondered if users just enjoyed the OSU-branded appearance of the themed browser, or if they were paying attention to the messages Marketing was sending via the browser.

During the prize promotion, OSU found its themed browser users were very engaged with elements within the browser and rewarded Marketing's recommendation with a click on the prize sweepstakes button.

The most impressive result around OSU's themed browser release is among the most engaged users, that is, OSU customers who downloaded the tool and were counted as "active daily users," 99.6 percent clicked on the new prize promotion button when it was added to the browser.

About this result, Brown said, "It gave us the knowledge and the confidence to know that the people who are using the browser on a regular basis will, for the most part, click on something that we suggest they click on. To us, that's invaluable."

Other metrics include:

o Overall, the prize promotion had a more than 40% clickthrough. From the soft launch of the themed browser through the March Madness promotion, active users of the browser grew 52.7% month-over-month.

o Total browser downloads from the email blast and Facebook post represented 2% of the email send list.

o The email blast promoting the browser and prize sweepstakes had a 9% open rate. Of those who opened the email, 75% clicked through. This compares favorably with a typical mass email send from OSU with 8-10% open rates.

Useful links related to this article

1. Themed browser skin
2. Campaign email
3. Prize promotion registration

The Ohio State University Department of Athletics

Brand Thunder -- developer of OSU's themed browser

Fathead -- vendor for the prize promotion

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