This week I chatted to Ian Luck about the playbook he followed for his most successful marketing accolade. One report that changed the future of his company and created enough value to drive growth for going on 1.5 years now.
They've done some incredible things in the past few years, including:
• Creating a category: Account Experience.
• Won world-leading clients: IKEA, EventBrite, DHL, Philips, and many more.
• Written an 80-page eBook based on original research that drove 30K leads and $2m in revenue without PPC.
• Taken on goliath competitors.
We talked about all this in enough detail for you to do the same and drive growth at your company.
We cover everything from strategy to distribution to the marketing techniques used in Ian's campaigns.
Here is the summary, but the podcast is NOT to be missed.
We created a category: account experience
Why did you create a category?
- CustomerGauge was motivated to create a category because they found an unfulfilled niche in the market. Their product bridged a gap between two tried and tested markets and saw a need that wasn't yet addressed.
- The CustomerGauge team researched and wrote a report called the 2018 NPS and CX benchmarks report, which discovered the unfulfilled demand. They found that Net Promoter Score (NPS) alone was failing; it needs to be tied together with ROI to have the most impact.
- With this confirmation, they created the category and crafted their software around the need.
What are the upsides/ downsides of creating a category?
- The upside of category creation is 'fame'. CustomerGauge 2x'd in revenue since they defined the category, and they own the Trademark for a category of products that is being readily adopted by competitors. In an ideal world, lots of businesses jump in and expand awareness of the category– that's why others can use the trademark (as long as they register it). They will always have the bonus of being the original creator.
- The downside of category creation is awareness. One of the benefits of falling into an established category is that your buyer automatically makes some assumptions about your product (check out Al Ries on positioning for more information). The market doesn't know what the category name means and, therefore needs lots of education. CustomerGauge does courses, ebooks, and an academy to bring recognition to the name.
The 30,000 organic download report
- The report asked 35-40 questions to industry leaders and outputted benchmarks, state of the market viewpoints, and identification of major problems. A fundamental discovery was a disconnect between the goals of the CEO and the goals of the CX manager: NPS and revenue weren't closely tied enough.
- The CustomerGauge team took 3-4 months to complete the report.
- It was cobranded by several high-profile names like Microsoft, HP, SalesForce and MIT.
- It received 30,000 downloads without PPC advertising. All organic.
- CustomerGauge closed $2m in business thanks to awareness and business transformation stemming from this one report.
- It still drives business 1.5 years later, when their usual reports only help for six months.
How do you make a piece of content like that and make sure it doesn’t come across as one big sales pitch?
- Take a value-first standpoint. The report made sure never to mention the product nor tie the research to the product directly. They purely focussed on what the reader should do to succeed.
- This is a similar strategy to what we see working on LinkedIn at the moment. The most successful people give everything away for free. It builds awareness and subconscious product consideration.
- They made sure that the content was highly valuable, and it showed. Some people referenced some of the latter pages of the 80-page document, proving people read the whole thing.
How did you get so many people to fill out the survey?
- The key to getting someone to do something for you is to develop a reciprocal relationship. Invited prospects to fill out the survey and offered them early report access, as well as an instant assessment based on their input.
Use the survey as a prospecting tool.
- Ian used this technique: Saying ‘hey, we’re doing a survey that’s really relevant to you. We’re trying to collect information on what is and isn’t working in programs, and I’d love it if you could take 10 minutes to fill it out. If you do you get three exclusive things'
- Not only does this kind of research give the prospect a REALLY good reason to fill out the survey, but it also creates great brand awareness from the emails.
- If they don’t respond, the great thing is that you can get back to them after three months and say ‘hey, we know you didn’t fill it out, but I wanted to share the survey result with you anyway’.
- This was really effective at driving sales.
How did you get other companies to work with you on the report?
- Larger companies, if you can get them, boost your credibility and reach.
- The first one is the hardest. But, if you win them, all the others won't want to miss out and will follow.
We sneakily said who we were in talks with to leverage their name to get our first partner, and then it all fell in from there.
- Why? It’s all about credibility. The fear these big companies have is that they'll accidentally connect themselves to a black hat company.
- To assuage their doubts:
- Give them credible other work you’ve done. Send them your highest-quality branded content.
- Encourage them not to miss the boat.
- Tell them to download expectations (you should have an estimate of conversions and impressions) and give them an example of what the final report might look like.
If you have huge competitors, you need to win on brand.
Do you ask in advance for the research partners to promote it?
- And one way to make sure they do it is to do all the promotion work for them.
- Ian and his team created all the needed collateral: all the email headers, social media images, etc. He strongly encouraged going above and beyond to give them what they need to promote it.
Weigh in on this debate: Ungated vs gated content
- In our interview with Chris Walker, we discussed why everyone should ungate their content. So that buyers can browse content on their terms and make a buying decision when they are ready.
- Ian's opinion is somewhere in the middle between the 'ungate' people and the 'gate' people.
- Ian says some of his valuable content is behind a 10-question form. But the conversion rate is 60%, so it’s fine. If the content is valuable enough, you can gate it.
- But our lower-value ebooks are all open and free to download.
But who deals with the 30,000 leads you generated?
- The problem with gating content is the generation of 1,000s of low-value leads. People who had no buying intent, but wanted to read the report. Passing these people to your sales team has obvious issues: how does anyone sift through 30k leads?
- Ian has developed a ranking system to make sure only high-quality leads are passed to the sales team. So only 30% of people who download gated content are passed across.
- He uses tools like Hubspot and Clearbit to append data to the inbound lead and filters for serious buying intent.
- For example, if the visitor does an intent trigger (visit the pricing page, requests a demo, or looks at a case study or buying guide) then they are scored highly and passed to the sales team for outreach.
- Ian and his team have mapped out every page on their website, so they know which funnel stage each one is in. That way filtering for intent is easier.
- Using this technique, you can create quality leads without sacrificing the inbound flow.
What does your sales team do when you pass them the lead?
- We support them by matching the lead source to the sales funnel. For example, if a prospect comes from a survey, then sales get their assessment data. Then that helps them skip the discovery stage. Sales now know where the solution fits into the prospect's pain points, and the assessment shows what they are struggling with and allows them to strategise before the call.
Content promotion: what did you do if none were paid ads?
- We all know now that success is 20% content creation and 80% promotion.
Social media promotion
- The report was 80 pages long and contained around 50 charts - giving social media team content to post about for over a year.
- Influencer outreach, to get shares and backlinks.
Repackaging and repurposing content
- The CustomerGauge team went hard on repackaging the content.
- The report covered the benchmarks for 15 industries, and they did at least one blog post dedicated to each one. They even did whole ebooks on some industries.
- Each week they emailed their email list with a new graph and asked them to check it out, educating the receiver each time.
- They took the key headlines and turned them into PR stories to distribute.
- They set up and planned lots of guest posts before releasing the report.
- They did a series of 200-300 person conferences where spokespeople from many big companies came along and legitimized the research.
The report provided serious focus for our marketing team. Everyone knew what they were going to get when opening an email from CustomerGauge.
How else did you drive traffic?
- Around half the traffic was driven by a second site that performed extremely well on SEO for NPS benchmarking. Ian and his team loaded 2,500 companies onto it and had their NPS numbers filled out. So if anyone typed in a search query for something like 'What is Apple's NPS score?' they were the first result. This website was then optimized to drive traffic to the report.
How do you avoid creating a useless ebook that gets no downloads? No traffic? No sales?
- Experimentation - do not do a 3-4 month research phase and then check if your target market needs the research. Every stage should be experimented with.
- This successful report started a long time before. Firstly from a blog post, and then it evolved into a poorly designed PowerPoint presentation. That PowePoint got 8,000 downloads and showed that there was a strong market need for the report.
- See how it progressed? Slowly they got bigger and bigger, showing that there was a need. Starting small and testing is KEY.
- Ian suggests looking at your top 20 blog articles and looking at what is working best. Writing something bigger around it. Grow even bigger on an ebook. Then a conference. And, so on.