Author Archive

How to take storytelling risks through publishing

October 7th, 2016

“Brands suddenly realized, 30-second spots aren’t working. There’s got to be a better way for us to tell a story,” Morgan Spurlock, Academy Award-Nominated Director, Super Size Me, said in our MarketingSherpa 2016 Media Center interview. “That’s when they started looking at creative ways to make content tell stories.”

Since making POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Made, where Morgan worked with brands to finance the entire film, he’s realized that there are a plethora of compelling brand stories to tell. It’s just a matter of recognizing them. He’s worked with companies like General Electric, Toyota and Haagen Daz doing short film series.

“The beauty of where we are right now, as a content creator is, you can tell stories everywhere now,” he said. “There’s this incredible access to short-form digital content, we can tell a story that’s two minutes, three minutes, and find an audience for it. Not only find an audience for it, but have it be seen world-wide by millions of people.”

A fantastic recent example of how brands are doing this is with Starbucks’ Upstanders series.

According to the site, “Upstanders is an original collection of short stories, films and podcasts sharing the experiences of Upstanders – ordinary people doing extraordinary things to create positive change in their communities. Produced by Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the Upstanders series helps inspire us to be better citizens.”

With absolutely no mention of coffee or the brand within the stories, this content is able to connect with something positive and real in the communities the company works in. These stories focus on people who serve their communities with more than just coffee.

Everything from an impoverished town in Michigan who fulfilled a promise to offer free college tuition to every graduating senior, and did so through grassroots efforts, to an empathetic police academy in Washington that teaches cops a new approach to the job.

These are compelling, topical stories being brought to us directly from … Starbucks, the place that normally only supplies us with coffee, scones and the occasional impulse-buy CD.

“A lot of times … brands are very precious about, ‘here’s what we stand for,’ and they don’t want to give up that brand ID to somebody like me because they feel like they have to control it and keep it tight,” he said.

There’s always a way, he added, to come to an alignment of ideologies where a neutral content creator’s idea of what will be great for your brand, also works with what a marketer believes will be great for the brand.

So how do you start?

“It starts like this, with a conversation,” Morgan said. “I think you sit down, and you say, ‘what do you want to accomplish? What stories do you want to tell?”

Marketing is storytelling, he added. It’s just a matter of deciding on what story you want to tell. It can be your brand’s story, or it can be your customer’s stories.

To find those authentic stories, and decide what it is exactly they want to say, marketers have to decide what their brand voice is.

“What is your ethos, what is your DNA. Once you know that, then you can say, ‘what are the stories we want to tell, what do we want to accomplish,” he said.

The biggest part of this process, he added, is, “Don’t be so precious. Don’t be so scared. Now is the best time ever to dive in and take risks, and do things you normally wouldn’t do because the price point, the barrier to entry, is so low.”

With digital content that can reach millions, marketers can take low-cost risks that might pay off big with customers.

“What starts to happen is, the more risks you take, is the less risky things become down the road,” he said.

You might also like…

The Greatest Lecture Ever Presented – Morgan’s full presentation at MarketingSherpa Summit 2016

Reader’s Choice, MarketingSherpa Awards 2017 – voting is still open! Cast your vote to see the winner present on-stage at this year’s Summit

MarketingSherpa Awards 2017: Customer-focused campaigns drive significant conversions

September 12th, 2016


MarketingSherpa has always been about customer-first marketing. Those are the stories we love to tell, and the marketers we love to talk to.

That’s why, in this year’s judging process, we made customer focus a pass/fail criteria. It has always been more heavily weighted than other aspects, but we still considered and discussed submissions that were lacking in, or ignored how customers were actually affected.

This year, no matter how otherwise intriguing the campaign was, it was dismissed if our seven judges unanimously agreed it was not customer-focused.

On top of that, all of the selected campaigns had to meet these criterion:

  • Be transformative
  • Be innovative
  • Offer transferable principles that marketing peers can apply to their efforts
  • Display strong results

After 50 hours of pre-screening 198 submissions, and 15 hours of deliberation, we’ve narrowed it down to the marketers and campaigns that have put in that work. These four campaigns deserve to be celebrated and studied by you, our readers.

Please review the finalists below, and vote for the Reader’s Choice nominee that stands out the most to you. After voting, please share your favorite nominee or insight on social media.  

Read more…

How to move beyond industry-speak, and start a conversation with your customers

September 2nd, 2016

“We knew that the content was there, but [customers] weren’t sure how to interpret that. We used very industry-specific terminology,” said Abby See, Director of Online Marketing, Sunrise Senior Living.

Visitors to the Sunrise Senior Living website are often looking for immediate senior care options or are researching senior care providers for upcoming care needs. The issue was, that research wasn’t coming as easy to them as it should have.

In the Media Center at MarketingSherpa Summit 2016, Abby told me that through user experience testing, she and her team found what was a surprising insight at the time – customers were actually requesting a questionnaire.

“They said, ‘it would be great if you could offer some sort of tool that would help me determine what I need for my mom or dad,’” she said.

The result of that insight was the development of a Care Questionnaire, which leads those customers through an emotional point in their lives, where they are trying to determine what the best next move is for a family member.

The questionnaire is a non-invasive overlay, she said, so customers don’t lose whatever page they were on, and they’re able to access it from every channel.

“They have choices from there.  They can reach out to a resource counselor, or just do nothing with the results and continue on with their research,” she said.

This puts the customer in control, she said, which is especially important because, “it’s such an emotional time, so we want them to feel comfortable and confident before they reach out to us.”

The advice Abby gave for other marketers who might want this kind of customer insight, was to, “create a survey [through email marketing,] you could have some detailed information and surveys on your site, and really tailor the sales experience to that information you learned from the customer before you reach out.”

Since the launch in September 2014, the impact of launching a Care Questionnaire to foster meaningful off-site engagement has been measured by more than 19,400 users completing the survey, resulting in a 12% lift in on-site leads and a 4% lift in total site conversion rate.

The best results, thought, might be anecdotal in what See and her colleagues have seen in personal interactions with customers.

“There was a woman, she took the Care Questionnaire, it told her that her mom needed assisted living. So she did her research that night, and called several other competitors, but was able to book a tour with us at seven o’clock at night. Other competitors wouldn’t take her at that time, “Abby said.

That customer was able to quickly go from online to offline, knowing what she wanted to do and comfortable in her decision. Having the Care Questionnaire allowed Sunrise Senior Living to help her in a way that competitors couldn’t.

Abby and Sunrise Senior Living were selected last year by blog readers as the MarketingSherpa Summit 2016 Reader’s Choice Award. This year’s Award is going up on Monday, September 12 – please be sure to visit and vote for one marketer who will present their campaign on stage at Summit, held February 13-16 in Las Vegas.

You might also like…

Mobile Marketing: How a private jet charter provider’s app averages 500 downloads a week using customer-centric booking experience – A Reader’s Choice Award 2017 nominee

Inbound Marketing: How SAP drove 9 million impressions with targeted content campaign – A Reader’s Choice Award 2017 nominee

Email Marketing: Extra Space Storage uses a customer-first approach for a 50% boost in email conversion rate – A Reader’s Choice Award 2017 nominee

How a B2B Tech Company generated 650% ROI with a Retro-Cool direct mail campaign

August 12th, 2016

“We have a pretty small market at Intronis, it’s manage service providers, mainly in North America,” said Richard Delahaye, Senior Director of Marketing, Intronis in his interview at the MarketingSherpa Media Center at Summit 2016.

He explained that the sales staff wasn’t able to get many conversations going from that group with traditional methods like phone calls and emails. They needed something special to differentiate them from all the other phone calls and emails their prospects were likely getting.

Inspiration came from an old school method: a direct mail campaign.

Delahaye and his team were told to think big, but also keep the customer in mind. So after one idea – which unsurprisingly never came to fruition – to give a car away with every purchase was vetoed, he decided to look for a tech gadget that would especially appeal to their customer base.

“I landed on possibly the oldest, but maybe the greatest tech gadget of all time. Which is, you can now get an Atari game console for about 30 bucks, so that became the core piece of the campaign,” he said.

Customers would receive a box with the Atari, with a note on top that encourages them to “open up for some office fun, courtesy of Intronis … unfortunately, not all technology is this retro-cool. You need to upgrade your cloud service storage.”

Read more…

Gotta Catch ‘Em All: How to get new customers from the Pokémon GO phenomenon

July 15th, 2016

Marketers can learn a lot from Pokémon GO, and it call comes down to one mantra: Gotta catch ‘em all.

Except in our case, we’re talking about our customers. While not everyone can create a social phenomenon out of their product, you can definitely capitalize on one to pique your customer’s interests and stay top of mind.

Pokémon GO, which is an augmented-reality smartphone game that has players exploring the real world to find virtual Pokémon, is currently rivaling Twitter when it comes to daily active users. This means you can’t afford to just ignore it. Especially if you plan on reaching out to millennials.

Let’s review how some businesses have capitalized on the Pokémon GO phenomenon of the past week.


It doesn’t have to be external

MECLABS Institute, the parent company of MarketingSherpa, is sponsoring its own Pokémon GO contest, with the employee who captures the most interesting picture of a Pokémon winning dinner for two.


Many companies have noticed their employees wandering around the company campus, phone in hand, chasing elusive Pokémon. And they’ve capitalized on the fun by working with something their employees were already doing.

Instead of employees trying to sneak around hiding their obsession, why not turn it into a company activity?

Read more…

How maurices Increased ROI by the Strategic Use of Omni-channel Marketing

May 27th, 2016

“The real challenge is that the path to purchase isn’t just a single step anymore,” said Ali Wing, Chief Marketing Officer, maurices.

The clothing retailer has addressed this in two ways, Ali said.

  • Putting in place attributions in order to organize which channels receive credit
  • Transitioning analysis of those attributions from a transactional approach to that which includes well-rounded customer data

“We’re attaching customer data so we get a long-term value in understanding the customer we’ve acquired, versus the transaction we just acquired,” said Eric Bibelnieks, Vice President of Enterprise Analytics, maurices.


Many marketers struggle in a transition of this nature with understanding which data points are important when it comes to understanding your customers, and Ali has a specific approach that helps her and her team.

“I don’t care as much about absolute precision in any one of the channels. I care about a criterion that I consistently apply and then watch for patterns, because patterns tell us more than the nominal amounts in any one of the channels right now,” she said.

Read more…

How to Build a Brand that Customers Passionately Love

May 6th, 2016

Every Friday leading up to June 7, when IRCE begins in Chicago, MarketingSherpa will be diving into the lessons learned from last year’s Media Center interviews with speakers and attendees, such as Eoin Comerford, CEO, Moosejaw. He and I spoke last year about taking risks in campaigns in order to reap the rewards of customer loyalty.


“What it comes down to is, do you want a brand that people will care about? If you try to be all things to all people, you’re really nothing to nobody,” he said.

Read more…

How Used Email to Maximize Lifetime Value

April 15th, 2016

How do you turn a name on a list into a loyal and engaged subscriber?

Ecommerce site has accomplished this by establishing a community of customers and “Angel” members. These customers fund independent wine makers in return for access to hand-crafted wine at a lower cost.

At the MarketingSherpa Summit 2016 Media Center, Julia Fox, Marketing Manager,, spoke about how her team wanted to maximize member lifetime value during the early phases of the customer journey.


“Since we’re all ecommerce, email is obviously a huge part of our success,” Julia said, adding that most of the company’s revenue comes from these “Angel” members, which means nurturing new customers into Angels through this channel is especially important.

Read more…

How One Small Template Change Led to Greater Customer-centric Content for WeddingWire

April 1st, 2016

Most email marketers know they’re supposed to throw the social sharing buttons into their email templates.

… or do you?

“When we first started doing that, that made sense and that was the best practice when social media first came around. But we never looked back at it and did a reality check to see if that still made sense,” said Bart Thornburg, Senior Manager of Email Marketing, WeddingWire.

In his MarketingSherpa Summit 2016 Media Center interview, Bart talked about how WeddingWire checked that portion of the template to see if it was really a best practice for them.

Read more…

First Impressions: How to earn your place in customers’ inboxes

March 18th, 2016

I have two personal email accounts.

The first I nigh abandoned when about five years ago in college it became so inundated with spam that I panicked and started over. The experience was essentially the electronic mail version of Fastball’s 90’s hit “The Way.” I just took off and left it all behind me.

It seems silly that email could cause so much anxiety that I would call it quits and get the heck outta Dodge — meaning that I even switched email platforms.

Now that I’m a full-grown adult of 26, I know that when I have an overwhelming amount of unwanted dirty laundry piling up, I don’t just set the basket on fire so I can start my wardrobe over. I roll up my sleeves and get to work.

I apply the same principles to unwanted emails. And with services like, it’s easier than ever to clear out the clutter. Emails fight it out for survival like it’s the digital Hunger Games.

My situation is not unique. It’s not even uncommon. As a Millennial, it pains me to admit that I am not special.

As a marketer, it makes me curious: how can emails earn their place in my inbox?


Tactic #1. Make a good first impression

Just like with in-person interactions, a first impression is everything.

Read more…