Daniel Burstein

Marketing Campaigns: Dig deep to replicate your successes (and learn from your failures) with marketing and sales enablement case studies

January 6th, 2012

Sales were up 80% in 2011! Congratulations!

Except, well, now you have to repeat that feat in 2012 (or at least hold the line). So, how exactly did you lift sales?

Not only that, but your team is 80% bigger this year, and many of them weren’t even working with you when you initiated many of the changes that got you the big success in the first place (nice hypothetical problem to have, right?). Still, it begs the question …


How do your replicate your success?

Or how do you avoid making the same mistakes? Well, first you have to discover why you succeeded and failed. And then you need to spread that new business intelligence throughout your team and your organization.

I recommend forensic reporting. That’s a term I like to use to explain what our reporters do here at MarketingSherpa, and how we write the case studies that appear in our free marketing newsletters. (While our case studies are meant for external consumption, this is something I used to do internally as well for companies like IBM and BEA Systems to spread effective tactics inside the company, so I can see how the same principles apply.)

First, you have to understand these case studies don’t just exist somewhere. Marketers and teams go about their jobs and do various things. From these actions, they bring about successes or failures. But the reasons why and how they did it, which is the case study, is never prepackaged.

As the name “forensics reporting” connotes, you have to investigate and dig pretty deep, because often the entire picture of what led to the success or failure isn’t even immediately obvious to the people that helped make it happen.

Here’s a very simplified, six-step process to get your started …


Step #1: Recognize a worthy lesson

You need to first separate the future-ROI-generating wheat from the too-routine-to-care chaff. This can be harder than it at first appears. Sure, that 80% increase in sales seems obviously worthy of further study, but there are many other possibly helpful case studies that are all too easy to overlook:

  • An 80% drop in sales (as painful as it may be, I would argue it is even more valuable to learn from your mistakes than your successes)
  • Tactics used with a new channel (social media, mobile) or new technology (analytics program, marketing automation)
  • Any early intelligence about how a new product or new competitor is being perceived in the marketplace
  • A shift in the marketplace or target customers that materially affects your product or services
  • A routine process that is integral to your marketing department (when your team is rapidly growing and you have many new hires)

While all of the above may not be as sexy or fun as, say, a 2,100% increase in clickthrough, a case study on any of the above topics will likely be very valuable to your company.

Some topics that you can likely avoid include:

  • A routine process (when your team members are pretty consistent year-to-year)
  • Predictable results (the more predictable, the less likely you will find a significant “aha” to learn from that makes the case study worthwhile)
  • Every little thing your competitors are doing (sure competitive intelligence is valuable, but simply copying and pasting their “best practices” will distract you from really learning about your own customers and what makes your own company successful)


Step #2: Get some numbers

Next you want to dive in and get as much data as possible. Immerse yourself in numbers such as:

  • Demographics – Country or region of origin, Web browsers or mobile platform used, age and income, etc.
  • Engagement – Including clickthrough rates, open rates, pageviews, time spent on site, number of return visits, etc.
  • Sentiment – Including comments, content sharing, social media activity, etc. (about your products/services/company, as well as about competitors)
  • Transactional data –Including conversion rate, revenue per sale, overall revenue, etc.
  • ROI – Including return on ad spend, cost per lead, cost per acquisition, etc.
  • Third-party data – Survey information and media reports about changing customer preferences, public data about competitors’ earnings, benchmark data about what other marketers are doing, etc.

Obviously, what you collect will be heavily influenced by the type of case study it is. Open rate is a very important metric if email was a key channel, for example. However, public data about competitor’s earnings is important if your focus is how a competitor launched a hot new product.


Step #3: Start asking questions

Now that you have the hard data, you have to interpret it. How did your team get these results? What do these results really mean? Sit down with the key players (you might be one of them, and you might need to ask yourself some questions), give yourself an hour if you can, and ask them questions like:

  • Take me step by step through this campaign. What challenges did you face/opportunities did you see that made you want to start this effort?
  • Every decision is a fork in the road, why did you do X instead of Y?
  • What can others in our company learn from your experience with this campaign?
  • If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?
  • If you had no limitations (budget, authority, etc.), what would you do differently?
  • How are you going to follow up this campaign? What are the next steps?
  • Anything else to add? Anything you wish I’d have asked but I overlooked? (This is the best question I’ve ever asked in an interview. I’m constantly surprised about the obvious questions I forget to ask, and the good information I would have otherwise overlooked. For example, the entire case study about IBM’s homepage testing at MarketingSherpa B2B Summit 2011 in San Francisco in which I interviewed Joan Renner. I only learned of this very interesting homepage testing after a 57-minute discussion about a different testing effort.)

Note:  Not only will you and your team learn a lot from these questions, but so will the person you’re interviewing. You’re giving the interviewee a chance to step back and reflect on exactly why he made the choices he did. Too often, in modern life (and modern marketing), we constantly do, do, do without asking why. Deep breath. Namaste. And on to step #4.


Step #4: Break it down

You have the data. You have the rough information. Now you need to break all of that down into a logical flow (we call this a spine) of steps or tactics so the novice, or the person on your team that is simply unfamiliar with this campaign, could follow the same steps themselves and replicate your success.

For an example, you can read pretty much any MarketingSherpa case study.


Step #5: Get feedback from someone you trust

This is what we could call a content editor, which is basically my role at MECLABS.

You want someone who has enough knowledge about the subject, but is far enough removed from the execution of the campaign or the writing of the case study to have a fresh and unbiased perspective, to go through the case study with a fine-tooth comb and point out any key information that is missing and any advice that is of questionable effectiveness or morality while making sure all of the information will be helpful to your team.


Step #6: Distribute

Congratulations! You’ve got your golden nugget. A simple, direct piece of marketing and/or sales enablement material that will enable your team to replicate its success, overcome past failures, or outwit the competition.

Now you have to get them to understand its value. Make sure you have your marketing hat on when you decide what to name it (one of my personal favorites is our own – The 30-Minute Marketer), how you package it (some design time always helps), even in what medium you distribute it (a PDF? An internal webinar or podcast?).

What you will end up with is a long-lasting, valuable piece for both your company and your career.

Of course, if you’re looking for some help with that case study, we’re happy to help as long as you’re willing to share your wisdom (and results) with the MarketingSherpa audience. We’re always looking for brand-side marketers with both positive and negative results to share … and the actionable advice behind the stories that go with them.  Just let me know.


Related Resources:

Social Media Marketing: How SAP identifies and replicates successful tactics across a global company

B2B Marketing: Finding ideas from the ‘wrong’ case studies

Content Marketing: Case studies are stories — so be a storyteller

Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – digging for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine – from Web clinics to Research Journals to the blog. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications – a boutique communications consultancy specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware, and BEA Systems. Daniel has 18 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement and field marketing communications.

Categories: Marketing Tags: , , , , ,

We no longer accept comments on the MarketingSherpa blog, but we'd love to hear what you've learned about customer-first marketing. Send us a Letter to the Editor to share your story.