CMO Close-Up with Michael Evans, VP-marketing at Approva

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Approva Corp., a privately held company that markets financial and audit automation software, this month launched a follow-up campaign to its successful “I Love a Good Audit” campaign, which debuted three years ago.

The latest effort from the Herndon, Va.-based company is called “Control Freak.” With the campaign, Approva changed its Audit Trail blog to Control Freak; introduced a website called Onetropolis, a city transformed by Approva's software; and introduced the Control Freak eBook, a guide to being a control freak (or to dealing with living with one). CMO Close-Up talked with Michael Evans, VP-marketing at Approva, about the previous campaign and how he and his team created the new one to build on its success.

CMO Close-Up: Tell us about the genesis of the “I Love a Good Audit” campaign.

Evans: We were focused on the tests of financial controls, some of which are required for audits—generally speaking, not the most interesting topic for some people. For the people we're doing it for, who are internal auditors, controllers, IT security and others, we were trying to do a few things. One, generate awareness of Approva. Our competitors are many times our size, like SAP and Oracle. Two, we needed to really encapsulate the value proposition, what type of experience would they have with our product?

After a lot of brainstorming, ultimately we launched the “I Love a Good Audit” campaign. We felt that summed up in one slogan what we offered the customers. We helped them with the controls, and we turned the audit from something that many people dreaded into something that they're actually proud of.

CMO Close-Up: You took advantage of social media and viral video to get your message across. How did that come about?

Evans: A couple of years ago, social media was just getting started to be used by more companies. We took a multipronged attack. At the high level we tried to give ourselves a voice that was different from the traditional corporate website. There was a corporate website, but what we were able to do was launch several other sites that gave a little more personality and voice to the company and helped separate us from SAP and Oracle.

One thing we did was give away (“I Love a Good Audit”) buttons at trade shows. It was amazing how people would come up, and they would literally say, “I need two buttons. I need one to bring back to my head of internal audits and I need one to bring back to my CFO.” Those are two of the key people we're trying to get to.

We also launched a blog called “Audit Trail.” Again, that was a very different voice from our website. The other thing we did was we launched a microsite, It launched on Valentine's Day, so we had several e-cards that were very specifically designed for our core target audience, professionals involved in an internal audit. We got a tremendous response in terms of the number of people that were coming to the site. Then there were a few other things where we had some fun. When the fifth anniversary of Sarbanes-Oxley came up we hired a singing CPA. We hired him to write a song to wish Sarbanes Oxley a happy birthday. It gave us a chance to be more approachable, more fun.

CMO Close-Up: How has the campaign impacted Approva's overall business?

Evans: From the time when we launched “I Love a Good Audit” to now, we have actually doubled in revenue. I can tell you that our Web traffic has increased by 85% to 90%.

CMO Close-Up: How much of the revenue growth does the marketing department want to take credit for?

Evans: Ha! Well, the campaign is a piece of it. But you have to have everything. You have to have the product people like. You have to have a market. And then you have to have people who know who you are. You have to have the three legs of the stool. It's a matter of all those working together. We're competing with much, much larger companies, but people know who we are, they know what we do and have a favorable opinion of us. That was achieved pretty economically by the “I Love a Good Audit” campaign.

CMO Close-Up: What are you trying to accomplish with the new campaign?

Evans: When we launched our previous campaign, our solutions were being used primarily to help companies prepare for their audit and to automate things they need to do for their audit. Our core value proposition is: We make the auditors go away. Over the last few years continuous controls monitoring has really come into its own as a software segment. And the way people are using it now is much more broad. Before it was more used by internal audit, now the whole financial organization is increasingly using continuous controls monitoring. It's to automate and improve overall financial governance.

This new campaign makes sure we're moving our marketing message to reflect that broader value proposition and to appeal more to the finance-focused audience. The goal of the new campaign is to take the fun spirit and the way that helped show off our personality of the company and find a unique, approachable voice and to do that with a similar campaign but different message. The campaign is called “Control Freak,” and the slogan that goes with it is, “You can call us control freaks, we call it good business.” It broadens the message to the larger value proposition. It presents us as experts in all things control.

The “I Love a Good Audit” campaign really did surprise us. And it kind of evolved over time, but it did raise the bar pretty high for ourselves. The challenge was finding something that had the same spirit of it but wasn't just a direct duplicate of it. I would say we took our time trying to find something that would be equally fun. A lot of marketing campaigns, especially in the online world, you have to experiment with them. We'll see how it goes working over the next six months, see how it's received and we'll take it from there. We did put some pressure on ourselves to come up with something equally fun, and you want it to be as good or better.

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