How a software firm tapped into emotion to reshape B-to-B marketing
In his book, "Quantum Marketing," MasterCard Chief Marketing Officer Raja Rajamannar observes that “B2B marketing is several generations behind when it comes to tapping into emotions ... the reliance is on data and performance claims within communication elements, which by nature tend to be less interesting and hardly inspiring.” It's a painful truth, which is why it is noteworthy when a campaign breaks with convention.
One such campaign is from Ping Identity, featuring actor/athlete Terry Crews as "chief identity champion." The campaign, launched in October 2020, is the culmination of CMO Kevin Sellers’ efforts to dramatically increase awareness of the brand. “You can't win business if you don't even get a chance to bid on the deal” says Sellers. “You’re trying to get them to know you and remember you, and you can't do that by being really safe.” With site traffic up 1,000%, Sellers knows he’s tapped into something special.
How did you arrive at Ping Identity’s brand story?
A great brand is not about a clever catchphrase or a really creative position. It really is a process of discovery of the soul. To be genuine and really authentic is the place you have to be, and to get there takes a lot of work. We came into Ping and we said it's not so much that it needs a rebrand, it just needs clarity, and it needs that authentic, unique position.
So, you go through the process of discovery and it's a really a gut-wrenching, painful process, but a fun process. There's a whole lot of things you do, but it leads you to a place that answers, “What's really true, authentic, and unique about this company is this,” and then that's when the art comes in as you do the artful work around how to position and message that brand position.
How did you communicate the story to employees?
Marketing is an interesting animal. It can't be too participatory because everyone's an expert on marketing, right? But in this case, when you're doing this kind of work, you want it to be participatory because, again, you're discovering something, and they're helping you discover what that soul really is. Our work was to get the language right, but once we did that work, we started rolling it out to the employees in larger groups and getting feedback.
There was such positive reception and a lot of very important top-down support from the board to the CEO on down. Of course, the CEO was involved every step of the way, and that's one of the important learnings when you're doing this kind of work. Don't do the work and then present it. Obviously, the light bulbs turning on was really, really gratifying, so we kind of knew we had it.
How did you execute this branding in the market?
We went off and created some content that really focuses on championing identity and demonstrating what it means to have a really great experience. We did it through all different types of assets. The best, most gratifying part was when we put this whole idea into a manifesto video as a kickoff for our sales kickoff and got a spontaneous standing ovation. Again, it was because we tapped into that emotional connection.
We just told that story and we showed how identity can come to life and it was a powerful thing. Then we built a campaign and what was great about it is, because it was so distinctively different than the tone and language that our competition was using, the performance was outstanding. Our engagement rate was 2x and 3x industry benchmarks across all asset types. We felt really, really good about that first round of creative yet, in my head, I knew that we were still missing something.
What was missing?
We loved what we were getting out of it, but I just I needed a little more media push to really get the reach and frequency that I needed, and I wasn't going to do it with my budget. You can take the Geico route where you just buy eyeballs everywhere so that your message is just constantly streamed in front of those eyeballs. Most can’t afford the Geico approach, so when you're in a smaller budget situation like we're in, the content had better really work and it had better travel.
What was missing is, how do I really activate this to be a much more earned, media friendly type of a campaign, which is obviously all marketers’ Nirvana and is obviously easy to talk about but really hard to execute. That’s where we went into phase two of this.
What was phase two?
We came to this idea of a chief identity champion as a member of the management team. We created a character, and we went and cast Terry Crews in that character and created a bunch of a whole mass of content around him and it's performing exceptionally well. Terry specifically is this infectiously optimistic and very positive person. High energy, but he's a champion himself. He's a Super Bowl champion, but he also champions a number of very important causes. He's a very vocal supporter of a number of important issues, and it just felt so good, that alignment.
What was special about this campaign?
You go and you look at the content that exists in that industry, it's pretty staid. It's pretty technical, it's pretty product centric. No one's actually trying to tell a story and bring something to life like this. This is a space that focuses on safety so, by definition, the marketing tends to be safe. Safe is easy to sell into your management team, but it's also not something that's going to really differentiate you in a way that's going to create attention.
At the end of the day, what are we trying to do as marketers anyway? What we're really trying to do with advertising specifically is to rent a little space in the mind of your buyer. Ultimately, you’re trying to get them to know you and remember you, and you can't do that by being really safe, especially when they're bombarded with messages every day. That’s all of those pieces coming together and then just the great performance of Terry. It's very memorable.
Growing brand awareness is usually not part of a new CMO’s mandate.
I don't think people appreciate what awareness does. It's not a vanity play, especially in a B2B world where awareness actually gets you into the shortlist. You can't win business if you don't even get a chance to bid on the deal. Initially, it plays into the demand that way, but it also does so much as a multiplier to your demand gen efforts. It's not just about being more known, it's about making that funnel bigger and ensuring that your demand activities are more effective as a result.
Other than awareness, what are you measuring?
The investments we make in awareness are not about making us feel good and not about having a good time and not even about hiring some famous person—we're trying to expand awareness to drive new customer acquisition. Initially, we measure our marketing ROI across the whole funnel and that is something we take to the board on a regular basis. We track our marketing return on investment very, very closely.
We have specific impression targets; we have specific engagement rates and click-through rates and traffic to the website. We look at all those indicators, we benchmark them. That starts to tell you, OK, I can't prove ROI yet, but I can start to prove if I'm on to something or not. What’s great for us is we've seen really high engagement rates. Our traffic to the website directly attributable to this campaign is up more than 1,000%.
How is awareness affecting these metrics?
What I always tell people—and this is really important—awareness investments are like the R&D arm of marketing. They tend to pay off, but over a longer period of time. Now, I'm still accountable for every dollar I spend, and I don't shy away from that, but I have parsed those dollars off, and the CFO is comfortable knowing that we're going to measure this not in year for in year, we're going to let this have a two- to three-year horizon where we invest in this. We should start to see 2021 and 2022 really kicking in the increased effectiveness for all of our demand gen efforts and I have no doubt that that's going to take place.