Challenge: Communicate an acquisition

A few months ago, I was interviewing with a company that challenged me to come up with a communications strategy for announcing a merger. This post includes all the deliverables I put together for them, which I’m posting publicly thinking they might be helpful to someone else.

They challenged me to communicate an acquisition:

A medium-sized tech company is acquiring a smaller firm in the same industry. As the chief marketer for the company, how do you:

  1. Inform key stakeholders
  2. Maximize benefit for the acquiring company
  3. Explain changes to customers

 

I decided to focus on a fictional B2B content management company:

  • The acquiring company (ContentBox) is a B2B content management platform focused on local retailers across a wide variety of verticals. The product includes extensive analytics features out-of-the-box and a huge variety of templates.
  • It is acquiring a video player and analytics platform (VidMedia) to integrate into the existing system. VidMedia is primarily used by freelance or smaller production houses to host and share video content, similar to Vimeo or Wistia.
  • One key challenge in this transition is that a high percent of VidMedia customers do not currently also use ContentBox either because they are not interested in a more extensive CMS (40%) or they use a competitor (20%). Due to resource constraints, ContentBox has decided to keep the VidMedia player available but stop providing support or updating the tool after a 12-month transition period. Customers who use VidMedia but not ContentBox will see no changes for 3 months, then move to the ContentBox back-end interface for 6 months before the VidMedia stand-alone product is phased out at the end of 12 months. VidMedia has data on what CMS, if any, its customers use.
  • Within 3 months, ContentBox users will see new video features and analytics within their existing interface. They will not see any further changes.
  • Communication plans have already been determined for internal stakeholders (investors, employees at both companies) and what’s left now is to determine how to communicate to external stakeholders – existing customers of both companies, industry press and other influencers for potential customers.

 

Here’s what I’d do:

Download (PDF, 4.6MB)

 

This document includes both the overall marketing strategy and the transition plan, as well as a few work samples created for this challenge.

 

90 years in one digital campaign

'United for 90 Years' Timeline - Responsive

This year, United Way for Greater Austin celebrated 90 years of making Austin greater – the locally-run chapter started in Austin in 1924. The anniversary presented an opportunity to tell our rare story and a challenge to do so in a new way.

Goal:

To recognize this key milestone, UWATX wanted to create an online experience to draw in new audiences and delight existing ones.

Strategy:

This project brought together multiple disciplines in the digital marketing spaces:

  • Create a responsive timeline highlighting UWATX and Austin history: Working with a design/developer, we created a dual timeline that both showcased our own history but also told the story of how Austin has changed as a community through nine decades. We used the timeline as the center of our 90-day celebration by also highlighting the anniversary with intro text at the top and featuring our zine and photography project as well.
  • Include categories to highlight niche parts of Austin: Categories allow users to zoom in on the part of Austin history that is relevant or interesting to them and allows UWATX to market parts of the timeline to more targeted audiences based on interests. (Example: Tech category)
  • Fill the timeline with extensive, rich content: The timeline includes 200+ highlights in Austin and local United Way history, all researched and written by internal staff. In addition, most posts include a photo (with Creative Commons or Public Domain license) or YouTube video and a link to learn more. Rather than providing a list of events, we wanted users to be able to dive in to Austin history.
  • Promote extensively across all channels: To kick-off the 90-day celebration, we reached out to our universe of subscribers via e-mail (approx. 20K individuals) to let them know about the timeline and featured it in some way each month in our e-Newsletter during the campaign. We also posted on our Facebook and Twitter channels throughout the campaign, highlighting a specific event or specific category from the timeline, and drove traffic from targeted interest groups to the category pages with Facebook advertising. Finally, with the help of our PR firm, we implemented a Pinterest strategy to highlight particular events on the timeline.

Key Insights:

  • Content should be useful: As more and more brands embrace their roles as content creators and publishers, audiences are bombarded by selling messages. To cut through the clutter, brands must not only tell compelling stories, but ones that add value for their audiences and that users can see value in sharing – content that has youtility. We could similarly cut through the clutter by producing content that was useful to our audience, while also highlighting our own story.
  • We are not the star of anyone’s movie…but Austinites LOVE their city: While 90 years is a significant hallmark for an organization and a badge of honor that few attain, we recognized that it wasn’t inherently or deeply interesting outside of the organization. The challenge became how to create content that was engaging beyond that simple fact. To solve that challenge, I reviewed and analyzed quantitative data from other content marketing efforts that confirmed a completely unsurprising fact: Austinites loved sharing and clicking on content that reflected the city or our unique culture. By including UWATX history alongside Austin history, we could create something that was interesting to users regardless of their relationship (or lack thereof) with UWATX.
  • A timeline of Austin must reflect its diverse interests: When we started, the goal was to include approx. 20 or so events to tell a simple story about our city. As I researched and reviewed content with our internal team, the list kept growing as all of us wanted more information on different aspects of our history. We realized that each of Austin’s diverse communities – film makers, foodies, musicians, techies, environmentalists, etc. – had a unique history and, in order to make the timeline as useful as possible, we needed to consider all of these unique histories and make it possible for users to select only the one they wanted to engage with.

Results:

During the initial 90-day campaign, the timeline drove an additional 10 percent of traffic to our website above our normal traffic. Of this traffic, 72 percent of this traffic came from new visitors versus site average of 67 percent. After launch, the timeline immediately became (and has remained) the second most visited page on the site each month – second only to the home page. Users also average twice as much time on the site when visiting the timeline.

To date, 2-3 other organizations have followed up to create a similar timeline including the Corporation for National and Community Service and a child care advocacy consortium funded by the Annie E Casey Foundation.

Lessons learned:

The timeline succeeded in meeting initial content goals of engaging existing users and attracting new visitors. Within a few weeks, we determined that this success could further be leveraged with a more obvious call-to-action to convert new visitors, so we implemented a modal window pop-up to collect email addresses. More iteration needs to be done to refine this process and add other ways for new users to become engaged, such as easier social sharing.

Partners: Development – Pixels Fear Me | Pinterest strategy & execution – Elizabeth Christian PR

Meeting donors where they are: smart phone edition

Web experience: Impact Calculator

At UWATX, the main fundraising vehicle is Employee Giving Campaigns, which rely on fundraisers attending in-person staff meetings to pitch why  donors should give back and why UWATX is the best option. With the rise of smartphones, our fundraisers had a problem: people were on their phones and not paying attention to the pitch.

Goal:

Create a second screen experience for fundraisers to use in meetings when donors are on their smartphones.

Strategy:

Leverage existing high-value content and extend it to a mobile experience through a mobile version of the Impact Calculator. Allow donors to take easily action by filling out a form and receiving an email reminder to donate.

Desktop experience:

Desktop experience - Impact Calculator

Key Insights:

  • Distractions are here to stay: Increasingly, research shows people engage in multiple experiences at once and take tasks from one platform to another. Fundraisers – our front-lines in identifying how prospects were engaging with us – were already seeing this trends, and we knew it was here to stay.
  • Impact drives giving: Over and over, donors say they are motivated to give by seeing the specific impact that their dollars can make. Our existing Impact Calculator made this connection direct by literally allowing users to input the amount of their gift and see how that investment through UWATX could impact our community. We could improve on the experience (adding more giving options for flexibility, playing with the design) to create an even higher-quality experience.
  • People don’t like to give via mobile websites: While mobile transactions and giving are becoming more common, UWATX internal research shows it has not yet achieved widespread adoption as the process remains clunky – it can be difficult to enter so much detailed data on such a small screen. Additionally, UWATX believes strongly in the power of Employee Campaigns, and creating a second screen experience had the risk of moving donors from campaign giving to online. We needed to move donors from the mobile experience to their desktops to give.

Mobile experience:

Mobile experience - Impact Calculator

Results:

The new Impact Calculator generated 1000 views from Jan. to June 2014, a 57 percent increase over previous year, showing widespread adoption in meetings. This included approx. 25 percent mobile views, a 5x increase over previous year. To date, approx. 10 other United Ways have requested further information to duplicate the Impact Calculator for their own communities.

Lessons learned:

While the Impact Calculator did increase engagement, it did not successfully drive individuals to fill out the form and take action. Future iterations should focus on improve the conversion rate of the tool.

Partners: Design – Creative Suitcase | Development – igray consulting

 

Thanking donors in the social age

Social media: #ThankYouThursday

One of the most important steps in fundraising comes after a donor makes a gift: a thank you is the pivotal step from a transaction to a relationship between an individual and an organization. Knowing how critical a thank you can be, UWATX wanted to find a new way to thank donors during the holiday season.

Goal:

Research shows donors want to be thanked before they are ready to engage with an organization further. This is a challenge for UWATX, where much of our relationship with donors is filtered or restricted by our company partners. We wanted to find an innovative way to thank donors that would break through the clutter and be memorable.

Strategy:

Thank donors individually via social media by posting their photo and tagging the donor or mentioning them. Run this during the busy holiday season to break through the clutter and build on the spirit of the season.

Key Insights:

Results:

#ThankYouThursday posts had an immediate impact – fundraisers started receiving emails thanking them for the recognition from the first post. More than that, because the cadence of the posts was so regular (every Thursday), internal staff began requesting donors to thank. In all, #ThankYouThursday posts gained from two to 10 times as many engagements (likes, comments & shares) on Facebook as other posts during the same time.

Lessons learned:

We saw less engagement on Twitter and learned that our audience of donors preferred Facebook as their primary social network. We also learned what factors predicted how far a post would go: (1) if a fundraiser was friends with a donor on Facebook and could tag them, (2) the size of a donor’s social network and personal engagement on Facebook.

Technology:  Facebook, Twitter, Illustrator, Photoshop