This is a story about a lesson I learned early in my marketing career. It’s hard to buck the status quo. It’s hard to introduce new ideas to an old company. But when you push through and just do it, you can be a big winner.
I was a brand new marketing manager at a global measurement instrument company just after the dot-com bust. They were struggling with growth. It was a traditional manufacturing company where the product was king and the product managers had the P/L responsibility. Further, guess what, the product managers were at the corporate headquarters in Finland of all places. I didn’t even know where Finland was on the globe. They treated Americans like they didn’t exist.
Naturally, I was eager to put my newly minted MBA in Marketing to good use. I was and still am a big advocate of lifelong learning and professional development. I had read about webinars and how some thought leaders in the marketing space were using webinars as an education tool to engage with the people in their target audience. Keeping in mind this was more than 10 years ago when the term “content marketing” was just emerging and the technology to produce your own webinar was available but just in the early adoption stage.
I remember the time quite well. It was a gray and rainy Monday morning when we got “the speech” from the country manager. “The Speech” is usually meant to be a combination of inspiration, fear and trepidation. This one was no different. The bottom line message was that the company was losing market share and everyone needed to pitch in and work harder because the ‘bosses’ in Finland were on her case for more cash flow.
I was young and I was inspired. I went into the Country Manager’s office and pitched my idea about using a webinar to educate the folks in our database about something that mattered to them as a way to get more leads and fill the sales funnel. She said “you mean teach them about our product?” I said, no, we’ll teach them how to be more effective whether they buy our product or not. That way we’ll get TOMA. She said, “What the hell is TOMA?” I explained that TOMA stood for ‘top of mind awareness’ and it is the key to long term and robust growth. She laughed and she laughed and then kicked me out of her office claiming she had more important things to do and that I should focus on my next post card design.
Needless to say, I was less inspired, but I believed in my idea and I believed in the concept of education as a way to engage with the audience and grow a business. So, undaunted, I went to visit the US Product Manager to pitch my idea. His response was, “We tried webinars and they don’t work”. He went on to explain that they tried webinars on two separate occasions to launch new products and only a couple of people signed up. I tried to explain to him that people don’t really care about the products. Naturally, as the Product Manager, he was appalled and personally offended. I said,”They don’t care about the product or the company, they care about WIIFM.” He said, “What the hell is WIFFM?” I explained that it means “what’s in it for me” from the audience perspective, not from the company perspective. He laughed, but it was more of a good nature laugh than a mean and dismissive laugh. He told me to go ahead and put this educational webinar together and he agreed to fund it as a trial marketing tactic.
I was very excited and re-energized. In spite of the derisive looks I got from the leadership, sales people and even my own marketing peers, I put it together myself. When I had everything ready, I sent out an email invitation to our database of about 10,000 customers and prospective customers. One day after the email invitation we had about 200 registrants! Ultimately, we got about 500 registrants for that first webinar! The laughing had stopped. The boss wanted to know more about this idea of educational webinars. We even had some notice from the executive team in Finland. It seems that getting the company in front of 500 people from the target audience to spend an hour with your experts at a cost of about $2 per registrant is an impressive feat.
I expanded that webinar program from one to a series of 8 educational webinars. The business grew at a rate of 20+% per year over the next few years. Was the growth all due to webinars? At that time we did not have the tools to prove it, but I suspect most of the growth was because of TOMA, credibility and reciprocity created by the webinars.