How Zendesk Mastered Alternative Marketing with Smart Video Strategy
A browser search of the term “Zendesk alternative” returns a few paid advertisements from cloud-based customer support software providers followed by a series of pages all labeled, “Zendesk Alternative.” The first organic search result directs visitors to a page titled, Zendesk Alternative, The Only Alternative to Zendesk. When you visit Zendeskalternative.com, the site serves you a behind-the-scenes video interview of alternative-punk band Zendesk.
In reality, the entire existence of the Zendesk alternative punk band is a marketing ploy by cloud-based customer support service Zendesk. Why did the brand invest resources and time into inventing a nonexistent band for a fake webpage? We spoke with Zendesk Creative Director Matthew Latkiewicz to learn the story behind the campaign.
Zendesk offers a cloud-based customer support service to help businesses build better relationships with their customers. Zendesk has become a market-leader in its industry–a feat that manifested in the company’s initial public offering in May, 2014. However, thanks to some tough competition, Zendesk’s success hasn’t been an easy waltz to victory.
Standing Apart from Competitors
The Zendesk marketing team monitors all Zendesk-related search terms regularly. Last fall, they noticed that traffic for the phrase “Zendesk alternative” was on the rise–and search rank was completely under the dominion of Zendesk competitors. With competitors hot on their heels with spotlessly prepared anti-Zendesk propaganda–most of it in the form of competitive differentiator webpages–Zendesk had to make an offensive play to stay on the top of the cloud-support service market.
“We wanted to at least have a presence in the search stream,” says Matthew Latkiewicz, Zendesk Creative Director.
Charming Your Audience
Were Zendesk the sort of company that follows industry standards, the creative team may have built a series of literature about the product details that differentiate Zendesk from its alternatives, but standard competitive differentiation doesn’t fit the Zendesk brand.
“One of our brand attributes is charm. We try to create charming campaigns that reflect our brand, and besmirching the competition doesn’t fit with the Zendesk brand identity,” says Matthew.
Mastering Search Engine Rank
Securing a top search spot on Google is a marketing trick that’s easier said than done. Search engine optimization best practices are easy to recognize, but hard to achieve.
To win some organic search traffic from “Zendesk alternative,” Matthew and his team knew they needed to adhere to known SEO tactics, so they did just that.
The Zendesk Alternative campaign employs a number of SEO best practices:
- Ownership of the domain name, zendeskalternative.com
- Development & maintenance of Zendesk Alternative Facebook page
- Development & maintenance of Zendesk Alternative Twitter profile
- Creation of Zendesk Myspace page
- Listing on Bandcamp & Reverbnation
- Unique and keyword rich anchor text, title tag, and page content
- Video content featured on web page
- The page is responsive
The page also masters a number of additional SEO tricks and tips, many of which are outlined in a great visual guide from Moz.
The Zendesk Alternative campaign was set up for success because “it lived inside an entire world that we created for it,” Matthew explains.
Zendesk didn’t focus solely on building a search-engine friendly page; they dove into a story.
“The idea was that Zendesk CEO, Mikkel Svane, was a huge fan of the band Zendesk in the nineties. He used to crowd surf at their concerts and follow the band on tour. He was such a fan that he bought the band, and named his company after it, then commissioned the band to create an album about customer service. The lead singer of the band feels frustrated that his creation has been usurped, and he has to question everything he knows about the truth of expression.”
Taking a Risk in B2B Marketing
“Some guy stole our name for his computer company,” declares Eryk, lead singer of Zendesk when a voice behind the camera asks about the band’s latest album.
Matthew and his team challenged themselves to create a campaign that would encourage potential customers to learn more about Zendesk without turning them away from the brand.
“We didn’t want the campaign to come off as rude to potential customers who were being diligent and researching other alternatives,” Matthew expresses, regarding the hesitation with which most business-to-business marketers face humor in their campaigns. “We knew that people searching for Zendesk alternatives were probably familiar with our brand already, so we wanted to show them why we’re a great company to work with. We hoped that if we gave them something tongue in cheek, it would be hard for them to be mad.”
The behind-the-scenes interview feature is peppered with Zendesk value proposition points and brand tchotkes–components that help viewers understand the Zendesk product as well as the unique charm that comes with joining the clan of Zendesk customers.
Just days after launching the campaign, Nick Francis, CEO of Zendesk competitor, Helpscout (which today ranks second for the search phrase, Zendesk Alternative, after the Zendesk Alternative campaign ousted the brand from its roost at #1), Tweeted a congratulatory comment about the campaign:
This past April, Zapier featured the campaign in a blog article titled, “11 Ways to Win Your Customers’ Hearts with Humor.”
The Zendesk alternative band also wins the hearts of Zendesk employees. Rather than creating a data sheet and forcing everyone to share it, Zendesk created a funny video and invited employees to share it–and they did. The Zendesk team received the band with such enthusiasm that it earned a prime spot on stage at the Zendesk holiday party last year.
“You can’t just create content for the sole purpose of ‘going viral.’ Because the goal of the Zendesk Alternative campaign was to rank for the keyword phrase rather than collect a lot of views, we were able to execute a really creative campaign that got a lot of views.”
Increasing Conversions with Creative Video Content
Site traffic wasn’t the only achievement that the Zendesk Alternative campaign accomplished. Since the campaign launched in October, 2013, zendeskalternative.com converts at a rate that’s 95% higher than the site average. As of this April, Zendesk had closed five deals that originated at the Zendesk Alternative page.
In the end, the Zendesk Alternative campaign achieved its goal of earning the first organic page rank for the keyword phrase “Zendesk Alternative.” The campaign also brought the team together over a creative campaign of which employees felt proud. Zendesk could have relied on a tried and true datasheet to secure SEO rank, but they chose to experiment with a campaign that had never been done before. As a result, they not only accomplished their original goal, but they increased employee brand engagement, directly contributed to the revenue stream, and further established Zendesk as a company that charms its customers at all stages of the buying cycle.
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