Earlier in October, an airplane in downtown San Francisco was seen writing out the phrases ‘#Outsmart Einstein. Zoho CRM’ and ‘zoho.com/outsmart’ in the sky, that had most onlookers scratching their heads.
This was the work of Chennai-based CRM player Zoho. They took to the skies to make a point and did so successfully. The skywriting was all a part of a guerrilla marketing campaign to target its competitor’s (Salesforce) consumers at their own annual event! The campaign got people talking and how! Conference attendees were overwhelmingly amused by the advertisement. Many posted photos and video of the skywriting, using the hashtag #OutsmartEinstein or by tagging Zoho’s Twitter handle.
We caught up with Rodrigo Vaca, Head of CRM Marketing at Zoho and the brain behind the Outsmart campaign, to understand the behind-the-scene efforts that went into pulling this off.
What was the motive behind the Outsmart campaign?
It’s simple. Mindshare. We have over 300,000 active organizations using Zoho CRM. Yet, we remain relatively unknown in the marketplace. 300,000 seems like a big number (and it is!) but when you compare it to the potential across the world, it is clear to us that we could grow 10x or 100x and still not be done. We want to reach out to more customers, and help them get ready to sell. So, our #outsmart campaign was designed to help us get the word out and increase Zoho CRM’s brand recognition.
What kind of brainstorming efforts went into pulling this off?
We’ve done something similar a couple of years ago. I can tell you, there’s a lot of creative effort and coordination involved in making something like this happen. It’s a balance between doing something that will be visible, staying within the parameters of our brand and what we want to communicate, what is operationally possible, and of course, staying on budget. We came up with probably 15-20 different ideas, out of which we discarded some, and then each member of this projects (about 4-5) took a couple each and explored them further – getting a concept, quotes, etc.
Zoho literally took to the skies to make its point. Why did you choose this method?
It is hard to pinpoint any particular reason, but a key one was that this was fun, and something we had never done before. As with anything of this nature, you take a risk. It could’ve rained, it could’ve flopped – any number of scenarios. But we took everything into account and decided to give it a shot.
How effectively does competitor trolling work as a marketing technique?
Well – first of all I disagree with the ‘competitor trolling’ label. We don’t do this sort of things to troll Salesforce. We do this because a big chunk of our business comes from disillusioned Salesforce customers whose needs are not being met fully. So, from a marketing perspective, you have to go where you customers are, right? And guess where most Salesforce customers hang out? It’s not trolling, it’s targeting.
What sort of marketing trends do you foresee in this industry?
A key one for us is the rise of the more educated and open-minded business software customer. Business software is being marketed and sold very differently than it was in the 1990s or early 2000s when only a few companies dominated the landscape. Each year, customers care less about the brand and are more difficult to persuade through old-school salesmanship.
What do you feel about new-age content marketing?
I don’t think there’s much new about it. Sure, a few of the tactics may have changed, but at its core, marketing is a battle for attention and about perception. The specific channels in which we accomplish that might change, but at its core, it remains fundamentally the same.