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Creating awareness of a product or service can be difficult in this age, when marketing has fractured into a thicket of options and narrow delivery channels.

But it can be even tougher when you’re a young company without much of a budget. In a world overloaded with products and noisy marketing, how do you get your particular product or service noticed?

Lots of marketers are turning to the Internet, which seems to offer cheap access to a community of millions. But simply blasting your message into the void won’t get results. One local company shows how tech-savvy marketers can find novel ways of creating a stir among their intended audience by stealthily infiltrating blogs and other online chatter.

Problem
In 2007 Vancouver software company OpenRoad Communications Ltd. launched ThoughtFarmer, a service that creates corporate intranets to help businesses connect their often geographically disparate employees.

ThoughtFarmer was a business-to-business (B2B) operation, which cut its marketing options considerably: OpenRoad couldn’t use traditional consumer mass marketing techniques, which are generally ignored by media-savvy corporate decision-makers. At the same time, most B2B marketing was controlled by the big (and expensive) advertising and marketing agencies.Neither could the company reach these decision-makers by using integrated marketing, the strategy that has grown in the new multi-channel world where a company uses several techniques and accesses many channels. Far too complicated and expensive. Yet it was a powerful program, and early customers had raved about it. OpenRoad had to figure out a way for others to hear about it and, hopefully, rave about it as well.

Solution
OpenRoad had to reach “influencers”: those writers and analysts in the online and off-line media who have large followings among their target customers – in this case, corporate chief information officers. ThoughtFarmer’s marketers took a guerrilla approach. Working with B.C. social media expert Darren Barefoot of Capulet Communications Inc., they used the low-cost social media channel to deliver a bold, provocative campaign guaranteed to get attention. Instead of simply blasting out its message aimlessly, OpenRoad generated interest among influencers with a completely fake campaign for a completely fake company with a completely fake product that just happened to showcase the ThoughtFarmer service.

The team dreamed up a company called Tubetastic Ltd. (Slogan: “We make tubes. A whole series of them”), created a ThoughtFarmer intranet for it and devised an organization chart that included the targets – top online bloggers and influencers – in sometimes hilarious roles, with accompanying profiles. For example, famed technology blogger Robert Scoble was listed as the receptionist, and Mike Arrington, blogger with the very influential TechCrunch website, was listed as company mascot.

Late last April, each influencer on the list was then sent – by mail – a package with a welcome letter and a login link to the Tubetastic intranet, an employee badge with their name, job title and photo, and the organization chart with their name circled.

Initially, there were some chuckles from targets but not much in the way of response. “But after a few weeks, the novel campaign got coverage in three of the top 10 technology blogs, each with thousands of followers, and traffic really started to pick up,” reports ThoughtFarmer co-creator Chris McGrath. “These people often pick up on what each other are doing, so it just built.”

Today the ThoughtFarmer site sees triple the traffic it had before the campaign, and its sales leads have increased exponentially, indicating that the campaign has reached the technology executives who follow the big blogger sites.

Lessons• It doesn’t take big bucks. Originality and humour can often cut through the marketing clutter much better than a high-cost campaign.• Make marketing mirror the product. Showing value propositions is much better than shouting value propositions.• Take a chance. The campaign was risky and could have bombed. But as marketing guru Seth Godin says, “Safe is risky, and risky is safe.”