For the record…

Clients and Case StudiesThe Marketing Forensics team has decades of collective experience serving clients in a diverse array of industries — from education to entertainment, finance to fashion, automotive to the arts.

In addition, our parent company, Atomic Tango LLC, served several clients before spinning off the consulting practice as Marketing Forensics in 2016. We’ve listed a few of these below alongside our current, non-confidential clients.

Select Case Studies

A small yet sophisticated solar energy firm in Southern California, SunGreen Systems started out by installing panels on consumer residences — but their market was shifting quickly.

The Pain Point

Competition in the residential market had intensified, with Elon Musk’s SolarCity investing heavily in advertising and providing financing to customers — neither of which SunGreen could afford. In addition, pricing at the low end of the market had been undercut by “guys with a pickup and a ladder.” SunGreen wanted to know how to compete more effectively.

The Investigation

We analyzed SunGreen’s current marketing materials and the overall market, including detailed competitive comparisons. Our top 4 critical findings:

  • Untapped potential in the people: SunGreen’s senior management team consisted of highly educated architects and experienced business professionals — far more impressive than the competition — yet they were not featured in the marketing, including the website.
  • Website needing optimization: The site attracted an average of only 12 visitors per day — extremely low for a business site — with most arriving by searching for the company’s name, not solar panels in general. Not surprisingly, we found the site not optimized for search engines. In addition, a Flash animation (neither search-engine or iPhone friendly) dominated the homepage, and the site architecture did not funnel users to desired content or actions.
  • Flat branding: Most of the website content consisted of generic text and stock photos about solar energy, which didn’t differentiate the company or address user needs. In addition, the company’s slogan, “Solar Power That Makes Cents,” was a cheap pun that also cheapened the brand. Saving pennies is not a key selling point for solar panel systems starting at $20,000.
  • Commercial buildings opportunity: While SunGreen and their larger competitors offered solar solutions for businesses, none emphasized it. Competing for residential customers was a losing proposition for a small company. The region’s business market seemed ready for the taking.

The Recommendations

Based on these points and other findings from our research, we recommended several changes to SunGreen’s marketing strategy and communications:

  • Target commercial customers: While still accepting residential customers, SunGreen needed to focus their resources and efforts on the less competitive yet highly valuable commercial market, where the education, experience, and expertise of SunGreen’s management would be appreciated by other executives. In particular, we identified hotels as having high potential, given their 24/7 energy needs.
  • Play up the management team’s expertise: Competitors can copy any feature except specific people, and SunGreen’s executives could serve as key differentiators. In addition to adding full bios to the website, we recommended developing a newsletter and blog where the team could showcase their knowledge. To reflect this new emphasis, we changed the slogan to “The Smart Approach To Solar.”
  • Revise the website: We showed SunGreen how to optimize their website for search engines with a combination of keywords and engaging content that might be backlinked. We also recommended creating a new architecture, removing all Flash, putting contact information on every page, and adding unique photos and more personalized writing, all while remaining professional.
  • More outreach: To drive traffic to the website, we recommended Google ads, press releases, and more appearances at conferences and conventions.

The Results

After implementing the changes, SunGreen began to land commercial clients, including hotels, warehouses, and factories. Stories appearing in the press created backlinks to the SunGreen site, while driving traffic and boosting the brand’s credibility.

Our client, celebrity nutritionist Rachel S. Beller, regularly receives proposals from companies wishing to collaborate with her. We evaluate those proposals to make sure they enhance her brand and not exploit it, and to determine whether the proposed ideas, plans, and promised returns are realistic.

One such proposal came from a major Hollywood talent agency and a new media entrepreneur they represented. The proposal described a Facebook-based game like Farmville (still thriving at that time), with women competing to become more fit, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Rachel was invited to be the sole nutritional expert for the game.

The Investigation

Our analysis started with a review of the proposal and research into the stakeholders:

  • Lack of details and production quality: We first reviewed the plain Word document introducing the game. Filled with jargon and writing errors, the proposal read like a broad concept statement emerging from a brainstorming session, and it included no images beyond a logo. It certainly did look like the product of a major talent agency. More critically, it lacked vital details, such as how the game actually worked and the revenue model. The document did include the names of the entrepreneur and the South American social-media game company, but otherwise did little to build excitement or confidence.
  • Questionable experience: The entrepreneur had held prominent executive positions in major organizations, but her only startup had failed shortly after launch. The game company had success with a children’s product, but had not created anything for adults. No explanation was provided for choosing a distant foreign game developer instead of one of the many L.A. shops.
  • Questionable expertise in social media: Despite being touted as a new media expert, the entrepreneur did not have a Twitter account, and the Facebook and LinkedIn profiles had fewer than 100 connections each. The software company’s owner, who would serve as the game’s CTO, had abandoned Twitter after a short run, and was barely active on Facebook. While many successful executives are not active in social media, their lack of participation in their chosen field raised further doubts.

Next, we met the entrepreneur, who proved to be personable, intelligent, and smoothly enthusiastic while walking us through a demo of the game. We asked numerous questions, and the answers raised a number of red flags:

  • Facebook unaware? Facebook tightly restricts contests on its platform, so we asked about Facebook’s involvement. The entrepreneur’s response: “We think Facebook knows about us.” If this was a major agency project, Facebook should be a partner, least of all have full awareness of it. Otherwise, the game could fail if Facebook disapproved (which happened a few years later to Farmville).
  • Questionable participation by other experts: The entrepreneur named a fitness celebrity (also a client of the talent agency) who would be the resident exercise expert, and showed us the celebrity’s book integrated into the game. What struck us as odd was that the book image wasn’t a scan or official image; rather, the book’s cover had been amateurishly photographed (soft focus) and inserted into the game. This raised flags about the entrepreneur’s technical and marketing savvy.
  • No equity and no payment — only a minority share in the revenue: Rachel was asked to provide her name, photo, consultation, recipes, game ideas, and game supervision, while marketing the game to her sizable fan base. But she was offered only 30% of the game revenue, and the entrepreneur had no projections of what that revenue might be. Given that most new media startups are not profitable, and tend to make money from investors and the stock market, the end result might have been a huge payout to the entrepreneur, while Rachel would receive nothing for her work, brand risk, and time away from her core business and other opportunities. In fact, since the entrepreneur would not cover Rachel’s expenses, the net result could be a loss.
  • 18-month exclusivity clause: In addition, Rachel would be precluded from participation in “similar projects” for 18 months.
  • No marketing: The game would not be advertised, and would rely solely on promotion by Rachel and the other celebrity experts. The entrepreneur pointed to Farmville and other kids’ games as examples of successful ventures based solely on word-of-mouth. However, there’s a significant difference between a free kids’ game and a fee-based adult game (women would have to pay to play). It could take months just to get a few hundred users, if ever, and social games rely on massive numbers of participants to succeed.
  • Potential for cheating: The game relied on players reporting their fitness results honestly, since there would be no way to verify their exercises, diets, and results. The entrepreneur claimed to have tested this game with friends, who did not cheat; that answer came across to us as naïve. Since the actual game would involve strangers paying to compete for material prizes, we felt that cheating was not only guaranteed, but would become the norm for the short life of the game.

The Recommendation

Some people might be tempted to risk involvement with a new media startup promoted by a major talent agency, at the least to build relationships with the key players. But the risk here wasn’t just time and money; Rachel’s brand was at stake. Being associated with a likely failure, surrounded by a cheating controversy, would make it difficult for Rachel to attract future offers, and might even cost her fans and current media deals.

We recommended that she thank the agency and the entrepreneur, and state that she simply didn’t have time to participate right now, but would love to be updated on how the game performs.

The Results

The game never got off the ground. The entrepreneur and the agency parted ways less than a year later.

Rachel focused instead on writing her book, Eat To Lose, Eat To Win, which we helped her develop and promote. It went on to become a best-seller, leading to more media appearances and a paying collaboration with Ninja Blenders.

In 2010, Barnes & Noble’s VP of Product & Marketing personally hired us to critically analyze the bookseller’s social media content and interactions.

Pain Point

Like most booksellers, B&N was hurt by both Amazon and the shift by readers to digital media. The VP wanted to better integrate the company’s social media, digital advertising, and SEO efforts, but wanted to ensure that the social media was first being executed correctly.

The Investigation

We critically analyzed the company’s three major social media presences: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The VP asked us to not bother with competitive comparisons at this stage. Our findings:

Facebook

  • Some personality: The Page had no identified hosts – which would have made the corporation more personable ­– but some of the company’s posts showed humor and warmth.
  • Enthusiastic wall interactions: B&N made 1-2 posts per day on the Page’s Wall, with author events and fun questions (“what character from a book would you most like to date”) generating the most responses. In addition, some customer service issues were resolved, leading to sales.
  • Not enthusiastic discussions: The Page’s Discussions section was not moderated, which allowed users to attack B&N freely. Loyal customers would defend the company, but the lack of an official response to complaints about B&N’s “worst customer service” only lent credence to the complaints.
  • Dysfunctional tab issues: Some of the Page’s Tabs were unused or not working, and should have been deleted. In particular, the Nook tab contained only sales points about the ebook reader, which felt out of character with the friendly tone of the Page’s general posts. It did link to a dedicated Nook Page.
  • Dedicated Nook Page deficiencies: The Nook Page was not branded Barnes & Noble, and was represented by a product photo — no human touch or personality whatsoever. The word “Nook” appeared inconsistently: sometimes all caps, sometimes all lower case. The Page’s Wall consisted of impersonal sales posts, with no interactions by B&N, and the Discussions section consisted of customer complaints with no responses.

Twitter

  • Too many accounts: A search for “Barnes & Noble” on Twitter turned up 20 different profiles, 7 of which were official B&N corporate accounts, none of them actually named “Barnes & Noble.” One official account didn’t turn up at all. The led to consumer confusion over which profile to follow. The accounts also spent a lot of time retweeting each other.
  • Website out of date: Even B&N’s official website was confused about the Twitter accounts, listing one account that no longer existed, omitting one that did exist, and failing to note that two accounts had merged.
  • Not personal: As with Facebook, the Twitter accounts did not have named hosts. The tweets came from a faceless corporation. There was very little interaction with users, with most of the tweets consisting of announcements and a few offers.
  • Inadequate use of Twitter features: Most of the tweets did not have hashtags, which hurt their ability to be discovered by non-followers. In addition, most did not link to the B&N website, which meant they were not helping to drive followers to profitable actions.

YouTube

  • Poorly branded, hard to find: Searching for “Barnes & Noble” on YouTube turned up 12 other videos created by other people before anything created by B&N appeared. The reason: B&N’s videos were labeled BNStudio, with no reference to “Barnes & Noble” except for the video’s opening credits.
  • Low numbers for a major consumer-facing corporation: Despite 314 videos and 16 months of existence, the B&N channel had attracted only 630 subscribers, an aggregate 23,364 views (less than 75 per video), and 16 comments. Even a celebrity video starring Ana Gateyer with her name in the title attracted only 346 views.
  • No social or website integration: The videos were not promoted on Facebook and Twitter. More critically, the videos did not drive users to the B&N website.
  • No hosts: As with the other social media platforms, B&N hosts were nonexistent on YouTube. Authors were interviewed by a faceless corporation.
  • Videos longer than “viral” averages: The author interviews ranged from 8-10 minutes, significantly longer than the 2 minutes suggested for most viral videos.

The Recommendations

  • Make it personal: The purpose of social media is human interaction — not broadcasting announcements. Having named hosts/moderators personalizes the corporation and creates stronger relationships with customers — at the least, consumers are friendlier to a company with a “face.” In addition, B&N needed to respond to every complaint (if not every post), or disable Discussions altogether. Expecting online discussions to moderate themselves is playing with fire.
  • Consolidate and integrate: The B&N website is the hub of all their social activity, so not only should it be up to date on the social accounts, it should provide reasons for customers to follow them on social media. In addition, there’s no value to having so many accounts serving so few people. Consolidating them would allow the social media staff to be more responsive, and obviate accounts retweeting each other. Rather, there should be more cross-platform promotions, e.g., Facebook sharing YouTube videos.
  • Connect with writers: While consumers were overserved with too many social media accounts, not a single one catered to writers, who could be courted for exclusive relationships.

The Results

Corrections were made to the most egregious errors. Unfortunately, the VP of Product & Marketing left the company before most of the changes could be implemented.