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case study
The $700 Search-Engine Strategy

Using little more than 24 search terms and $700, Jacqueline Deavenport creates a pre-show digital-marketing campaign that doubles her company's lead counts at the International Franchise Expo. By Claire Walling
Put yourself in Jacqueline Deavenport's shoes. "One of the major challenges at the The International Franchise Expo (IFE) is that all of the big franchise brands are there," says Deavenport, marketing manager of Pinot's Palette, a "paint and sip" franchise founded in 2009. "It's really hard to compete because they have budgets that are 10 times what ours is."

IFE is the only trade show the company exhibits in all year. Its primary goal is to bolster brand awareness in hopes of coaxing prospective franchisees to sign on the dotted line and open a Pinot's Palette location in their city. Still, the franchise's relative obscurity and small budget meant that Deavenport needed to find a marketing canvas where Pinot's Palette could stand apart.

Luckily, Deavenport stumbled upon that blank space a few months before IFE 2014. "I searched for the show on Google and saw that none of the exhibitors were using Google AdWords," she says. That discovery gave her an idea: Create a pre-show marketing campaign built on search-engine advertising. "I thought it was low-hanging fruit because I knew that people would be Googling for the show," Deavenport says. When prospects searched for a show-related term, she reasoned, Google could serve them a Pinot's Palette ad at the top of the page.

By The Numbers
This graph illustrates Pinot's Palette's lead counts from the International Franchise Expo before and after Jacqueline Deavenport implemented the company's Google AdWords campaign.
A Blank Canvas
To kick-start the campaign, Deavenport brainstormed keywords that attendees might be searching for before the show, including the show's name, abbreviation, and hashtag. But rather than stopping there, she also added the names of well-known speakers slated to present during the show's seminars and educational sessions. "If someone was searching for a particular speaker they wanted to see at the show, that name would be in our campaign," Deavenport says. "I also included some of the major brands that were going to be at the show as well, so if someone were searching for 'Subway at International Franchise Expo' our ad would be displayed for that search query."

Some search terms have a steep pay-per-click (PPC) rate, Deavenport explains. For example, the word "franchise" cost significantly more than other terms that made her list. Those terms, which had never crossed other marketers' radars, were available for reasonable rates.

"To be honest, I scoured the bargain bin of Google AdWords for terms that were not only economical, but also narrowly focused on my target market," Deavenport says. In all, she settled on 24 different keywords she believed would be heavily searched during the weeks leading up to and following the show, and which she felt would attract her target audience of IFE attendees. And while she's mum on the exact list she compiled – after all, listing the terms would provide competitors a paint-by-numbers template to copy the campaign – Deavenport says that all 24 terms were brainstormed based on the types of information she anticipated attendees would be hunting for online in the weeks before the show. In other words, it's not rocket science.

Five Steps to Google Adwords Effectiveness

Jacqueline Deavenport, marketing manager for Pinot's Palette, took a five-step approach to implementing her company's first Google AdWords campaign. Adopt and adapt her strategy for your next show by following this path to search-engine success.
Step 1
Deavenport Googled the International Franchise Expo and discovered that none of her competitors were advertising using Google AdWords.

Step 2
Deavenport brainstormed keywords she thought IFE attendees would be searching for.

Step 3
She then handpicked search terms that were not only relevant to her target audience, but also inexpensive.

Step 4
When attendees searched for one of Deavenport's keywords, Google served them a Pinot's Palette ad at the top of the page.

Step 5
The accompanying link redirected viewers to a show-specific landing page. There, they could fill out a form to receive a digital brochure and pre-show emails.

Landing Zone
While a PPC campaign would help create awareness for Pinot's Palette among a widely cast net of potential franchisees and promote its presence at IFE, Deavenport knew that wouldn't be enough to entice attendees to visit the booth. So to capture lead-qualification information and support the company's show-related goals, she also created a dedicated landing page using a free tool called Unbounce. When ad viewers clicked on the accompanying link, they'd be directed to that page, rather than the Pinot's Palette home page. There, viewers would find information about the company's booth location, as well as its Discovery Day – a day immediately following the show devoted to one-on-one meetings with highly qualified prospects. They could also input their names and email addresses into a form on the landing page to receive a digital brochure about the franchise.

The form also included hidden fields, which auto-populated with a query string that contained information on exactly what search term had brought visitors to the landing page. That feature gave Deavenport an encyclopedia's worth of data on the performance and conversion rate of each keyword. "The system keeps track of who views the page, how many times they view it, and how long they view it," she says. "Not only that, but it also allows us to track a lead from click to sale and attribute it to a single source." So with a PPC campaign underway and a landing-page strategy in place, Pinot's Palette prepared for IFE 2014 in New York.

Strategic Search
In the four weeks leading up to IFE, Internet users searching for any of the 24 words on Deavenport's list were served Pinot's Palette ads, and those that clicked the links were redirected to the landing page. However, not all visitors saw the same content. Deavenport used Unbounce's A/B testing to evaluate how viewers reacted to various design tweaks, such as the font type and the color of the button that said "Learn more!" Viewers were unaware that there were multiple versions of the landing page, but Unbounce provided Deavenport with information on dwell time, conversion rate, etc. that helped her to refine and optimize her execution.

Regardless of the version of the landing page they hit, visitors could subscribe to pre-show emails and review the basics about Pinot's Palette's activities at the show. "Even before the trade show happened, we had contact information for attendees thanks to this campaign, which allowed us to relay information about our special events and target them before they arrived on site."

Deavenport revived the campaign for 2015 and cut or replaced keywords that had performed poorly the previous year.
The resulting pre-show buzz and increased awareness helped Pinot's Palette lure attendees past competitors' booths to its 10-by-10-foot space. Even attendees who hadn't seen the digital advertisements followed the herd across the show floor to the small exhibit. "When there are a lot of people at your booth, that just attracts more and more traffic because people want to see what the hubbub is about," Deavenport says. There, booth visitors could chat with the company's founders about opening a franchise. Booth staffers also gave attendees coupons valid at a nearby franchise, which would allow them to experience a Pinot's Palette outing free of charge.

By the time the doors to the exhibit hall closed on the last day, the company had racked up 432 leads – double the previous year's 215 leads – at least 13 percent of which were directly attributable to its digital-marketing efforts. What's more, that excitement carried over to the franchise's Discovery Day, where attendance increased by 100 percent. Those results are even more impressive when analyzed alongside the digital campaign's price tag: a mere $700.

Remaking a Masterpiece
The 2014 campaign proved so successful that Deavenport resurrected it for IFE 2015. "The first year was just about trial and error to see if it would work," she says. "Everything we did in 2014 was aimed at making the following year's campaign bigger and even better."
To streamline her efforts and optimize effectiveness for IFE 2015, Deavenport eliminated the A/B testing component (which indicated how different colors and fonts impacted click-through rates) and used the landing page that had performed the best in 2014.
One of those tweaks included revamping the campaign's time frame. In 2014, Deavenport scheduled the campaign to take place four weeks before the trade show and two weeks after it. "I based my timetable on what the show was doing to market itself, but what we found in 2014 is that two weeks after the event was a little bit too short," she says. "We cut the paid advertising off during the period of time that had the highest level of search traffic." Deavenport adjusted accordingly in 2015, and tacked two extra weeks of advertising onto the back end of the campaign.

Deavenport didn't simply copy and paste the 2014 Google AdWords list of search terms; instead, she dropped some terms and revised others, arriving at a list of 20 keywords (in contrast to the previous year's 24 search terms). Moreover, to streamline her efforts, she eliminated the A/B testing component and instead opted for the landing page that performed best during the previous year's campaign.

Additionally, the company's show-floor activities underwent some artistic adaptations. Pinot's Palette upgraded to a 10-by-20-foot booth for the first time and brought along one of its artist trainers to facilitate an in-booth activity. The staffer invited interested attendees to take a dollop of paint and contribute to one of two community canvases depicting the skyline of Manhattan, where the show was located. Those modifications helped Pinot's Palette once again increase the franchise's brand awareness – and tally 322 leads in the process, 52 of which were directly attributable to the digital campaign. Furthermore, the impressive results were also achieved with a modest budget of less than $1,000.

Realizing that she had cut the 2014 campaign off during peak search traffic, Deavenport tacked on an additional two weeks of advertising after the 2015 show.
While Deavenport's Google AdWords strategy didn't replace tried-and-true tactics for in-booth interaction, it did augment the company's trade show efforts. "This campaign helped us obtain significantly more leads at a very low cost, and we were able to compete with some of the larger brands in an area where folks just weren't advertising," she says. "Plus, we got attendees' contact information prior to the show so we marketed directly to them, and a number of attendees actually sought us out in the exhibit hall and told us that they had seen our online advertising before the show."

Deavenport's digital-marketing campaign proves that you don't have to be the marketing equivalent of Michelangelo or Monet to come up with a search-engine strategy. All it takes is a little legwork – and a bit of blank canvas. E

Searching for Leads
Want to try your hand at an integrated Web-based advertising campaign? Digital-marketing expert Andy Marsh, managing partner at Elmhurst, IL-based TagPrints Digital, shares a few tips.

Killer Keywords
"When choosing pay-per-click search terms, think like your target audience," Marsh says. "They're the ones who are searching and clicking your keywords." Avoid internal or industry jargon that your target audience may not be familiar with.

Marsh also recommends bidding on long-tail keywords, i.e., searchable phrases that use three or more words and aim to target a very specific aspect of your business. For example, consider "exhibit technology applications" versus just "exhibits." "They tend to have a lower search volume and lower competition level, so their cost-per-click price is lower," he says.

Reconnaissance Mission
Don't just assume which search terms will do well — do some basic keyword research first. "The Google AdWords Keyword Planner is a useful tool that matches your list of keywords with a competition level, monthly search volume, and estimated cost-per-click," Marsh says. "Marketers will generally want to use words with a high search volume and lower level of competition."

One-Stop Shop
The fundamental purpose of a landing page is to grab visitors' attention and disseminate information quickly. "Landing pages should be visually stimulating with attention-grabbing graphics and headlines, concise text, and a clear call to action," Marsh says.
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