It’s always interesting to me when the proverbial emperor is in search of new clothes.
Like the time-honored fable, Cask – an innovative company that lives and works in the ServiceNow ecosystem – had done an outstanding job of enabling digital transformation for its clients. But when it came to telling their story and harnessing digital marketing tools to promote itself, it wasn’t quite as masterful.
The story of how Cask evolved its brand and turned digital marketing into a dominant force in the ServiceNow space – leading to 40 percent year-over-year growth for four consecutive years – is an object lesson that is worth studying for any B2B leader.
I recently had the chance to chat with Jason Rosenfeld, who heads up corporate and growth strategy for Cask; and Neil Anderson, a fractional Chief Marketing Officer who partnered with Jason and his team to affect real, measurable marketing change.
In its history, Cask has developed a reputation as a leading digital transformation partner – developing outstanding deliverables for many Fortune 500 companies, and earning Elite Partner status with software company ServiceNow.
Through the ServiceNow alliance, Cask had the opportunity to be introduced to prospects throughout the U.S. – a gambit which, if successful, would provide extraordinary growth potential for the company. “We had some great differentiators, but we knew that we needed to improve the way we tell our story,” Rosenfeld said.
In the summer of 2017, Rosenfeld and Cask CEO Mark Larsen were introduced to Anderson – a longtime member of the Chief Outsiders stable of fractional CMOs and one with a strong background in marketing strategy for both services and software organizations.
In his initial fact-finding process, Anderson learned that Cask had a bold vision and the resources to make it happen – but insisted on a marketing program that was measurable in its effectiveness. “They were willing to invest, but only if they could see their way to the potential return,” Anderson said.
The initial challenge to overcome: How to pull the emotional “levers” that foster adoption for an intangible, bespoke product that can’t be demonstrated very easily.
Anderson and Rosenfeld started their work with something called a “brand house” – essentially, a mission statement on steroids that identified and articulated the what (offers), the why (customer pain) the who (ideal customers), the how (differentiators), and the “so what” (beneficial outcomes). Some non-trivial research and interviews with customers and employee interviews helped grease the skids.
It was through this iterative process that the team identified the heart of Cask’s uniqueness – a company that functions both as artists and engineers to bring together measurable outcomes for their clients. “We realized that this perspective helped us identify who we are – not only to our core external markets, but internally as well.”
Sidenote: Cask calls its team members “Coopers.” Coopers were the artisan engineers who hundreds of years ago developed the casks that forever transformed the way grain and alcohol were moved and stored.
Connecting these dots helped form the core of the Cask message – something that was useful in creating a go-to-market strategy, to be sure, but even helped to identify attributes the company was looking for in its recruiting efforts.
Next up – letting Cask’s roster of successful deployments, and happy customers, speak for themselves.
“We're a services organization,” said Rosenfeld, “so you're only as good as the work that you do. Having those customers and references really resonated emotionally.”
The ribbon on top of the brand house was a new tagline that cinched all the key elements together – “Transforming the Way People Work.”
Communicating on an emotional level was a strategy that started to pay off for Cask but really was put to the test during the early days of the COVID pandemic. Rosenfeld explains: “We got a call from ServiceNow one Thursday. One of their customers was the City of Los Angeles, and they had a dire need to deploy COVID tests to its population. The timeframe was immediate. We worked through the weekend before the mayor was to launch the testing program, and were able to get a COVID testing application up and running on the ServiceNow platform by the time the mayor spoke.”
The ability to organize COVID testing activities for the nation’s second-largest city – in a fast and orderly fashion – became a nationwide model and led to additional technology innovations deployed by Cask to help the city of Los Angeles deal with COVID.
The success in LA was yet another example that could be deployed to support Cask’s content machine. Anderson and Rosenfeld executed a content-driven program that included such case studies, as well as thought leadership stories, inbound marketing calls-to-action, and other ways to flex Cask’s subject matter expertise around digital transformation.
“We took a long-tested journalistic approach, hiring professional writers, interviewers, and researchers to unlock the insights of our subject matter experts,” said Anderson. “These insights powered blogs, eBooks, social media, videos, and even conference and seminar talks.”
The content engine, today, churns out more than 20 distinct pieces of content each week, year over year. Though the first inbound lead to convert through this strategy was a champagne-cork-popping moment, it now happens “on a regular basis,” Rosenfeld says.
Layered into the content marketing approach are a robust set of analytical tools that help measure the efficacy and success of the content, look at lagging and leading indicators in the marketplace, and provide insights that can be parlayed into new service offerings. “It’s great to understand, on a weekly basis, how your team is performing,” Rosenfeld says.
One final piece of Cask’s re-imagined marketing program is the advent of an Industry Forum – an initiative spearheaded to assemble the body of leaders in digital transformation, even those from competitive interests. The inaugural meeting was held at the ServiceNow Knowledge Show held in Las Vegas in 2019. It helped catalyze customers, experts, corporate CTOs and CIOs behind this new organizational effort. “It was especially useful during COVID as a means of keeping customers and the industry connected,” said Rosenfeld.
Rosenfeld and Anderson offer these three keys to like-minded companies who wish to emulate the success experienced at Cask: