October Cover Story: Blanketing the Competition

Boll & Branch’s Missy and Scott Tannen
Missy and Scott Tannen, co-founders of Boll & Branch.

“We are honored to be the DRMA Marketer of the Year, as we have been focused on crafting an effective direct marketing strategy since we started in 2014,” says Cally Everett, vice president of marketing for Summit, N.J.-based Boll & Branch. “We have always made decisions as a company based on what’s right for us, not what our competitors are doing, and it’s encouraging to see that our approach is resonating with consumers and other marketers alike. We will continue to expand our reach through direct marketing and are excited to continue testing and optimizing across channels through holiday and the coming year.”

Thanks to its powerful omnichannel messaging across online and offline media, especially during key gifting and shopping cycles, Boll & Branch edged fellow nominees Monster Worldwide and Highmark Health — all first-time nominees for the honor — to win the ninth annual DRMA Marketer of the Year Award.

The competition allowed the three nominees to highlight up to three products or campaigns during the past 12 months. The nominees were then submitted to voters from across the performance-based marketing industry. Online voting, held Sept. 5-15, garnered more than 900 votes in the competition.

Boll & Branch — launched by the husband-and-wife team of Scott and Missy Tannen in 2014 — prides itself on a close evaluation of metrics and trials of new media. With a highly differentiated and quality product, Boll & Branch is able to communicate its value proposition across such channels as radio (terrestrial, satellite, and podcast), TV, internet display, and more. The company especially capitalized in radio during the fourth-quarter 2016 election cycle, while also focusing key efforts around such benchmark dates as Black Friday, Christmas, and Mothers’ Day. According to Everett, Boll & Branch expects to continue its string of profitable years in 2017.

Monster Worldwide, the $500 million annual revenue job search and career resources leader based in Weston, Mass., spent much of the past year focused on reinvigorating its brand equity through multimedia campaigns (TV, online video, internet display, social media, and out-of-home, among other outlets) that reached more than two-thirds of millennials and increased the company’s ad awareness by more than 50 percent. The marketing team also grew new accounts by 43 percent year-over-year, while activating a more engaged user base — job views grew by 31 percent — thanks to a “full-funnel” marketing approach that relied on powerful media and messaging integration across media outlets.

Pittsburgh-based Highmark Health — the fourth-largest Blue Cross and Blue Shield-affiliated company in the United States, with more than 5.2 million members and 2016 annual revenue of $18.2 billion — uses insights and partnerships to create a new kind of healthcare system, as well as its marketing. The company’s plans have four times the numbers of providers participating in value-based programs, lowering cost of care by 10 percent, on average. The company credits its 40,000 employees with their commitment to service, while also noting that its knack for innovation and forward thought powers both its service offerings and marketing efforts — which cross all media outlets from TV to radio to print to online.

“The ninth DRMA Marketer of the Year competition represented what’s best about the evolving marketing world. As media, technology, and commerce collide, marketers like Boll & Branch, Monster, and Highmark are at the pinnacle of reaching consumers along every point of their journey to purchase,“ says John Yarrington, publisher of Response and co-founder of the DRMA. “Boll & Branch’s victory in voting among DRMA members and other industry leaders shows how powerful the mix of online and offline marketing media can be. DRMA members — marketers, agencies, and supply chain leaders — understand more than anyone how the success of any of our three great nominees rests with the power of performance-based marketing.”

Boll & Branch’s Missy and Scott Tannen.
Boll & Branch: Quality Products, Insightful Marketers

“The nomination for — let alone winning — the DRMA Marketer of the Year Award reflects our strategic approach to direct marketing during the past year — and since our company’s inception,” says Everett. “Scott Tannen, founder and CEO of Boll & Branch, has roots in the marketing industry and has ensured the company utilizes the most effective strategies and tactics when marketing to consumers.”

Everett contends that demand for Boll & Branch’s products continues to grow, but the company came to a key realization in 2017. “We can continue to scale our classic options and create more sheeting options in our signature weave without cannibalizing our existing products,” she says. “Two examples of this were our Dune Hemmed Sheet Set and our Striped Sheet Set. Both were variations of our most popular product, and we sold out in record time, which forced us to shift forecasts due to increased demand.”

The Striped Sheet launch happened in July, with an integrated marketing campaign across display, social media, email, and paid search. Boll & Branch sold out of its first shipment in a few days and all of its shipments completely sold out before the end of the month. The company teased the product across several channels, partnered with influencers, and launched the sheets with a tie to the 4th of July. Though historically a weak time for retail without promotions, Boll & Branch was able to generate interest and sales and serve its most effective digital ads of the year.

The company’s marketing strategy across terrestrial radio, satellite radio, and podcasts also proved especially effective during the past year. Everett says Boll & Branch locked in exclusives with key hosts and personalities and determined the right flighting strategy for each one to maximize efficiency.

Boll & Branch expanded its offerings in
2017, including two new lines backed by
campaigns that enjoyed great success:
the Dune Hemmed Sheet Set and the
Striped Sheet Set.
The company’s social media and influencer strategy also played a pivotal role to remind prospective customers of its brand, share new product launches, and drive them to purchase.

“We have also begun to make more essential bedding products like our Waffle Blanket and Heritage Quilt,” Everett adds. “We have seen great success with both of these items, and they give customers the opportunity to shift all of their bedding to our high quality, 100-percent organic cotton products. As we build our product line and learn from new launches, we are diversifying our factories while maintaining our strict ethical standards.”

Everett says Boll & Branch has succeeded in today’s consumer-centric marketing world thanks to its focus on reaching them when, where, and how they choose. “In the current retail climate, it is key to make things easier for consumers and to ensure that the brand experience is consistent across platforms,” she says. “Whether it’s an email newsletter, blog post, or a conversation with our customer service team, Boll & Branch is dedicated to making sure we’re constantly putting our best foot forward, offering an elevated and seamless experience for our customers. We are incredibly responsive to our customers and are consistently asking them for feedback and adjusting our communication strategy and product selection to better meet their needs.”

That kind of responsiveness relies on data expertise that starts with investments in technology. Everett says the Boll & Branch team is always looking for a leg up in this area. “We continue to find smart ways to incorporate customer data into our methodology for everything from developing physical retail to email campaigns. By learning more about how people interact with our communications and who our customers are, we are able to better tailor the experience of shopping with us to suit their needs and wants. For example, we noticed we have strong customer bases in suburban areas across the country, so we decided to open our flagship retail store in a high-traffic suburban shopping destination,” she says.

Everett calls that retail store opening — in The Mall at Short Hills (N.J.) — the company’s most significant accomplishment of 2017. “We’re lucky to have an extremely diverse customer base as a direct-to-consumer business, with customers in all 50 states who range from young professionals investing in their first set of luxury sheets to empty nesters who were fed up with traditional options,” she adds. “For us, the flagship retail location in The Mall at Short Hills is an opportunity to reach people who might not shop online or feel comfortable ordering bedding without feeling it first. It’s an opportunity to build on our tailored and unparalleled customer experience to make Boll & Branch even more accessible. We hope that our existing customers will stop by to see the products, new and old, and that newcomers will witness first-hand what sets us apart from other home brands.”

The store opening also presages Boll & Branch’s focus for the coming year. “We are focused on increasing tangible moments and experiences with our brand during the next 12 months,” Everett says. “After the launch of our flagship store in August, we will be building out our physical retail experience to ensure a seamless experience across platforms. We plan to expand our retail footprint, and we’re excited to have customers across the country experience our brand and products for themselves. We have also begun testing direct mail and are excited to scale this up as an acquisition channel in 2018.”

Everett also believes Boll & Branch is well positioned to continue its success in a shopping environment that’s more driven by consumer expectations of quality than ever.

“Successful products in the coming year will be those that are extremely well-made and can stand the test of time,” she says. “Consumers today are savvy researchers and can easily access all of the reviews and details they could ever need to make a purchase decision. Also, successful products must stand up to scrutiny in terms of ethical supply chains and sustainable materials — not only do products need to be high-quality, but they need to offer consumers a lifestyle they can be proud of. Spending money should always be an investment and consumers today understand the value of their dollar in a larger sense than ever before — now that we can visualize the impact of using organic cotton or ethical labor.”

Monster Worldwide’s Brian Costello and Chris Owen.
Monster Worldwide: A ‘Reignited’ Brand

“It’s a great honor,” says Chris Owen, Monster’s New York-based director of global integrated media, of the company’s nomination for DRMA Marketer of the Year. “We pride ourselves on accountable marketing and to be recognized as a leader in that is a great validation of all our hard work and strategy.”

Owen adds that the company’s biggest accomplishment of the past year was the use of performance-based marketing strategies to power its brand rebirth.

“We’ve reignited the latent brand equity that we had built in the early years of our brand,” he says. “Our new ‘Purple Monster’ campaign has helped us grow both short-term metrics — like new accounts and job clicks — and long-term metrics, like ad awareness and our brand health index.”

It’s two biggest campaigns of 2017 — the Candidate Search Engine Marketing campaign launched in January and the multimedia “Get the Job You Deserve” campaign which bowed in late May — both saw success crucial to the company’s strong year.

By branching across all media outlets, including
Facebook (above), Monster Worldwide has
“reignited” its brand and driven powerful
response metrics.

The Candidate SEM campaign “impacts various KPIs (key performance indicators)” according to Owen. The Monster team identified “Job View” as the most critical KPI and set a 10-percent year-over-year increase as the goal. Thanks to keyword expansion, automated bidding, and copy testing (including leveraged language from its TV campaigns), Monster’s job views are up 37 percent against 2016 results.

The “Get the Job You Deserve” campaign included TV, online video and display, social media, and out-of-home targeted at millennial job seekers to grow awareness, affinity, and — ultimately — adoption. Following launch, Monster’s ad awareness jumped 53 percent, leading to increases in key business metrics:

  • 37-percent growth in new accounts
  • 26-percent growth in job clicks
  • 15-percent growth in applications per job posting

That success fits within the overall concept of Monster — “to be the leading global talent platform connecting jobs and people,” Owen says, adding, “To do that, we have to develop and nurture a robust audience of job candidates using our site and tools. So our three-pronged approach — using brand-building campaigns to get them to consider Monster, using content marketing to provide resources for the job search, and using job-based response tactics like SEM to spur immediate action — really fits perfectly and helps us make those connections to jobs.”

That approach also fits the consumer-centric marketing world of 2017 — and beyond. “From a marketing perspective, we’re adapting to changing media consumption habits by going heavy on advanced TV and video-on-demand (VOD) platforms — like Hulu, Roku, and YouTube — to reach cord cutters,” Owen says. “We’re also using tactics that minimize disruption, like native content and testing in short-form six-second bumper ads on YouTube. We even turned the idea on its head a bit, with a video ad that says, ‘Monster knows you hate your viewing to be interrupted … but Monster knows the job you want,’ which got a lot of great feedback on social media.”

Capitalizing on technological advances is the only way for Monster — or just about any other marketer — to stay relevant today. “Tech helps us get closer to 1:1 marketing at scale, by driving relevance and personalization of our advertising and our site experience,” Owen says. “We have more than 5 million jobs, and hundreds of thousands of new resumes each month, so we have the long-tail of jobs for any job seeker, and candidates for any employer. The trick is matching that all up to the right person, and that’s what technology like dynamic ad serving and site personalization tools will help us do.”

Looking ahead, Owen contends Monster is looking to continue the momentum it’s gained during the past 12 months. “We just launched ‘Phase 2’ of our brand campaign, which will continue through the fall, and we’re actively working on how to further accelerate in 2018,” he says.

Unsurprisingly, then, Monster’s work fits within Owen’s vision of what products and services are set to thrive in 2018 and beyond.

“It’s a bit cliché, but those products and services that put the customer’s needs first, are top-quality, and provide value for the price will always win,” he says. “Today, with social media and free review sites permeating the landscape, customer feedback is immediate and public, so lesser-quality products will be exposed quickly, while great quality will thrive on the virtuous cycle of trial and positive feedback. The game is no longer about getting shelf space at retail; it’s about getting top rankings and reviews on Google and Amazon.” 


Highmark Health’s Chris Zdanowski-Pattison.
Highmark Health: Care for the Customer

“It is an honor,” says Chris Zdanowski, director strategic marketing for commercial markets, senior markets, and retail stores ­at Highmark Health, of the company’s first nomination for DRMA Marketer of the Year. “We’re always looking for ways to have our work evaluated by third parties — to see how to improve and what’s working well for our customers. It is great to get input and insight from the best of the best.”

Highmark markets a wide variety of affordable and robust healthcare plans and product offerings that serve up to 50 million Americans in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. With a task that vast, it’s crucial that the marketing team is as innovative and forward thinking as its product and service offerings.

Zdanowski says the company’s biggest accomplishment in 2017 is responding quickly and effectively to the constant change in the healthcare and health insurance spaces. “For Highmark Health, there’s been a turnaround in a number of business areas — the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the health system — and a move toward value-based care. We are now seeing the outcomes of this — and how it’s changing healthcare for the better. We’re trying to make a real difference and do healthcare like it should be done,” she says.

Two campaigns — one launched in March, the other in April — helped drive Highmark’s 2017 success: the “Ask the Doctor” campaign (featured in Response’s June issue cover story) and a State of Delaware Blue Hen Open Enrollment campaign.

The “Ask the Doctor” campaign featured three 30-second TV spots and 15-second pre-roll online videos, as well as print, direct mail, and other digital facets designed to get customers (and prospective customers) to use the company’s “Doc Talk Checklist” to make sure they were focused on the care and questions they needed answered. The results were strong: a 10-percent response rate measured by doctor-signed checklists; 450 non-member leads; and nearly 300,000 online views.

Highmark Health found that humor was an
effective marketing tool in its "Ask Your Doctor"
TV campaign.

Zdanowski says that Highmark tried something new with the campaign — and it worked. “Using humor in our Medicare marketing and advertising has been a game changer for us,” she says. “It’s not something we ever used in the past, but seeing the positive results and customer engagement has been incredibly rewarding. It’s really transformed the way we do marketing here, and helped us break through the competitive clutter — which, in Pennsylvania, is significant.”

The Delaware campaign was in response to national competitors entering the Delaware market, where Highmark is a leader. The company needed to retain state employees by positioning itself as Delaware’s first choice.

The campaign, branded with Delaware’s state bird, highlighted Highmark’s 80 years of local service and promoted its plans via TV, pre-roll video, print, out-of-home, digital, and radio. And the results were astounding:

  • 97-percent customer retention
  • $3.4 million in revenue on a $1.2 million spend
  • A 3-percent uptick in brand awareness
  • Digital success: 8.6 million impressions; 522,000 online video completions, and 15,000 landing page visits

The campaign also suggests that Highmark’s continuing efforts to improve its marketing technology is succeeding. “The ability to use real-time data has completely changed the way we do business — whether it allows us to lower our cost-per-lead or give patients a better healthcare experience,” Zdanowski says.

As always, however, customers — both consumers and business-to-business — remain the key to Highmark’s success. “As a company, our core behaviors and objectives are centered around the customer,” Zdanowski says. “This always informs how we do business, develop products and services, and produce campaigns. We always think of it through this lens.”

She adds, “We will continue to map out our ‘Living Proof’ story, which is the idea that our campaigns are built on proof, not promises. This insight will also continue to drive our B-to-B campaign, ‘There’s Value in That,’ which is aimed at employer groups to demonstrate and prove current and future healthcare savings. As for Medicare, we’ll continue to use humor to talk about complex topics, so that users continue to engage in their health — and live a better life as a result.”

Zdanowski is confident that Highmark is well positioned for success in these ongoing campaigns — as well as to produce new efforts in the ever-changing healthcare space.

“The notion of value-based care is one that will survive and thrive in 2018,” she says. “This means that the care will be based on the patient, not a fee or number of office visits. We live by this idea of patient-centered, clinician care that is defined by the members’ needs and paid off by controlled costs and the idea that providers are the patient’s partner — we define the options and the patients choose what works for them. Currently, we do this in collaboration with Penn State Health, Johns Hopkins, Allegheny Health Network (AHN), Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN), Geisinger Health, and more.”