Tubetastic: Marketing as a Series of Tubes


This is a guest post by marketing guy, Darren Barefoot.

Over the past couple of months, we’ve been working to devise an effective marketing campaign for ThoughtFarmer. Our goal was to reach out to online influencers in the technology space–bloggers, analysts and journalists (those job titles are getting very blurry these days). We wanted to introduce ThoughtFarmer to these folks, and encourage them to take our wiki-powered intranet solution for a test drive.

After some brainstorming and false starts, we devised Tubetastic, a fake company with a fake logo, a fake org chart and, you guessed it, a fake intranet. If you want to have a look at the site, just ask and we’ll send you access details.

What Were We Thinking?

We undertook an intensive approach to connecting with these influencers. Our thinking is based on a few beliefs:

  • Everyone is really busy. You need to be creative to interrupt the fire hose of inputs.
  • When you work hard to craft an original approach, people respond to it. If you invest a lot of effort, it demonstrates respect for your audience. It says “we value your attention, so we went to a lot of trouble to get some of it”.
  • Marketing works best when your marketing strategy is as close as possible to the thing you’re marketing. It seemed obvious to use a ThoughtFarmer intranet as the centrepiece of this campaign.
  • What do we care most about? Ourselves. Marketing works best when we can see ourselves in the context of the campaign. When influencers visit Tubetastic, they see themselves and their peers.
  • Find the funny. The slogan for Tubetastic is “We make tubes. A whole series of them.” Savvy readers will recognize this as a nod to United States Senator Ted Stevens’ infamous metaphor for the internet. This opening gambit, in theory, entices our audience to log in and find out what the heck is going on. It seems to have worked. Rob Lewis was “instantly curious”.

Here’s how we put the campaign together:

Prepare the Intranet

To start, we invented a fake tube manufacturing company called Tubetastic Inc.

We created fake employee profiles for each influencer. Each profile is a sort of entry interview, with the answers coming from excerpts from their blogs and articles. We left one question unanswered, in the hopes that some folks might offer up their opinion.

Here, for example, is the profile for Sarah Perez of ReadWriteWeb fame:

Though ThoughtFarmer offers a dead sexy interactive org chart, we needed a printable one. We were a bit cheeky, and stuck really popular bloggers in rather junior positions. Robert Scoble is a Tubular Receptionist, while Mike Arrington is the company mascot.

Tubetastic Org Chart

We also wrote a couple of hopefully-amusing short articles to fill out the site a bit. They’re in the style of cheery, boring stories that you might read on your average corporate intranet. One is titled “Our Tubes Are the Shiniest for the Third Year Running.” Here’s how it starts:

As many of you know, our Quality Assurance team participates every year in Tube-o-Rama, the tradeshow and industry challenge in which tube industry employees compete for glory and prizes. For the third year in a row, our tubular QA experts have come home with the trophy for best tube polishing.

“It really was our finest hour,” said Junior Tube Polisher Stowe Boyd. “Our time to shine. And shine we did. We shined those tubes like they were our grandma’s silverware.”

Another story involves the Operations team relocating to Chile. It’s not The Onion, but hopefully they make the occasional reader smile.

It’s the early days of this campaign, but we were pleased when analyst James Governor added his own amusing short piece. It concerns legal action by prog-rock legend Mike Oldfield, who wrote the album “Tubular Bells”.

Prepare the Packages

People are inundated with email. Technologists are also overrun by new channels. Just today Robert posted this to his Twitter feed:

NOTE TO PR PEOPLE AND ENTREPRENEURS: I am far less likely to talk about you or do what you want if you DM me than if you just beg in public.

Instead, we like to send our audience something interesting via snail mail. The natural fit was a faux new employee package. It contained:

  • A welcome letter, which prominently featured login details for the Tubetastic intranet.
  • An employee badge, with their name, job title and photo.
  • The aforementioned org chart, with their name circled.

We couldn’t find actual addresses for everybody, but we did reasonably well. For the remainder, we put digital versions of these assets on the web and contacted them through an online channel (email, IM, Twitter and so forth).

Then we sent out the packages. We’ll follow up in a week or so, to confirm that people received their goodies.

The Risks

This sort of strategy isn’t without risk. Here’s what we saw as potential problems:

  • Nobody notices. This is every marketer’s fear. We’ve done our best to avoid the black hole of apathy.
  • They get creeped out. It’s possible that some folks might be a little weirded out by seeing an employee profile featuring themselves. However, most of these folks live very public lives, so we’re optimistic that it’ll matter less to them than the average person.
  • Snail mail doesn’t work. Either the mail doesn’t get to the actual recipient, or they choose to ignore it. We’re not overly worried about this one. I asked Sarah Perez what she thought of the old-fashioned approach, and she replied, “I thought it was cute! Usually snail mail is junk or bills so it’s nice to get something unexpected.”
  • They publish their login details, and the intranet site gets hammered or covered in graffiti. Too many people looking at ThoughtFarmer is a nice problem to have. We just have to pay very close attention to the site over the next few weeks. We’re mitigating this by providing an easy way to request access.

As Seth Godin says, “safe is risky, and risky is safe”. In our experience, the best campaigns are the ones where we feel queasy about their launch.

Who We Contacted

For the sake of completeness, here’s the list of bloggers, journalists and analysts who we contacted.

Andrew McAfee
Bill Ives
Boris Mann
Brian Lamb
Cameron Moll
Dan Farber
David Crow
Dennis McDonald
Doug Cornelius
Duncan Riley
Erica Driver
Euan Semple
G. Oliver Young
Jack Vinson
James Dellow
James Governor
James Robertson
Jane McConnell
Jason Fried
Jeremiah Owyang
Jevon MacDonald
Jon Husband
Jonas Brandon
JP Rangaswami
Larry Dignan
Lee Bryant
Luis Suarez
Michael Arrington
Niall Cook
Nikos Drakos
Richard MacManus
Rob Lewis
Robert Scoble
Rod Boothby
Roger Johansson
Sarah Perez
Scott Gavin
Shel Holtz
Shiv Singh
Stowe Boyd
Susan Scrupski
Suw Charman
Toby Ward
Tom Dunlap
Tris Hussey

Join The Discussion

  1. Niall Cook

    The campaign was clever and got my attention. I even went to the fake intranet (home page looks a bit wonky in Safari, BTW).

    Cleverer still is this post explaining what you did and how you did it. I’m very skeptical of “personalized” marketing that just sticks your name at the top of a org chart as you expect everyone else to have received one showing them in the same position. Only through this post can I learn that you really *did* make Scoble the receptionist – hahahaha!

    You should publish that org chart here too – it was the best bit of the campaign for me.

    Will it make me buy ThoughtFarmer? No.
    Will it make me recommend ThoughtFarmer? Maybe.
    Will it make me say nice things about ThoughtFarmer? Absolutely.

    Well done guys.

  2. Jeremiah Owyang

    The campaign got my attention, I actually took a look. Considering I’m a professional (that means I get paid) to take pitches, you did a good job of standing out from the rest.

    The messaging for the product needs to be improved, while you got my attention, it wasn’t really clear WHAT the product did, or the value of it’s offerings weren’t clear to me.

  3. Chris

    Niall – Thanks for the feedback! I added the org chart to this post.

    Jeremiah – I’ve been chastened before on our messaging, and apparently we still don’t have it quite right. We’re a wiki-based, people-first intranet platform for behind-the-firewall, Microsoft-based environments. Does that say it?

  4. Euan W Semple

    Hmmm … I wondered who the hell would send me snail mail that didn’t make any sense all the way from Canada, checked with Stowe what it was about, and then ignored it.

  5. Monique

    Great mini case study. And I appreciate you sharing your fears and the outcomes. Best wishes! You’re on my radar now.

  6. Suw

    The Canadian return address piqued my curiosity, and when I opened the package my reactions were, in order: Eh? WTF? Ah! Ha ha ha. *helpless laughter*. (That last bit was the thought of Scoble as a receptionist). The Ah! was upon seeing Darren’s name at the bottom of the letter, as he’d emailed me and asked for my address a while back.

    Mind you, even though I thought it was funny I didn’t know what it was about until I logged on. As it happens, I had a client last year using ThoughtFarmer and I had been meaning to get back in touch with you guys to ask for a log-on to a sandbox or something, so I’m pleased you did this as I want to get up to speed on the changes and developments you’ve made over the last year or so since we last met.

    So I’m a pretty happy bunny, who’s also rather amused by the whole thing. Just don’t let my log-in expire or the website run out any time soon! I need time to find time to play with it!

  7. Chris

    Suw – glad you found our twisted Canadian sense of humour amusing. No worries on the logon, we’ll keep it active for several months.

    Euan – you tough nut you. Sounds like we were a bit too oblique. Next time we’re in London we’ll buy you lunch to make up for the non-sensical snail mail.

  8. Susan Scrupski

    Hi Chris. I’ve scoured my email… I don’t see an invite? Looks cool. I’d like to take it for a spin. 🙂

  9. Susan Scrupski

    Okay. Just read the post and comments more thoroughly. Not sure you have my correct mailing address, perhaps?

  10. Doug Cornelius

    I got the package and it definitely caught my eye. I have to admit that I was very confused about what was going on for while. Although seeing Andrew McAfee as one of my sales associates caught my eye.

    I need to dive back into the site and see what it has to offer.

    I wish there was a little more direction on what to do.

    Look for a future post from me.

  11. Chris

    Susan – we’ll send you an email package. Maybe we got your snail mail wrong.

    Doug – thanks for the feedback. Big thing we wanted was for people to log on and actually see ThoughtFarmer doing what it’s supposed to do: being an easy to use, next-gen intranet. So browse, maybe post a comment, edit your profile, add a news item. In any event, thanks for checking us out!

  12. Ryan Cousineau

    What, I didn’t make the cut?!?! Me and my twenty readers are pissed at this insult!

  13. Chris

    Ryan – terrible oversight on our part! We’ve sent you logon credentials. I trust this patches things up between us.

  14. James Dellow

    G’Day – thanks for the package and it did catch my attention. Just got to get my own marketing campaign for the Enterprise RSS Day of Action (see ) out of the way and I’ll be checking out the intranet for my new job at Tubetastic. 🙂

  15. Jon

    Ahh, Ryan beat me to the obvious comment!

    Looking forward to receiving my position, though…

  16. Jon

    Fast turn around on the comment, I am impressed.

    1st impression of Tubetastic site? It’s a perfect demo. You guys hit the nail squarely on its head with this one.
    I’ll be back to explore it further.

  17. Jon

    I do have an initial recommendation for the Tubetastic site. Have you considered republishing (legally of course) some of the blogs that review the product or the site as the “more news” linked to at the bottom of the Home page? It would be valid content and would go far in clarifying what the site is all about.

    Just a thought at 3:15am…

  18. Theresa

    It’s an interesting choice to include top bloggers in company. I suppose that by having the bloggers use the product and then blog about it, this would increase popularity. Plus it’s a way to narrow down the employees.

    But I wonder: if these people spend so much time online, are they going to have time to play around with a program that may not give them any value? And if they don’t play around with it, are they going to blog about it?

    I am being critical of this very original idea. Perhaps a less high-profile, yet more available audience would have been better. More time to play around, more time to blog, still increases the popularity…

  19. Chris

    Theresa, I agree with your comment — it’s tough to get the attention of top bloggers, and ThoughtFarmer offers them no immediate, personal benefit. However, we felt it was important to get ThoughtFarmer “anchored” in the top blogs. It gives us street cred. And it seems to have worked — we were covered on TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb, among others.

    For our next major marketing push, we won’t focus so much on A-list bloggers. Instead, as you suggest, we’ll be targeting less high-profile but still influential bloggers and media outlets.

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