This case story describes our 8+ year thought leadership and digital marketing relationship with the nation’s leading research center focused exclusively on the middle third of the U.S. economy.
A collaboration between The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, Chubb Insurance, Grant Thornton LLP, and Cisco Systems, the National Center for the Middle Market is the leading source of knowledge, leadership and innovative research on middle market of the U.S. economy. Rattleback has been the Center’s brand, thought leadership and digital agency since the Center launched in 2011. Since then, we have helped the Center grow from a fledgling entity marketing an unknown concept into a nationally recognized institution that has authored the largest body of research and insight on the critical U.S. middle market economy. Specifically, we’ve partnered with the Center to:
Phase 1: Establishing the Brand
No Brand or Web Presence
The National Center for the Middle Market launched in October 2011 at the first Middle Market Summit, hosted by GE and CNBC. At the event, the Center shared the first definitive research describing the makeup of the U.S. Middle Market and the unique characteristics of high growth companies. The launch was historic, with massive national media exposure. But afterward, the Center went quiet – at least online. People could find information on the Summit, but it was impossible to find anything on the Center. The leadership team quickly became worried that it was losing much of the initial energy and momentum created by its offline launch.
National Center for the Middle Market
Build An Interim Web Presence and Establish a Unique Brand Identity
While the long-term vision was a robust thought leadership platform designed to attract and engage middle market executives, the Center desperately needed an interim solution. Rattleback built the interim website in just eight weeks and helped the Center launch online in January 2012.
At the same time, the Center’s leaders recognized the need to have its own independent voice and brand, distinct from its founding sponsors (GE Capital and Fisher College of Business). Having launched so quickly, the Center’s initial brand was a mash-up, combining visual assets and fonts from both its sponsors. The Center needed a logo and messaging platform that were distinctly its own and the resulting independent brand and endorsement strategy have proven to be critical steps as the Center’s sponsors have changed over time.
Phase 2: Developing an Effective Website for Thought Leadership
Introduce an Unknown Audience to Newly Available Research
From day one, the Center had an ambitious thought leadership plan with nearly $1 million worth of annual research initiatives already on the agenda. Even while recognizing the need to create a quick interim site, the Center was already looking ahead and thinking about the more substantial web platform it would need to present its research and effectively attract and engage middle market leaders.
Develop a Conversion-Based Website
Rattleback helped the Center develop a web platform that would enable it to both build an audience for its thought leadership and learn from the behaviors of that audience. The Center wanted a data-driven solution that could deliver intelligent insight about the interests of the middle market, quantify its reach into middle market companies, and provide an indicator of its level of engagement with executives.
Rattleback created the comprehensive web platform and helped the Center launch in October 2012. With its delivery came more in-depth analytics including visibility into who was consuming what content, which content was leading to the best interactions, and insight into engagement and performance of the Center’s many forms of thought leadership, including research reports, economic indicators, blog posts, and videos. The site was also integrated with the Center’s CRM (Salesforce) and a marketing automation solution (Act-On), enabling the ability to both segment and nurture its marketing list based on interests and behaviors.
Phase 3: Engaging the Audience
Attraction Is High, But Engagement Is Low
From the beginning, the Center and Rattleback recognized translating the Center’s substantial research activities into elegant web content would be a critical long-term objective. The initial data gleaned from the site helped us better understand the audience’s wants and needs and showed us which content was proving most valuable. Additionally, we learned much of the Center’s applicable insights, were not being found, explored, and put into practice as much as they could be. Our focus became making the Center’s thought leadership more accessible and more engaging by improving content pathways and exploring better ways for executives to interact with the data and put the insights to work
Making Content More Applicable and Accessible
Rattleback helped the Center build an “end-to-end” digital strategy around each research release with digitally-native assets that present the information in different ways to engage learners when, where and how they learn. We split each research story out into a series of key findings, infographics, blog content, social posts, video, and framework tools that all point to a long-form research report in HTML format utilizing interactive content. The resulting content collection engages visitors with a wider range of learning styles and formats. When it came to the Center’s pillar Middle Market Indicator, we supplemented the story with industry and regional infographics, video, and an interactive trending tool.
To unlock the vast library of peer data inside each of the Center’s in-depth research studies, Rattleback helped the Center think through and prototype ideas for making the data more usable to executives. To date, three interactive tools have been developed for middle market leaders to benchmark their working capital management, executive compensation packages, supply chain resiliency, or overall company performance.
Reimagining the Online Reading Experience
Beyond making research more useful, Rattleback helped the Center explore how to improve access and contextual relationships within a content library that had grown exponentially over the years. Leveraging insights from web and behavioral analytics, Rattleback undertook the largest website enhancement since initial launch to redesign the entire user experience to better align families of research while introducing dynamic filters for popularity, recency, topic, and format.
Phase 4: Expand the Digital Reach
Scale Up and Improve Speed to Market
When the Center first opened in 2011, the middle market was an unknown concept. Today, the middle market is well-understood by business communities, media, and policymakers. The Center, working with a growing list of partners each year, continues to develop and add to its vast body of content on topics most critical to the middle market’s continued growth. With its web presence and content development model operationalized, the Center’s most recent and ongoing challenge has been expanding its reach while improving its speed to market.
Process Improvement and Introducing Paid Amplification
Speed to Market
Rattleback helped the Center refine the speed at which it can deliver content. By continuing to hone the process and approach, once data is in hand, we have helped the Center get its quarterly Middle Market Indicator to market in just four weeks while being able to launch a full research initiative in a matter of eight weeks. Internal efficiencies were also gained with the development of a sponsor-only online platform to improve sharing of assets and collaboration between the Center and its sponsors.
In 2018, the Center began using a paid media approach to dramatically expand the reach and consumption of new research initiatives. Rattleback helped define the appropriate media mix while aligning the appropriate display, search, and social advertisements needed to engage a new wave of middle market business leaders.