With the help of Ethan Kanat, Zendesk's marketing team created a campaign to attract users searching for an alternative to Zendesk; all centered around a fake band named "Zendesk Alternative."

With the help of Ethan Kanat, Zendesk’s marketing team created a campaign to attract users searching for an alternative to the customer service software provicer—centered on a fake band named “Zendesk Alternative.”

Ethan Kanat, Zendesk’s Creative Brand Manager, spoke with AdRoll as a part of a series of interviews with original thinkers in marketing. Kanat explained his approach to measuring the success of creative projects and explained how he turned a search term into a marketing campaign centered on a fake grunge band named “Zendesk Alternative.”

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

AdRoll: “How do you balance data-driven strategy and emotionally-driven concepts?”

Kanat: We tend to think of the concept as “the idea” and the data as the “reason for the idea.” The best creative in the world doesn’t really mean anything if it doesn’t serve a purpose. That’s not to say we don’t do things just to be weird or whimsical or whatever—we do. But even those projects come from a well-informed place.

Sometimes they actually work in concert with each other. The Zendesk Alternative project is a good example. Our SEO team came to us with some data about our performance as compared to competitors’ optimized landing pages. A lot of people were searching the phrase ”Zendesk Alternative,” and we were the only ones not taking advantage of it. So, we took that information and created an entire world around this fake alternative band—and it worked. We succeeded in charming our audience and landing the pole position in search results for that term.

AdRoll: What are the top three ingredients for creative that amazes and inspires?

Kanat: Concept is king. If you don’t have a solid concept, then the end result is going to be shit.

Know your audience. It’s a lot easier to craft your message if you know who you’re talking to—and what they want to hear. Always pick the weird idea. This doesn’t work for everybody. To be honest, sometimes it doesn’t even work for us. Still, we always try to surprise people with something unusual. It makes it more fun.

AdRoll: How does data help you tell stories and connect with customers?

Kanat: For us, data is the information behind the action. It helps us unearth the stories themselves. Data helps us figure out where our customers are, what they’re doing, and what they’re looking for. And anytime you have people doing things and looking for answers, you have stories.

AdRoll: What’s the number-one measure of an awesome marketing campaign?

Kanat: Qualified leads. Kidding! As long as we deliver on the brief, then I would say the best measure of an awesome campaign is whether or not we’re proud of it. To outsiders, creative teams and agencies often look like a bunch of liberal arts clowns goofing off all day, but we work hard to do what we do. If, at the end of the day, we feel good enough about the work we produce to put our name on it, then I’d say that’s a win.

AdRoll: “How important is personalization to your advertising campaigns?”

Kanat: To be honest, it isn’t really. As I mentioned above, we need to know our audience so that we can adjust our tone and craft our message. But at the end of the day, we’re telling the story of our brand and our customers. We don’t want to dilute our message trying to be all things to all people. We want to tell a story that helps the right people relate to us.
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