Team communication product Ryver wanted to get the word out about its service, which runs similarly to Slack but is completely free. Competing against a household brand like Slack, the marketing team decided the only choice was to directly attack Slack on Twitter in an effort to incite fans into drawing attention to Ryver.
Read how Ryver’s value proposition was used in direct opposition to areas where Slack was lacking and proved the theory that all publicity is good publicity.
Focused on educating small businesses and enterprise prospects about its relatively new business category, Ryver Inc. is the only free team communication tool available.
Team Communications is the name of the free product, and the Ryver Task Manager, which is an add-on, works within it, said Pat Sullivan, CEO, Ryver Inc.
Ryver was actually founded before its industry rival, Slack, but were focused on building up a large suite of enterprise productivity tools before realizing it needed to pivot. The team stripped away everything except the most popular tool — the team communication module.
By the time it had made this pivot, Slack had launched and become incredibly popular. The company found itself in a unique position where it appeared to the world as a follower copying Slack. However, the team had a mature product with some features that were even more advanced than Slack.
“We were a new product entering a space where there was a competitor who had become a phenomenon. Slack had become the Goliath in a new category. The problem was, ‘OK, how do you come into a new category and get awareness and attention when everybody is focused on something else?’” said Sullivan.
He and his team found that their customers were falling into two groups. Those who had never heard of Slack, and those who were Slack users and fans who needed to be converted.
The elephant in the room, he added, was that everyone was asking how Ryver compared to Slack.
“It was the number one thing people asked. So, why not answer that question immediately? In fact, why not make that question the theme of the introduction, the launch of the product that obviously is designed to compete with, or has to compete with, what has become the darling of this new category?” he asked.
Attacking Slack head on was the most obvious marketing solution to the problem of gaining attention, Sullivan said.
“Anything else would have been nothing but ‘blah, blah, blah’ that nobody listened to and nobody cared about because at the time, the only thing anybody cared about was this cool startup in Silicon Valley named Slack,” he said.
The reality, he added, is that products compete with other products, and most marketers “shrink from the idea of poking the giant in the eye.”
Slack has “fanboys” Sullivan said, and “I knew if we poked their favorite product in the eye, they would talk about us. In fact, they would talk really bad, negative stuff about us, which is exactly what I wanted.”
The Ryver team decided to run a Twitter campaign that would poke at Slack fans enough to cause a stir — and ride the wave that Slack had created. The ad was simple, reading, “Slack is so last year.”
The promoted ad that the team ran linked to a landing page comparing Ryver to Slack, explaining the pros and cons of the product compared to its rival.
Step #1. Come up with a compelling campaign
The theory was that if Slack fans were mad enough, they would talk about Ryver, and thus gain traction for the campaign by getting their followers talking about it.
“If we would have just said, ‘Ryver is a great team communication product, you have to look at it,’ nobody would have cared. We would have spent money on advertising, and it would have been a total waste. By picking a fight, we created controversy, and people talked about it,” Sullivan said.
Some of these fans had as many as 18,000 followers on Twitter, he added, and by raving against Ryver, “Well, they just did us a favor. They just told 18,000 people about this new product. The next thing you know, people go, ‘What is it?’”
At that point, when those people type in Ryver.com, the landing page would directly compare Ryver to Slack.
“We attack them where they are the weakest and we are the strongest,” he said.
Whether it was positive or negative, people were talking about the product. In the beginning at least, it was mostly negative.
“We had to have a very thick skin … people said really nasty things about us because we were directly attacking their favorite product. Yet, that's exactly what I wanted to have happen,” he said.
Within the first and second month, the team saw people turn around from slamming Ryver to defending them.
“We knew we had a very competitive product, and we knew if we could get people to look at it, there would be some who really liked it,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said that it was his job to draw attention to the features of Ryver that Slack doesn’t have, like the fact that it is totally free and has integrated task management.
“It was kind of unusual,” he said. “But the reason we had to do it was because they were a very strong competitor.”
It would only be a detriment to the brand to act like Slack wasn’t a leader in the space. By acknowledging that, he added, they could then answer the question, “Why should I switch?”
Step #2. Stay consistent to the campaign
The most difficult thing was to find a marketing group who agreed with Sullivan’s approach and could execute it.
“The best thing to do was to attack people head on; I talked to several marketing agencies and they were all like, ‘I don't know if I would do that,’” he said.
When he found an agency that saw his vision, the entire team agreed that it had to be done with a clear strategy.
“We prepared 15 different ads, most of which attacked Slack head on, and then we spent very little money. But we tested the 15 ads, and there were clear winners,” he said.
There were three ads out of the 15 who outperformed the others by more than double the amount of engagement. The team focused consistently on those three ads, especially the most popular one that used the tagline, “Slack is so last year.”
“We just did it consistently for several months in a row, and it never did fall off. I learned a long time ago that you get tired of your own ads long before the market does,” he said. “We ran it consistently over and over because it just kept working.”
The team finally did stop the campaign but for a good reason.
“We had gained tens of thousands of users and we were working on the task manager, and I wanted to reserve money for the task manager introduction,” Sullivan said.
Essentially, the campaign had accomplished its goal, and he decided to focus resources on the launch of the task manager — a campaign that took a similar tone, thanks to the success of the “Slack is so last year” effort.
Step #3. Focus on value proposition
With the introduction of the task manager, which Sullivan and his team recently launched, the marketing strategy and tactic is all about attacking Slack.
“We proved it's the only thing that works. When we were running ads against Slack, we also ran ads that didn't attack Slack. We tested ads that didn't attack Slack. Nobody clicked on them. Nobody read them. Nobody cared,” he said.
At the end of the day with this campaign, he said, “If the product isn't any good, I don't care how good your marketing is, you're toast. You might as well pack up and go home.”
The other element of this campaign’s success is having a clear-cut argument to back up the claim. The ad pointed people to a landing page comparing Ryver and Slack, and many follow up answers from Ryver on Twitter sent people to a quick three-minute video explaining the differences.
“If you're going to attack, you have to attack something that you know clear cut, black and white, is true,” he said.
That’s why this campaign focused on the fact that Ryver is free, which is inarguably true. Slack does have a free version, he said, “but it's so crippled that if you really use Slack, you really are going to pay for it. It's just a given. Everybody knows that.”
“We attacked them where they were weak. They charged people $7 or $15 a user. We charge people nothing,” he said. “I wanted to attack their business model, something they weren't likely to change.”
With this compelling value proposition angle on the campaign, he said, there was a chance to get someone to try it based on that.
“Fortunately for us, we had lots of people trying it, and lots of people stuck. Did they all stick? No, of course not. Nobody ever does that. We started getting thousands of users, many of whom [had been] using Slack,” he said.
“[We’re] growing at a rate of around 20% a month,” Sullivan said.
The “Slack is so last year” ad resulted in a 4.49% engagement rate and a 4.38% clickthrough rate. During Ryver's advertising period, it averaged a 4.81% conversion rate with peaks up to 10%.
On Twitter, the ad saw 244 retweets, 749 likes and got 216 comments.
“We accomplished our goal,” he said. “People were aware of Ryver. They were talking about it. They are still talking about it. So, there were legs to the campaign. We started a conversation that continued even after we stopped talking.”
Even though Ryver stopped running the ads, he said, the team was still getting great results.
“It continued to work because it started a conversation. It built awareness,” he said. “That's pretty cool for spending a relatively small amount of money. We didn't have a big budget. But the budget that we had was really effective.”
That campaign lead into a new marketing campaign with the tagline “Slack Lacks.”
“What does it lack? It lacks tasks. We're attacking Slack again in a very objective way. Do they have tasks? No. Does Ryver have tasks? Yes,” he said.
This campaign builds on the previous one, except now, Sullivan said, they’ve added an even more powerful value statement.
“Now, will people remember that? Probably. Will it piss people off? Definitely. So, it's evolved, but we're doing the same thing. We're attacking the giant in the field,” he said.
Monsoon Strategy – Ryver’s campaign marketing consultants
Download the free Quick Guide to Inbound Marketing for B2B
Get the latest case studies and data on email, lead gen, and social media along with MarketingSherpa updates and promotions.
Download a free 54-page report to learn about our latest discoveries based on research with 2,400 consumers.
Social Doubt: Beware the downside of social proof in social media marketing
Customer-First Marketing: How The Global Leadership Summit grew attendance by 16% to 400,000