When one thinks of financial management software, he might conjure a yawn. Not so for the Intuit and Access PR teams, who set out in 2010 to turn this notion on its head. As the economy sputtered, Intuit needed to differentiate itself by elevating its image from accounting software maker to leader in the small business space.
The PR team drove this goal forward through a multi-pronged approach, touting Intuit’s innovation on the product line, strong connection to its customers, and commitment to the SMB community to effectively broaden its image to be synonymous with small business success. The shift has led to enormous (30%) YOY growth in media coverage as well as significant business growth for the small business division due to hefty increases in customer numbers for QuickBooks Online, GoPayment and Websites products.
• Grow “share of customer,” expanding sales of new products such as GoPayment and Intuit Websites
• Reinforce market leadership of flagship product (QuickBooks) and strengthen sales
• Create Intuit image as the champion of small business, bolstered by innovation and relevance
Based on our three main objectives, Intuit and Access set out to find a gap in the market to leverage from both a business and thought leadership perspective. Top-line findings:
• A full-fledged audit of the competitive customer base showed that no competitor had released any significant data that allowed small businesses to compare themselves to their peers in the hiring space, nor did they have the ability to do so as Intuit did. However, the majority of those surveyed said they would rely on and use this information religiously if given the chance.
• Extensive industry research showed that SMBs faced a strong need for, yet severe lack of credit.
• A social media survey found that nine out of ten small business owners rely on their peers for support and advice – especially through tough economic times.
• Customer surveys and follow-me-homes found that the need for mobile payment options was a huge pain point for small businesses and becoming an increasingly hot touch point for the press. In addition, an Intuit survey found that 22 million of the nation’s small businesses are waiting for an average of $1,500 in overdue payments each month, a collective $33 billion strain on cash flow.
• Customer surveys showed that innovation correlated directly with brand trust, as relevant, innovative and new products lifted the brand halo to help support the “small business champion” goal.
Informed by this research, PR identified three strategies that would bolster its image as the champion of small business and reinforce its market leadership:
• Leverage data to create a true thought leadership perspective: Since many in the small business community had expressed a need for data for benchmarking purposes, Intuit saw an opportunity to differentiate itself by being first to market to analyze and share the vast amount of data it had.
• Give back and support the small business community: To enhance bonds between small business owners and their peers and cater to their acute need for credit, Intuit showed its commitment to SMBs by instituting an online small business support and “fan” network, and at the same time giving back through charitable donations.
• Tout product innovation to reinforce and broaden market leading position by (1) aggressively promoting improvements in its flagship product (QuickBooks) and (2) showing consistent innovation in areas besides accounting software – especially in the online and mobile payments areas.
In order to tie back to brand objectives, Intuit and Access executed a four-pronged PR approach that was informed by research and aligned with our strategies to leverage data, support the SMB community, and reinforce leadership position. Specific campaigns:
1. Launch of the Intuit Small Business Employment Index: On a monthly basis from January to December of 2010, the Index tracked interesting and important changes in national small business employment data. Heavy media relations work attracted the attention of the business and small business press, who stood by each month for figures to cover. The index not only highlighted Intuit’s expanded product set of Payroll products, but differentiated Intuit against its competitors and showed its thought leadership in the space.
2. Love a Local Business was a campaign designed to empower consumers to support their favorite local establishments and remind them that small businesses are alive and thriving, but in need of support in a tough economic environment. Campaign components included:
o The “Love a Local Business” website. LoveALocalBusiness.com provided the interactive platform for local business owners and their fans to recognize themselves and their favorite local businesses by nominating them for a chance to win grants and prizes.
o Small Business Grants: Over the past year, the program has given more than $335,000 to 94 winners in the form of small business cash grants, supplemented by Intuit products.
o “Love Local, Sacramento”: To bring LALB to life, Intuit set up shop in a Midtown Sacramento storefront, inviting small business owners in for free consultations and for the opportunity to win grants and product giveaways. Intuit drove traffic with a widespread social campaign as well as print & radio advertising, email marketing to customers, and media outreach.
3. Reliable Product Launches: To support the notion of “small business champion,” Intuit needed to “walk the walk” with reliable upgrades to its flagship product. In September, Intuit released both its PC and Mac versions of QuickBooks 2011, conducting pre-briefings and demos of the product that gained national press attention. PR communicated Intuit’s strategy to closely incorporate direct customer feedback in the innovation process to highlight customer commitment.
4. Innovative, Industry-Leading New Offerings: Although the launch of QuickBooks was successful, Intuit didn’t rest on its laurels. To fulfill the objective of increasing “share of customer” and to bolster its image as small business champion, the PR team dangled an expanded set of new and innovative products in front of the small business customer, targeting small business as well as technology press with the launches of its Complete Credit Card Solution, as well as sustained updates for Intuit Websites and Intuit GoPayment, a product that allows small businesses to get paid on the go from their mobile phone. Alongside QuickBooks, the PR team reinforced the message that Intuit wasn’t “just about accounting,” as it repeatedly launched products that were relevant to the SMBs ever-changing needs. The launches were highly revered by the press, allowing Intuit a continued leadership position in innovation.
Results: Intuit’s 4-pronged approach to achieve small business champion status secured 1,366 articles in 2010 (an average of six articles a day – one almost every hour of the business day) and garnered 1.6 billion impressions, a 30% YOY increase. Many of the stories landed in publications where Intuit Small Business had never before been mentioned. On the business side, Intuit’s overall fourth quarter earnings for 2010 were positive due to strong contribution in revenue from the Small Business group. Individual successes:
• Intuit’s Small Business Employment Index secured 345 articles, totaling 417 million impressions. Coverage came from high-touch business publications such as BusinessWeek, USA Today and The New York Times, bringing Intuit’s small business products from the small business trades to the national business limelight.
• Love a Local Business drew in nearly 70,000 nominations. Social “buzz” drove traffic to the website and to the Sacramento event, with 812 tweets and almost 2 million followers reached. Feature print and broadcast stories drove word of mouth in outlets such as In.com, Entrepreneur and About.com, garnering 47 million media impressions
• Sustained QuickBooks Coverage: A strong reviews program and steady year-round pitches garnered 803 articles and 63 million impressions, including Editor’s Choice award in PC Magazine, the holy grail of accounting reviews. Earnings reports highlighted growth in QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Enterprise customer acquisition as both reached significant revenue milestones.
• Accolades for Innovation: Intuit’s Complete Credit Card Solution secured 78 articles at the time of launch and 113 million impressions. Sales of Intuit’s Complete Credit Card Solution skyrocketed, doubling customer acquisition in the first month after launch. In addition, new upgrades to Intuit Websites received praise in Q4 earnings, highlighting impressive customer acquisition.