How to shift from demand generation to brand: The inside story of DocuSign’s risky shift from lower funnel tactics to brand on 100K budget, sparking 40% YOY growth, now going global

Originally shared on Mi-3 23.8.22

When radio and TV identity-turned influencer marketing supremo at Tribe, Jules Lund, printed his new contract from Nine Network to a Qantas Club printer, a spectacular fail saw it broadcast print to every Qantas lounge in the country, complete with Lund’s financials. Fast forward a few years and the story of Lund’s printing prowess ended up helping DocuSign grow 40 per cent YOY in Australia as it took its first risky leap away from lower funnel demand generation advertising to a brand building campaign in what APAC marketing boss Andrea Dixon called “an investment in sales tomorrow”. With an initial budget of just 100k, the Australian project is now going global — Singapore and Japan are the next markets to follow the Australian hit. Here’s how Dixon and Hardhat’s Dan Monheit cracked the code for “Next time DocuSign” in their keynote to the Mi3-LinkedIn B2B Next summit last week.

What you need to know:

  • DocuSign’s Senior Marketing Director in APJ, Andrea Dixon, had a flat budget and a 41 per cent growth target in 2021. She co-created the ‘Next time, DocuSign’ campaign that hit those targets and then some.

Rather than accentuating the positives and talking about how wonderful everything was…we focused on everything that goes wrong, could go wrong, does go wrong when you use paper-based contracts.

— Dan Monheit, Founder, Hardhat

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This keynote has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Dan Monheit:

The story starts in April 2021. We’re both from Melbourne, and between lockdown three and four out of somewhere between lockdown 35 and 36, I got a very interesting phone call.

I was on my way back from my first in person event in what felt like a decade. I was a last-minute panel member discussing ‘iterative strategy, flexible IT architecture and integrated partner ecosystems’ — three things about which I assured the organiser I knew absolutely nothing.

Somewhere in that room was Andrea Dixon, Head of Marketing for DocuSign Asian Pacific. We briefly exchanged pleasantries on the way out. A couple of hours later, here she was on my phone.

She said, ‘I’ve got a problem’. And she did have a problem: Growth. The Asia Pacific region, she said, is considered an emerging market for DocuSign and so the targets for growth and performance are far larger. Not just 10 per cent, 20 per cent, 30 per cent… Andrea and her team were working towards a 41 per cent year on year growth target on a budget that was basically flat.

Andrea Dixon:

In the North America region, DocuSign is a verb. You don’t just sign something, you ‘DocuSign it’. But in the Asia Pacific region, that’s not the case. So pressure was mounting. The tailwinds of Covid were starting to slow down, and so too were our sales cycles.

When I signed on to DocuSign — using DocuSign, of course — I signed on to not just hit a sales target, I signed on to build a global brand. Studying marketing back at university, my dream at the time was to work for a B2C brand. There’s been a lot of talk about B2C being the sexy side of marketing, and that was definitely my aspiration at the time. Think: Mercedes Benz. Nike. I wanted to work for consumer brands. You can imagine my disappointment when my first real job out of uni was in B2B software. But I was ahead of the curve. Fast forward 20 years, this campaign was an opportunity for me. DocuSign is absolutely a B2B brand, but we’re kind of verging on B2C. Anyone that signs or sends an agreement is a potential audience for us. We knew that if we could get it right, have this campaign be a bit fun while being human, it could help us reach an audience of millions.

If we executed this campaign well, we knew growth would take care of itself. Investment in brand today really is an investment in sales tomorrow. But, of course, we had prove this.

— Andrea Dixon, Senior Marketing Director APJ, DocuSign

Dan Monheit:

When you talk about the story arc, there has to be something for the heroes to overcome. In this case, there were three. The first big hurdle was budget. We’re talking well under $100,000 to play with to produce the results that the business was after. If we took a traditional path, you literally wouldn’t even bother. But in my almost 20 years of doing this, one of the things I have learned is: Sometimes we do get big budgets to work with, other times we have to achieve that through creativity instead.

Andrea Dixon:

So the stakes are incredibly high. We’re a publicly listed company on the Nasdaq — as you can imagine, we’re quite a conservative company with not a huge risk appetite. If we executed this campaign well, we knew growth would take care of itself. Investment in brand today really is an investment in sales tomorrow. But, of course, we had prove this.

Dan Monheit:

But we also needed sales today. So we had a budget, we had stakeholder buy in through Andy’s hard work. The third big challenge was connecting with new audiences. DocuSign’s target audience really does span everyone. Our research told us most businesses that were using paper-based contracts absolutely had intentions of transitioning to an electronic signing system. They were absolutely going to do it — one day. Our challenge was to turn ‘one day’ into ‘Monday’. The obvious approach to this is to accentuate the positives. ‘We are legally-binding’, ‘we are super-efficient’. ‘We can save you money, and we’re brilliant for the environment’. That would be the obvious path to take.

But when we looked at the motives of leaders and evidence from behavioural science, we came to a very important realisation. Avoiding risk is the number one factor guiding most business decisions. Why? Status quo bias. Status quo bias refers to our preference to maintain the current state of affairs, even if, objectively speaking, that current state of affairs is not the best thing for us. We all say we love change, we love to be agile, we love to pivot — all bullshit. We hate change. It’s hard, it’s tiring, it’s risky, it’s scary.

If we think about taking on a big risky project — implementing a new piece of accounting software, for example. If it goes spectacularly well, what’s the upside? At best, a promotion. But if we mess it up, lives and livelihoods are at stake. Everybody’s talking about that time when Barry implemented the new accounting system and then nobody could send an invoice for six weeks. And now Barry doesn’t work here anymore.

Andrea Dixon:

We knew that if we overcame these three hurdles, that we were on track to achieve everything that we wanted and more. So here’s where we landed.

Three examples of the ads that ran on LinkedIn.

Dan Monheit:

This was the name of the session, so no surprises for the revealing. ‘Next time, Docusign’. Rather than accentuating the positives and talking about how wonderful everything was, instead we focused on everything that goes wrong, could go wrong, does go wrong when you use paper-based contracts. We started really nice and simple. Big, bold, creative we knew it was going to cut through on platform like LinkedIn.

And we had dozens of these.

Where stuff got really interesting was when we tapped into influencers. We approached Jules Lund, Janine Allis and Emma Isaacs, and we said to these guys, ‘hey, you’ve had pretty successful careers. Could you please share with us a story where something went horrifically, diabolically, maybe hilariously wrong because you were using paper-based contracts?

Andrea Dixon:

We absolutely loved this idea because, let’s face it, on LinkedIn, we all put our best self forward. But hey, we’ve all screwed up in our career at some point. Just like Jules did.

We sent these videos into the wild and we also asked these influencers to do the same. And almost immediately we started to see results. This campaign was developed as an awareness play, but almost immediately we were delighted to see that this was impacting our metrics at the bottom of the funnel. We had 3.7m views and counting. It’s one of the best performing campaigns on LinkedIn. But quarter on quarter increase in web traffic of 44 per cent. There were 21,000 new accounts of DocuSign. But on the LinkedIn platform, 2.79 times higher click through rate than the industry benchmark and, an incredible metric, 27 per cent video completion rate, which is over 3.5 times greater than the LinkedIn industry benchmark. We’re incredibly proud of these metrics.

We’ve got that stakeholder buy in now and, most importantly, it helped us exceed that 41 per cent growth target. And phase two is well underway. We just shot yesterday, in Singapore, two influencers. So we’re expanding his campaign across the region, expanding to Japan and Phase Two with Australia, we shot Anthony Callea and Tim Campbell. So, look forward to sharing your results of phase two very soon.

Thank you.

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Hardhat

Hardhat

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We’re an independent creative agency helping brands capitalise on the why, when, where, what and how of human behaviour.