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Behind Microsoft Partner K2's 'Dispute Impossible' Campaign

K2's recent marketing video shows that extraordinary marketing messages don't require a big staff or huge budgets -- but they do require commitment, creative thinking and perseverance.

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The marketing video posted on the K2 site bears little resemblance to most partner marketing videos. There are no product features, no benefit statements, not even a customer testimonial. The leading images and soundtrack evoke the mundane, and then the video draws you in with some serious attitude. The music is more than intriguing -- and it holds a great story.

"Dispute Impossible," the latest marketing campaign video from K2, aims to connect with people on a different level. Josh Swihart, senior vice president of marketing for K2, a global ISV headquartered in Bellevue, Wash., explains, "We wanted the video to inspire and strike a chord that you can't hit with a product description or value proposition. We weren't trying to manufacture something to generate hits but to connect honestly."

Only days before the campaign was scheduled to launch, the video wasn't where the K2 marketing team wanted it to be. They had worked hard through the holidays ramping up to release a new Web site, with fresh positioning and supporting campaigns, including "Dispute Impossible." They were tired and ready to move on, but the video just wasn't right.

Describing the final review meeting, Swihart says, "We worked through alternatives, different an-gles, alternative messages. It was OK. It wasn't quite right. Then Richard Renno, a K2 senior designer, played a song by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis called 'Ten Thousand Hours' that captured what we were trying to communicate -- as inspiration or to spark an idea. It did."

The song, drawing on Malcolm Gladwell's concept of the time it takes to master a craft, was the finishing piece they needed. They decided to get the rights to use it.


"For Microsoft partners and B2B in general, most of our marketing is boring. We forget we're talking to people who want to be inspired." --Josh Swihart, Senior Vice President of Marketing, K2

Currently, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are the hottest of stars in the rap world, with songs at the top of the Billboard charts. To think that these celebrities, even if someone could get through to them, would allow a software development company to use their song -- with a price tag that K2 could afford -- was highly unlikely. Probably impossible.

"We tried to reach out to them and did get into conversations with a broker, but the price was way out of our range," explains Swihart. Not giving up easily, the team continued to work other angles to connect more directly. They sent an e-mail that finally made its way in front of the rappers just as they were about to perform on the nationally syndicated "Ellen" show.

On Sunday, the day before the planned launch of the "Dispute Impossible" campaign, K2 finalized an agreement for use of "Ten Thousand Hours" with a surprisingly affordable price tag. "We pushed through and disputed everything that was impossible -- on a Sunday," adds Swihart. "They gave us an incredible deal outside the norm, and we're very grateful to them."

The importance of taking the "Dispute Impossible" video to the next level reflects the identity that K2 has crystallized for its 270 employees. "In creating a video, we wanted to embrace our customers and to celebrate our own culture. We work with customers who are challenging the norm," Swihart explains. "People who break the rules and do whatever it takes to achieve the impossible."

Using images of real customers and employees was important to the K2 marketing team, who produced the video in-house. While the video is intended to connect with prospects at a personal level, there's a beautifully designed companion white paper that builds a convincing case for the value of K2's software.

The marketing team plans to continue to build and roll out cross-channel campaigns -- all intended to inspire as well as educate. "Yes, you need to do analytics and, yes, you need to drive the funnel, but there's something more. There's a massive opportunity in our community to be really creative," notes Swihart. "For Microsoft partners and B2B in general, most of our marketing is boring. We forget we're talking to people who want to be inspired.

About the Author

Barb Levisay owns Marketing for Partners, a marketing and service delivery leadership firm for Microsoft Dynamics, SharePoint and ISV partners. She serves as the event chair on the Board of Directors for the Washington, D.C., chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners.

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