3 Marketing Lessons from Wayfair, PUMA and Drift

An e-commerce furniture company, a sneaker brand, and a disruptive marketing platform walk into a bar…

Actually, there’s no punchline. Just a lot of good marketing lessons. Let’s learn ‘em.

At RAISE 2018, Mike Nagel, our own Manager of Product and Customer Marketing, sat down on stage to talk with three marketing powerhouses: Courtney Lawrie from Wayfair, Dave Gerhardt from Drift and Ann Unger from PUMA.

They’re all trying to get customers to buy something. But it’s not as different from fundraising as you might think. You’re selling your constituents on the idea that they should donate to your institution. And like these three companies, you’ve got a lot of work to do well before anyone parts with their cash.

Courtney, Dave and Ann are constantly thinking about how to connect with customers and prospects alike, trying to deepen the connection with the company. Which is exactly what colleges want to do with emails, social posts, videos, magazines…and, well, the list can get pretty extensive, so you get the idea.

Unsurprisingly, they used up all their time talking about the most important thing for any marketer: the customer. Sure, they bounced from strategy to strategy, campaign to campaign, but it always led back to how their audience ultimately drives all their decisions. That they circled back to it over and over is a good lesson in and of itself: Always look at marketing decisions through the eyes of your customer. Do that, and you’re off to a hot start.

 Here are some other marketing lessons to keep in mind:

Understand Your Donors

You can’t give the people what they want if you don’t know who the people are. That goes way beyond simply classifying them as alumni. You really need to know what makes them tick. Specifically, what makes them give. Once you know how they think, you can use that as your guiding light when creating marketing materials. There are lots of ways to get that info.

  • Data driven – Wayfair’s approach is extremely analytical. Create, test, analyze and iterate. They take a storytelling approach to their marketing efforts. But if a social ad isn’t generating interactions with people, it’s not resonating with their core customer. So, they change the story, put it back out into the world and hone it until they have something that’s proven to work. It’s almost surgical.
  • Social listening – PUMA uses data in a slightly different way. They’re actively tuned into what people are saying online, which works because their customers are having a lot of conversations there. Using social listening software, they keep track of what people are saying about their brand and products and use that qualitative information to adjust their approach to ad campaigns and even product development.
  • Talking to people – The team at Drift likes to get out there. After visiting customers and sitting down with them for a little while, they leave with pages upon pages of nuanced notes they feel can’t be replicated by any analytics. Those nuggets have directly led to some of their biggest and most successful initiatives.

Advancement offices can take on any (or all!) of these strategies as well.

You can run, test and iterate digital ads even if you’re not exactly ready to climb a mountain of data. Look up your most popular social posts are and see how people are interacting with them or set up an alert anytime your school is mentioned (@ or otherwise) to keep tabs on what people are saying. Call up a couple of donors and non-donors and have a stakes-free conversation and see what you learn then record it in contact reports or send your notes around the office.

Speak Like a Human Being

Seems obvious, but this one is incredibly easy to get wrong. People are just that: People. They like being talked to like people. Remember when you would fall asleep in class during a super technical lecture? If you’re not careful, your marketing materials will do the same thing. Except it’s worse, because people will just exit out or scroll past.

An easy rule of thumb: Read your copy out loud. Does it sound like something you’d actually say in conversation with someone? Great. If not, take another pass. As Mike notes, we’re all guilty of this, himself included. Would he ever say “robust annual fund” aloud to someone? Nope. Did he use it in emails when he worked in fundraising at Phillips Exeter Academy? Much to his chagrin, he did.

Find What Resonates with Your Audience

Wayfair, PUMA and Drift have wildly different customer bases. Wayfair’s approach wouldn’t work for Drift and vice versa. The important thing is that they’ve found out what works for their audience. Luckily, the recipe to figuring it out is pretty simple: A heavy pour of time, a dash of experimentation and a handful of paying attention.

There’s no right answer on this one, but here are a few examples of what these companies have homed in on.

  • User-Generated Content – Since Wayfair sells furniture, and as you’d imagine, they take highly stylized photographs of said furniture. But what really inspires their audience are photos from real people who have put that furniture in their home. Which is why pulling in Instagram photos and other sources has been a big part of Wayfair’s strategy.
  • Influencers – PUMA’s target audience is young, urban people. That group just so happens to be inspired by celebrities. Which is why PUMA works heavily with people like Jay Z, Rihanna and more to keep their products in the minds of their target audience.

Have a professor creating videos about their research? Try using it when fundraising for their school. Have a famous (or even somewhat well known) alum who loves their alma mater? Ask them to talk about Giving Day as it starts to approach. Craft tactics that work for your donors, then start experimenting.


Your donors are crucial when it comes to hitting your team and personal goals. Use these marketing lessons to keep them top of mind and cater your approach to what they want and soon you’ll be just as savvy as Wayfair, Drift and PUMA.

Looking for more marketing insights? For RAISE 2019 we’ve got a ton of good stuff lined up from Kansas State, Plated, Lovepop and tons more. Get your ticket today.