MOY 2019: Jill Schoolenberg’s slam dunk

The GoDaddy VP transforms sports figurines and cozy pajamas into a long-term strategy for the Canadian market.

Jill-Schoolenberg

This week, strategy is rolling out our profiles of the 2019 Marketers of the Year. Be sure to check out all of this year’s honourees as the week rolls on, and see who the overall winner is when they are revealed at this year’s AToMiC Awards on March 5.

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of strategy.

Jill Schoolenberg arrived at GoDaddy Canada three years ago in search of a “big idea” to persuade small business owners (or even Canadians with a passion project on the side) that they, too, can succeed online.

As the brand’s Canadian VP and country manager, Schoolenberg’s task was to evolve the GoDaddy image to be more locally relevant, while showcasing the benefits of the web hosting platform’s many tools.

She would accomplish more than she ever expected. By forging a partnership with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), she created an entrepreneur-inspired platform that has incidentally helped launch a handful of quirky businesses.

For years, GoDaddy had successfully exported its American brand and edgy advertising to markets around the world. In Canada, specifically, picking up an occasional campaign from the U.S. was enough to maintain consumer interest in the brand, says Schoolenberg.

But that began to change when the Scottsdale, Arizona-based company (which has become known as something of a legacy player in the web hosting space) made international expansion a priority in 2013. It started putting boots on the ground in some foreign markets – including India, the U.K., Australia and China – to support that expansion, and by 2016, it was serving customers in 53 markets worldwide.

As U.S. leadership became busy overseeing activity in emerging markets, GoDaddy’s Canadian numbers began to stagnate, and the company realized it needed someone to oversee its efforts in this country, says Schoolenberg. “You really just can’t do it all if you’re not here.”

So, in 2015, GoDaddy appointed Schoolenberg as marketing lead for Canada and tasked her with giving the company’s image a distinctly Canadian personality.

Having started her marketing career at Procter & Gamble, later transitioning into the tech space through brand and sales roles at Microsoft, she understands the importance of translating “hardcore tech marketing” into more emotional consumer-centric work.

Knowing that Canadians love their sports – and that basketball, in particular, was growing in popularity – the marketer led the creation of a local strategy that leverages GoDaddy’s global alignment with sports.

In the U.S., tapping into the sports market helped GoDaddy generate mass awareness. The company’s founder and CEO Bob Parsons described the marketing formula in 2009 like this: “It’s got to be edgy. It’s got to be a little tasteless.” But that strategy left GoDaddy open to criticism, with many customers wondering what the company actually does.

That’s a problem that Schoolenberg addressed directly in Canada by bridging creative campaigns with ecommerce executions: first, pick an athlete tied to a major sports franchise, identify one of their passion projects, and then build a GoDaddy-powered website to turn those interests into a business. Second, support the venture with advertising spanning digital, OOH and in-arena signage.

In 2015, the Toronto Raptors were just coming off their highly successful “We The North” campaign (see p. 38-40). For Schoolenberg, the MLSE team offered an opportunity to tap into a growing national audience, one that didn’t come with the challenge of choosing between Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens fan bases. In other words, there was momentum to be leveraged.

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In January 2017, working with Juniper Park\TBWA on creative, Wavemaker on media and North Strategic on PR, Schoolenberg led the launch of “Itty Bitty Ballers,” which would set the tone for several subsequent Canadian-led campaigns. The creative featured the Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas, who used the platform to launch his business selling miniature figurines of himself – thereby showcasing GoDaddy’s ecommerce capabilities. The effort earned more than six million engagements and nearly seven million video views on social, resulting in a record 83% brand awareness.

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Following that first push, in November 2017, GoDaddy promoted the burgeoning music career of Raptors player Norman Powell. The campaign was simultaneously authentic (he truly does love music) and showed entrepreneurs that websites can be used for more than just selling products – in Powell’s case, a music career, with the player promoting his newly recorded single “No Problem” via PowellOnThePiano.ca.

With two successful campaigns under her belt, Schoolenberg turned to a new frontier: French Canada. The brand was looking to promote the 2018 launch of the French version of GoDaddy’s Online Store, so it teamed up with Quebec-born offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.

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Broadly speaking, the strategy remained the same, with the brand showcasing how to turn a passion into a lucrative side-gig with GoDaddy’s help. However, in Quebec, says Schoolenberg, consumers are more interested in the athletes (read: celebrities) themselves than in the teams. As a pro player with a medical degree – and who does woodturning in his spare time – Duvernay-Tardif checked all the right boxes. Working with Headspace Marketing’s Montreal office, the brand created a campaign that saw the football player sell handcrafted wooden bowls, with proceeds benefiting his namesake foundation.

Since bringing the concept to Quebec, Schoolenberg has continued to emphasize the company’s tangible business applications. Most recently, it brought the “Itty Bitty Ballers” concept into the bedroom with a “CJ’s PJs” campaign featuring a sleepwear line by Raptors shooting guard CJ Miles.

The common thread of all this work is “the lighthearted humour affiliated with our brand,” says Schoolenberg. Moreover, producing and selling memorabilia not only allows GoDaddy to give back – the proceeds are always donated to charity – but also demonstrate ecommerce benefits to small business owners.

As a manager, part of her approach has been to maintain a “very lean” internal team (the company won’t disclose headcount), while creating an integrated agency roster. Pre-Schoolenberg, GoDaddy didn’t have a creative, media or PR shop in Canada.

“A lot of people talk about their agencies as partners,” she says. “But they really are our marketing team.”

Working with agencies has also helped her tackle one of her biggest HR challenges: not having enough work for full-time positions across disciplines. Instead, she relies on dedicated resources from the U.S. office – including a bilingual marketing manager – who carry the company’s Canadian goals and assist with executing original campaigns locally through its agency partners.

“What I’ve gone for is depth of expertise, between agencies and broad marketing generalists,” she says, noting that the company also has internal centres of excellence, based in the U.S., that support global markets.

GoDaddy’s Canadian work has inspired other markets, too, including the U.K. and Australia. In the latter market, the company launched a similar campaign – leveraging a celebrity to launch a small-scale business – that ended up selling 1,000 units of hot sauce, according to Schoolenberg.

“Being Canadian, we’re accustomed to being the little dog to the big dog in the U.S.,” she says. The fact that her team has developed a concept now being used in some international markets is one of her biggest accomplishments.

She also takes pride in the fact that launching “Itty Bitty Ballers” was a risky proposition – a single player being traded could upend an entire campaign – that has paid off for the brand. “I would say I’m probably fairly conservative in nature, and that was a big risk.”