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How A Young CEO Drove Massive Growth At His Language Learning Company

by Tom Ruwitch

How a Young CEO Drove Massive Growth at His Language Learning Company
Here’s the story of a young business school graduate who, in six short years, turned a $10 million family business into a $250 million, publicly-traded behemoth.

His name is Tom Adams, and the company is Rosetta Stone.

Adams was fresh out of business school, with no CEO experience, when Rosetta Stone hired him to run the company in February 2003.

In April 2009, Adams took Rosetta Stone public at a time when few had the guts to try. This was during the depths of the Great Recession. At the time of its initial public offering, Rosetta Stone was only the fourth company that year to go public on a US stock exchange.

Tom Adams led Rosetta Stone to increase revenue by more than 25x in six years, and he raised more than $112 million in the initial public offering. How did he do it?

“We repositioned,” he told Chief Executive magazine in 2009.

That’s CEO-speak for, “We changed how we market the company.”

The centerpiece of that marketing was the “Hardworking Farm Boy” ad -- a print piece that ran in magazines around the country for four years.

The ad is a masterpiece, and it reveals valuable marketing lessons for anyone who wants to attract more leads, keep them tuned in, and inspire them to act.
I don’t have the space in this column to dissect the ad (but you can learn the lessons in a free webinar here at

In this column, I will l focus on one critical detail that helped the ad to fuel Rosetta Stone’s growth:

In every version of the ad, the coupon or website link had a unique code. For example, the ad in one magazine might say, “Visit” and the ad in another magazine might send them to Or the ads might have a coupon code that varied, depending on where it ran.

In the interview with Chief Executive, Adams explained what this tracking accomplished for Rosetta Stone:

“We made advertising accountable. Our approach is to run ads with a call to action....That way we can determine the ROI of an ad at a certain time on a certain channel or in a particular magazine.”

Two huge ideas here, and you don’t have to be a giant corporation to apply them:

1. Include a call-to-action in your advertising.

2. Track the action so you can measure ROI.

By calling for action, Rosetta Stone drove more sales.

Rather than just “building its brand,” Rosetta Stone encouraged prospects to buy now. And buy they did.

But those calls to action worked better in some publications than others.
Instead of guessing which publications generated more sales, Rosetta Stone knew which worked well and which didn’t because of the tracking codes.

So the company could invest in publications that yielded good returns and divest from ones that didn’t. That meant more profit-generating ad spends and fewer money-wasting ad spends.

That’s a smart formula whether you run a multi-million dollar public corporation or a small, local business.

It boils down to this:

Ask prospects to buy and track where buyers come from.

Guess less. Know more. Grow.

Tom Ruwitch is the founder and CEO of Story Power Marketing, which helps businesses create and deliver powerful stories to attract leads, keep them tuned in, and inspire them to act. To discover more valuable lessons from the Rosetta Stone “Farm Boy” ad, visit

Submitted 322 days ago
Categories: categoryHigh Voltage Marketing
Views: 474