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Mar 31, 2005
Case Study

Sun Microsystems Tests High-Impact Brand Revival Campaigns Online: 3 Broken Rules

SUMMARY: How can you get the word out to the marketplace that you're not your father's Oldsmobile? Sun Microsystems just launched its biggest new product in a decade, yet many in the IT community thought of the brand as a bit of a has-been. Hear how the Web marketing team swung into action, developing a quarterly series of high-impact events. Almost half a million IT pros, developers, Wall Street analysts, and corporate bigwigs have attended Sun's brand education events in the past nine months. We've got exclusive results data and marketing screenshots for you here:

In the past Sun Microsystems was most famous for Java which is no longer quite as red-hot as it used to be, and servers which have become an incredibly competitive field.

Thank goodness the company had a big, new revamped Solaris product due to launch in Fall 2004.

But, how can you re-educate an entire marketplace, including Wall Street, Fortune 1000 CEOs, huge masses of IT pros, as well as developers, that your brand still matters ... that your brand is a leader?

How do you warm up your brand from tepid to Paris-Hilton-Hot in just a few short months?

The online marketing team decided to launch a series of quarterly webcasts. This would have gotten head-snapping attention back in 1998, but these days webcasts and webinars are common as dirt.


The marketing team tossed the regular Webcast rulebook, and invented their own high-impact format:

Rule Breaker #1. Create a huge multi-content event

Instead of playing it safe by launching a series of hour-long Webcasts on a variety of topics like every other IT company on the planet, the team decided to go for a series of quarterly blow-out events.

To make high-impact you have to act as though your event is, in fact, a very big deal. It's not just another TV show episode, it's a big honking mini-series during sweeps week.

Each quarterly event had a single theme to amplify message impact. For example, September 2004 was dedicated to Wall Street, November 2004 was about the Solaris product launch, and February 2005 focused on network computing.

However, instead of just a Webcast, the team created a wide variety of content within each theme, such as:

- Taped video interviews with key Sun execs

- Live broadcast of a real-world Sun leader speech given in front of a large real-world audience

- Live online chat with Sun execs during a pre-scheduled time after the main event

- Links to related white papers, tech specs, and other collateral

- Offers to join your choice of opt-in groups (one for CEOs, one for IT pros, one for developers, etc) to continue your education after the event

Anyone coming to the event microsite prior to launch time saw an invitation to attend plus a countdown ticker. After the event, traffic could access canned versions of all of the above.

Rule Breaker #2. No registration required

Jeff Solof, Voice of the Brand Director, explains, "If we request registration, viewing the event becomes a higher hurdle. It becomes too much work. Ultimately we really want them to see the event. That's the most important thing. This is an awareness vehicle."

That doesn't mean the team ignored the need to generate leads. As described above the event itself was loaded with opt-in registration offers. However, none were required to access content.

Would the gamble pay off? Would so many more people attend the events that the Sun team would get enough opt-ins to matter?

Rule breaker #3. Routinely test new online ad formats

The team ran online ad campaigns promoting events prior to the event, and then for a couple of weeks afterward to keep driving traffic to the open microsite.

Rather than relying on a few standard formats (email newsletter ads, house list blasts, HTML banners on key sites, etc.) the team made an internal commitment to test at least one new out-of-the-box online advertising tactic per event.

The test might only be a small portion of the ad budget -- but at least it was a scheduled part of that budget and not an afterthought.

For example, for February's event the team tested CMP TechWeb's new "Dogear peelback" format where the upper right corner of every page of five sites (,,,, and appeared to be folded as though you'd marked a favorite page in a book. Clickers then saw a special landing page, still branded as TechWeb, with several text offers to attend the event.


Sun's gamble paid off. So far almost half a million unique visitors have attended live or canned events. Plus 5.7% of them have voluntarily opted in to the Sun subscription list of their choice. That's 27,000 new registered leads.

Interestingly, the amount of new registered leads seems to hold fairly steady per event even when traffic is very different. Here's some comparison data for you:

Sept 04 Nov 04 Feb 05
Unique attendees115k240k120k
New opt-ins9k10k8k
Live chat attendees2.5k5kn/a

Here's a closer look at just one event (February 2005) data:

Unique attendees 115k
Total pageviews 540k
New opt-ins 8k
Clicks to 30k

The online ad tests are also paying off. Solof noted that while typical HTML banners can work moderately well to attract executives, IT pros and developers seem to prefer clicking on text-link campaigns.

Solof says Sun will definitely roll out another CMP TechWeb dogear campaign for a future event because it worked well. While we don't have specific data on Sun's campaign, the Mike Grover, Marketer at CMP, confirmed the average Dogear Peelback campaign gets "just south of 10% of the people who are exposed to the Dogear open it and then just south of 10% of them click through."

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples and screenshots from Sun campaigns:

Omniture - the Web analytics software Sun uses to measure online marketing:

Sun Microsystems:

See Also:

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