Once Sony Electronics Inc. learned that women make the household purchasing decisions on electronics 53% of the time, they decided it was time for a marketing makeover.
"On the traditional level in the consumer electronics space, we’ve marketed to the male," says Barbara Miller, Director Corporate Web Services for Sony Electronics. "Our decision was that we needed to do a better job of addressing a female audience as well."
Miller and her team were charged with growing the initiative online. And they decided that segmenting females already in their customer and prospect databases wouldn't be enough -- they would have to unearth a list of fresh hand-raisers. They started exploring potential partnerships with Web communities and methods that would organically build awareness with women who were concerned with both technology and style.
Miller wanted not only to drive leads to the Web site, but also to augment targeted foot traffic into brick-and-mortar stores. Their intentions were part direct, part branding. "We were interested in [email opt-ins] more than direct revenue because we sell most of our products through retail. More than anything, we wanted to build awareness with the audience."CAMPAIGN
After mulling other options, Sony penned a cobranding deal with women’s lifestyle site iVillage. Partnering with a lifestyle brand was a natural progression for Sony; the company already had a few dozen Sony Style retail stores open in high-end fashion centers around the country while also running SonyStyle.com.
The Sony-iVillage team tested a free multiple-course elearning program that would serve from the marketing perspective as a platform for product placement and email campaigns:
Step #1. Elearning micro-site
iVillage’s team developed a micro-site and tested a six-course elearning program from February to May. They created banners and skyscraper ads to promote the courses on the main home page and at sister sites, such as GardenWeb.com and Astrology.com (see creative samples below).
Titles for the monthlong courses evolved during the test sessions, including topics, such as "Wireless Home Theater," "Introduction to Digital Entertainment," "Shooting Great Home Videos" and "Scrapbook Your Way to Keepsake Albums."
Regular mention was also used in iVillage’s email campaigns. They prominently placed an orange-colored signup box to the right of the center of the landing page and required a first/last name and an email address to enroll.
Opportunities to visit SonyStyle.com to see such products were made available at appropriate times throughout the courses.
Step #2. Community-based merchandising
Once viewers joined the program, they received up to seven email messages in the course’s duration to let them know about updates, such as a lesson posted at the site. Course instructors regularly interacted with the participants on message boards, answering questions and exchanging ideas.
At the end of a session, participants were asked to take surveys regarding not only their dislikes/likes of the course, but also reasons for their purchases from the site. Rather than inquiring into what they actually bought, the questionnaire simply asked how much they spent on the product. The strategy here was to learn more about the customer without straying from the educational feel of the program.
"I think that there’s definitely a different approach as far as the female-only audience is concerned to our products," Miller says. "With the female audience, it's about, 'How does this product make my life better?' And that is a different perspective in terms of how you message when compared to men."
Step #3. Analytics and email
Sony has been combining email clickthrough data, site traffic and survey findings to enrich their understanding of the new customer file.
"We look at how they went through the course and determine whether or not it makes sense to merchandise in terms of accessories or main models," Miller says. "We can segment groups into who likely has the main product -- because they'll be looking to accessorize that main model. Instead of putting four main products into a message, we may put one main model surrounded by a suite of accessories."
Women who used the courses were typically between ages 25-40. When signing up, they could opt in to receive offers from SonyStyle.com, where they could personalize items by color choice and engraving initials, among other examples.
"We believe that special characteristics and design features are more important to a female," Miller says. "So when we promote certain products via email to a more general audience, we’ll include the [iVillage partnership] list because those women have shown a propensity to being interested in the styles of the items offered."
"Women are responding to education-oriented style," Miller says. "We were very pleased with the results." Based on the success of the test, her team rolled out a 30-course elearning program over 10 months last June.
The partnership succeeded as a customer acquisition tool and as a brand awareness driver. Of the women who enrolled, 15% said they made a purchase due to the experience while 33% said the course increased their likelihood to buy an item.
The customer loyalty generated may have been even better, since 90% said they plan to enroll in future courses and 70% opted in to receive more Sony email.
There was a very healthy viral effect, too: 91% of the enrollers recommended the program to a friend. In addition, the course discussions at the iVillage message board spilled over to non-associated Web blogs. After two main sessions, the program had drawn 100,000 visitors.
"We've seen our courses get blog [play] within the scrapbook community," Miller says. "We've been getting a nice word-of-mouth effect."Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from Sony Electronic’s co-branded media effort:
Powered Inc. - which provided content and oversaw the online courses: