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Aug 14, 2001
Case Study

NASA Tests Internet Marketing to Gather Business Partnership Leads

SUMMARY: If you construct Web landing pages to gather sales leads from marketing campaigns, you definitely want to read this Case Study. NASA's Director of Marketing Michael Weingarten has learned things from his lead generation campaign that could affect everyone -- no matter what you are marketing. His goal was to get hundreds of US companies to volunteer for product development partnerships that could cost (and ultimately make) them millions. To do that he collected leads from a special Web site using three different tactics. 

Click below to learn what they were, and which tactic did the best  (Guess what? The winner...
CHALLENGE

One of the biggest arguments for continuing America's space mission, beyond the general quest for knowledge, is the fact that during the quest NASA has invented many new technologies incidentally useful to all of us earth-locked masses.

As Director of Marketing for NASA Commercial Technology Programs, it's Michael Weingarten's job to funnel NASA's tech discoveries to American industry. Problem is, American industry isn't knocking down his door, because they don't know exactly what NASA's invented that might apply to them specifically. (After all, do you?)

So, Weingarten has to locate just the right point person in each company -- from small tech firms to Fortune 500s -- that might be interested in developing a new product based on NASA's inventions. Back when he started this project seven years ago, he invented a lead generation program from scratch. He says, "Nobody had ever done this before."

Weingarten set up a toll free phone number for inquiries, created a customer service center to handle them, and rolled out direct mail and print ad campaigns to drive callers. But about a year ago he began to wonder if the whole process could be handled more efficiently on the Internet.

CAMPAIGN

Like many large, decentralized organizations, NASA's biggest challenge in transitioning to Web marketing wasn't the Web itself. Instead the initial challenge was an internal one.

Almost 40 marketers are responsible for various NASA programs at 10 different research centers across the country. This decentralized system meant that Weingarten had to not only get detailed product information from each and every marketer, he also had to get everyone to buy-in to the idea of a centralized Web marketing program. This took about a year.

Then with the help of B-to-B agency Kern Direct, Weingarten created a Web site to capture partnership leads, as well as a system to process those leads quickly and to efficiently funnel the hottest ones to just the right NASA contact for their particular needs.

The site, NASATechnology.com, captures leads in three different ways:

1. Free offer -- The home page features a prominent offer for 'Spin Off Magazine', a glossy four-color magazine that highlights the stories of how 30 different companies in a wide range of industries partnered with NASA to create new products. When prospects click on the free magazine offer, they see a pop-up box requesting their snail mail address.

2. Enticing navigation -- The site's home page also features a left-side navigation bar listing 12 different types of technology alphabetically, from aerodynamics to telecommunications. When visitors click on any of those links to explore a particular section, a brief form appears saying, "Before proceeding, we need to find out a little bit about you. Please note that there is no charge to register for this service." The only information requested is name, company, city, state and email. (The system automatically captures which topical link the visitor clicked on and feeds this information into the database as well.)

3. Search requests -- Every time a visitor use the search box for a particular term, a bright button that says, "I'm Interested!" pops up next to the search results. Visitors who click on this button are immediately directed through the CRM system so a customer service person can take the next step either by phone or email.

As the site captures leads, they are fed through to Weingarten's customer service center and assigned a priority action code. The hottest leads are culled so a trained rep can immediately begin the process of qualifying them, and then getting them in touch with the appropriate person in NASA's far-flung organization. From that point, the cycle for closing deals can take up to another year because often millions are at stake.

Weingarten tested marketing campaigns in three different media to drive qualified traffic to the site -- space ads in magazines, direct postal mail to rented lists and direct email to rented opt-in lists. He chose highly targeted media, such as 'Chemical Engineering' as well as testing broader interest publications such as 'Fast Company.'



RESULTS

NASA has gathered more than a thousand hot, qualified leads for its industry partner program since the NASATechnology.com site launched in February 2001, while
achieving significant cost savings per lead. Sales leads include members of the Fortune 500, as well as many mid-sized companies.

Weingarten says delightedly, "We're getting a lot more hot leads and people are able to self-qualify themselves more easily. Now that people can do their own searches online, we're getting much better leads."

He explains how the new Web and email system helps him save money, "Before with an 800 number you had to get a person involved right away. Now, we're able to get rid of tire kickers or more easily eliminate parties that we don't want to talk to. We can send email responses to those who look like not good leads as opposed to talking to those people on the phone."

Weingarten has also found that email marketing is more cost-effective than print ads or direct postal mail. While running campaigns with identical offers to all three media, often to the same lists (a magazine, its snail mail list and its email list), Weingarten got response rates of .5% for print ads, 2% for direct mail and around 9% for email. (See below for a sample of the email creative.) The lists that worked best were very niche. Weingarten says, "We found we were really wasting money on expensive, flashy, broad magazines like Fast Company."

On the site itself, the navigation bar options were twice as effective at gathering leads than the colorful free offer was! This is dramatic news for other B-to-B marketers relying on a free offer alone at a Web landing page to gather sales leads.

SAMPLE CAMPAIGN

Here's a sample of Weingarten's lead generation email campaign which was sent to rented opt-in email lists of several B-to-B tech publications. (Note: we've removed the source code from the URL.)

Subject line: NASA's million-dollar new product resource

Looking for an advantage that can help your new product ideas take off? Then send for your FREE copy of NASA's SPINOFF 2000.

This million-dollar new product resource guide details dozens of successes that demonstrate NASA's partnership with companies like yours to develop cutting-edge technology for market-winning products in many diverse industries.

And that's just the start. You can also search the hottest NASA technologies and partnership opportunities available to companies like yours at http://www.nasatechnology.com

Please use source code A1E102.

At this site, you'll find new product ideas for:
* Medical devices
* Electronics
* Industrial productivity/manufacturing technology
* Environment and resources management
* Sensors
* Process control
* Materials
* And more

So request your FREE copy of SPINOFF 2000 now by going to http://www.nasatechnology.com or calling 1-800-678-6882. Please use source code A1E102. It just could be the advantage your business needs right now.

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