August 03, 2005
How cool is this? ThomasNet combined radio spots, rich media, trade shows, and two clever email campaigns to promote their sweeps hooked to insanely popular cable TV show Orange County Choppers. Don't turn away saying, 'Heck, I can't duplicate that for my company,' because this Case Study includes stealable ideas for almost any type of b-to-b site that wants more traffic that's targeted. (Yes, even if your budget is limited.) And, best of all, ThomasNet's marketers tracked response rates more carefully than many marketers we know do. So, along with fun creative samples, there's lots of lovely data. Enjoy!
CHALLENGE Last August marketers at ThomasNet, a procurement search engine for industrial shoppers (such as industrial engineers, fabricators and machine shops) knew the joy and pain of launching a brand new Web site, when they merged two old sites together.
The new site, ThomasNet.com, was a step above its two former incarnations. Unfortunately it was at a completely different URL than either of them.
Automated redirects would help save some of the traffic -- hundreds of thousands of folks who'd been visiting various ThomasNet sites for the past decade. But, let's face it. You need significant traffic coming directly to your new site for the launch to take off.
How do you train an entire marketplace that you've got a new name and a new URL?
Rebranding campaigns can take six months (at minimum) to have any real effect. A few press releases and a direct mail shot wouldn't cut it.
ThomasNet's marketers had to create a campaign that would have immediate massive impact in their large but definitely vertical market. Plus, since this was the Web, campaign results had to be measured to the nth degree to prove it worked.
The kind of super-cool creative that wins offline awards wouldn't please management if the metrics on the other end didn't hold up.
CAMPAIGN Two long-time ThomasNeters -- Linda Rigano, Director of Strategic Alliances & New Business Development, and Donna Higgins, Director of Subscriptions Marketing -- headed up the re-branding campaign team. Here's the four-step campaign process they came up with:
Step #1. Set campaign goals & determine how to measure them
Because the primary goal to raise brand awareness, the team conducted an awareness survey via email (to past sites' registrants) and phone (to targeted prospects) before and after the campaign.
Plus, they used their Web analytics software to create a series of reports on how the visitors driven by the campaign acted on the site. Key: they decided increased Web traffic in and of itself wasn't worth a dime unless they could *prove* that traffic was:
(a) In their target vertical.
(b) Took 'conversion actions' on the site that showed a true value to the company -- such as using certain tools or visiting certain types of info pages that were unrelated to the promotion. (In other words, the promo may have driven them to the site, but then they interacted with the true value of the site's content.)
(c) Returned at a later date to use the site's non-promo-related content again.
Step #2. Invent the "big idea"
The team decided to run a sweeps offering the sexiest prize the engineers on staff (who matched the target demographic) could imagine -- a $58,000 Orange County Chopper (OCC) custom built by father and son-run machine shop featured on hit cable TV show 'American Chopper'.
The idea was less-far-fetched than you might think. "All the parts on the Chopper can be sourced on ThomasNet," explains Higgins. "And small machine fabrication shops, like OCC, are part of our target audience."
Working through an entertainment agent, the team got the OCC stars to agree to participate. The process, including script approval and contract revisions, took about 30 days.
A super-cool promo is no good if traffic hits your site and bails quickly. So ThomasNet's Web team invented an educational experience for participants. To enter the sweeps, visitors were required to spend a little time interacting with a rich media demo of the chopper ... that just happened to have little copy points about why they should become regular ThomasNet users. (Link to demo and sweeps rules in Creative Samples below.)
Step #3. Promote the offer across multiple media
The team were already investing in a wide variety of routine traffic-driving tactics, such as ads running against 10,000 keywords on Google, link partnerships with sites such as manufacturing associations' and Entrepreneur.com, and redirecting old sites' traffic to the new one.
To let this traffic know about the promo, the team placed a fun media ad on landing pages that showed a chopper driving about the screen. (Link to creative sample below.)
But, with a campaign of this coolness magnitude, you want to be aggressive about getting the word out. The team decided to invest in two media buys:
Test A. Radio ads on ESPN
Again, this tactic seems oddly mass-market at first glance for a vertical b-to-b site. But, ESPN radio's demographics are men aged 25-54 who worked in or owned small-to-midsize companies such as machine shops. "It seemed a perfect fit for us," says Higgins.
However, hoping to pre-qualify traffic a bit further, the team scripted their three 30-second spots so the focus was on ThomasNet rather than the OCC. "The chopper was only used at the tail end for a call to action to go to the site." (Link to sample radio spots below.)
Test B. Trade show "picture yourself" campaign
The team shipped the chopper to Chicago to appear in its booths at the two biggest related trade shows of the year. Naturally they also set up PC screens at the booth so floor traffic could enter the sweeps right then and there.
Plus, a booth staffer enticed passers-by by waving a digital camera -- get yourself pictured with an OCC Chopper! (A clever spin on the old photo-with-a-celebrity tactic.) However, instead of giving attendees their photo on the spot, ThomasNet staff promised they would email over the snapshot "after the show." Then, the Web team used the digital photos to create personal landing pages for each pictured attendee. The landing page included the option to download the photo as a screensaver and/or to mail a link to it to friends. Landing pages ready, the marketing team emailed each visitor their own personal link. (Samples below.)
Step #4. Reengage respondents multiple times
Last but not least, the editorial team sprang into action, creating an email newsletter with links to articles posted online featuring news items about choppers in general as well as the contest's progression. This was sent to all sweeps entries who had opted in. (Link to samples below.)
Cleverly the articles were posted online using blogging software so the pages would be ultra-search engine optimized *plus* readers could post their own comments and replies online as part of the blog ... turning the newsletter into an interactive community discussion board.
RESULTS "We had never undertaken a program of this magnitude and we really didn't know what to expect," says Higgins. Luckily, "all in all it was a home run," says Rigano. Brand awareness surveys revealed a 30% lift in awareness among prospects and 67% lift among current users (past sites' users who were being redirected). Plus, visitors' expressed predisposition to use ThomasNet in the future rose by 64%.
Nearly 105,000 site visitors entered the sweeps, and the resulting winner chosen at random was satisfyingly dead smack center in the target market -- an employee of Hydraulic Services Inc in Columbus Ohio. (Funnily enough, she was female.)
Based on site activity, roughly 80% of contest entrants were in the core audience. "We did not get insurance agents, lawyers or retired professionals into the contest." Roughly 75% of contest entrants returned to the site at least one more time, some routinely.
During the contest, visitor conversions to free site registration (not related to contest entry) peaked at eight times the site's average before.
More than 1,000 attendees at the first trade show lined up to get their photo taken with the chopper. The resulting screensaver emails had a 60% open rate, a 100% unique click rate, and 90% unique landing page activity. "It was just incredible," notes Higgins.
Only problem: Attendees were very impatient for their emails and the week or two it took to put the campaign together annoyed a few. The second time she ran the campaign, Higgins sent out a text-only "your photo is coming in a few days" note to everyone right after the show in order to set expectations.
The newsletter blog has seen more activity than anyone anticipated. Newsletters get an average 50% open rate, an 18% clickthrough rate, and of those clickers, more than half become "heavily engaged" in posted blog discussions. Example, "On one recent topic, we had over 50 reader posts, some longer than the article itself."
Useful links related to this article:
Creative samples from ThomasNet's OCC campaign: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/tnet/study.html
WebTrends - the analytics software ThomasNet uses http://www.webtrends.com