CDW takes prize for integrated approach

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When CDW Computer Centers Inc. wanted to build client usage of its extranets, the company borrowed a direct marketing approach long practiced by breakfast food giants Kellogg Co. and General Mills Inc. The Vernon Hills, Ill.-based marketer wanted to try something fun and unusual, so it mailed out cereal boxes to its top customers. Inside, was a special "Web decoder" that attracted recipients to a Web site where they could use it to see if they had won such prizes as Super Bowl tickets while they were given more information on CDW’s extranet program.

The campaign netted results that were every bit as nifty as its approach. CDW garnered a 50% response rate on the integrated campaign, notably high for the b-to-b sector where a 10% response is considered terrific.

The out-of-the-box thinking is emblematic of the integrated approach that CDW, which recently became a Fortune 500 company, has taken with its b-to-b direct marketing. The company combines offline and online approaches in all its direct marketing campaigns, garnering results that elude most of its competitors.

Over the past year, CDW has run integrated direct marketing campaigns aimed primarily at information technology managers, including:

Direct mail CD-ROMS that tied into a successful TV ad campaign and led recipients to a marketing Web site

Catalogs with editorial content, dubbed "magalogs" by the company, specially designed for its small and midsize business customers

Offline customer technology review sessions, backed by mail, e-mail and sales rep pitches.

The idea, said Joe Kremer, CDW’s VP-marketing, is to pitch customers in the forum in which they want to be approached. "We take an integrated approach because what we do is driven by what our customers tell us to do," he said.

Meanwhile, the company uses creative approaches to stand out, Kremer said. "[An integrated approach] is what they want," he said. "They need the information about the new technologies. So what we try to do is spice it up, and the most efficient way to do that is by blending offline and online."

Prize for ingenuity

Earlier this year, CDW began launching extranets for its customers. The custom sites are meant to allow clients to research and order online—while saving money on offline customer service for CDW.

To get clients interested in the extranets, CDW was keen on sending something that would get a second look-something that most offline direct marketing mailings never get. They chose cereal boxes, hoping to evoke the childhood thrill of digging through sugarcoated flakes to find the special prize inside, sending them to tens of thousands of b-to-b clients, Kremer said. The prize inside was a "Web decoder" designed to be held up to a special CDW Web site, where it would be revealed if respondents had won prizes including Super Bowl tickets, Compaq Computer Corp. servers and laptops.

The site also promoted the extranets and allowed users to set one up before they used the decoder. Kremer wouldn’t reveal how extranet usage increased following the campaign, but since 60% of its online sales come through extranets, CDW was very happy with the response rate.

Right said ‘Fred’

Late last year, CDW launched a multimillion-dollar TV ad campaign, "Fred," aimed at IT managers. Viewers were placed in the vantage point of Fred, an IT guy, who is asked inane questions by Dilbert-esque executives. The campaign, created by Atlanta-based ad agency DWP/Bates Technology, became an underground hit with IT managers.

In fact, the campaign was so successful, CDW decided to follow it up by mailing 10,000 CD-ROMS featuring the ad clips, along with bonus footage, to IT managers. Recipients of the CD-ROMs were prompted to visit a CDW Web site, where they can get product information—and submit their funniest or scariest IT stories. The author of the best story wins an all-expense paid trip to Comdex 2002 in Las Vegas.

In other efforts, CDW recently enhanced its catalogs of more than 70,000 products, merging product information with journalistic features on the latest technologies, how-to stories and advice columns. "We realize that customers have a tough time keeping up with all this, so we started upscaling [our] catalogs with editorial [to help them out]," Kremer said.

Harry Henry, COO of San Diego-based direct marketing consultancy B2B Data Corp., said that CDW’s integrated approach is one that b-to-b companies avoid doing at their peril. "It’s critical," he said. "You don’t reach a b-to-b audience without having multiple avenues with which you communicate with them. Unless you have that, forget it. We’re all too busy to just react to e-mail."

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