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IBM Web test shows dramatic payoff

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In a campaign that blended a targeted Web site, CD-ROMs and direct mail, IBM Corp. has found a way to reach highly specialized petroleum engineers and vendors for as little as $500 a prospect, a fraction of its previous cost.

In the past, the cost to reach one of these highly-skilled scientists through direct sales calls on an individual level could run as high as $20,000, according to Fred Fassman, VP-distribution at IBM North America, Armonk, N.Y., who oversaw the creation of the Web-oriented program with Blau Marketing Technologies, Fairfield, Conn.

SITE DOES TRIPLE DUTY

The multimedia campaign, launched last fall at a cost of less than $2 million, revolves around a Web site dubbed Seismic Connection.

So far the site has attracted roughly 4,000 new prospects for IBM, which comes to a cost of approximately $500 a prospect.

In fact, the site actually does triple duty: It serves as an information resource for petroleum engineers, a marketing vehicle for petroleum industry vendors working in partnership with IBM to reach hard-to-find industry buyers and influencers, and as an avenue for IBM itself to prospect for business partners in this narrow but very lucrative vertical market.

TARGET: GEOPHYSICISTS

The target for IBM and its business partners is the 70,000 geophysicists working worldwide in 13 different countries. Through its partners, IBM wants to sell high-end computer solutions and services. According to IBM data, roughly half the target audience regularly use e-mail and share information via the Internet.

To reach this dispersed, hard-to-find group, IBM and Blau used a combined CD-ROM/Web marketing attack to attract scientists to a registration-based Web site, and supported it with a search engine banner campaign and trade print advertising.

The effort began with the Web site launch in August, which included a keyword banner buy on eight search engines from September through February, and a 15,000-piece direct mail drop in October.

SPECIAL ACCESS

The direct mailing, shaped like a cube, invited geophysicists to order a CD-ROM for special access to the Web site.

Over 15%, or 2,250 of the direct mail recipients requested the access disk, and of those who ordered one, approximately 25% signed onto the Web site within two weeks of receiving the disk, Mr. Fassman said.

"This was a great buyer group," he said. "What we're selling [via business partners] are $100,000 to $250,000 solutions for geophysicists."

IBM has also signed 24 new business partners to vend the high-end processors and servers used in petroleum mining research and predictions, all of whom are scheduled to appear on a subsequent release of the CD-ROM and in links from the Web site.

PULLING IN NEW CUSTOMERS

According to Peter Blau, executive VP-chief creative officer at Barry Blau & Partners, the site has pulled in more than 5,000 registrants, with about 60% of them logging on from their CD-ROMs, 10% responding to search engine banners, and 30% logging on after receiving the mailing, seeing November print ads, or otherwise finding the site.

Of the 5,000-plus registrants, 80% are individuals from companies that are not current IBM customers, according to Sharon Nardini, IBM manager-interactive direct marketing.

To retain the petroleum specialists signed on to the IBM Seismic site, the company launched PetroConnect as a subscription-based industry service that sells mining articles and information from 7,000 information sources.

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