In July, Microsoft Corp. mailed highly targeted direct mail packages featuring Steve to executives in the ad agency, search agency and consulting businesses—an important group of influencers—to raise awareness and encourage them to try adCenter, the year-old paid search platform, for their marketer clients' search campaigns.
That's right. Microsoft used good, old-fashioned print ads to promote paid search, a hot online channel, and sent them to jaded agency types.
AdCenter is the No. 3 paid search product, behind Google and Yahoo; Microsoft was fairly late to the paid search game compared with the others. One key message of this campaign is that adCenter users convert better than those on Google or Yahoo.
"We wanted to create a showstopper as far as an offer," said Valerie Bolduc, global marketing manager, MDAS/adCenter U.S. at Microsoft Corp. "It's a nice offer for a small-to-medium-sized agency." Bolduc said Microsoft's goal is to reach "anyone who is in the business of doing search for their clients."
Bolduc added that, "for some of these agencies, it's the hook they need. Let's show you we can convert better than Google or Yahoo."
Her agency agreed.
"We wanted to differentiate ourselves from the competition, which own a big share of the market," said Brian Kunath, senior copywriter at Wunderman. "What we saw from a strategic perspective [was] that [what] people weren't getting in the market was actual help and a friendly face supporting them and helping them do search marketing."
The playful, 3-D Smack-a-Goal package was mailed to 20,000 agency people, with a strong call to action, promising executives who sign up five clients will get $100 in free clicks and receive up to 60 days of campaign assistance and support. The value of the offer is about $625.
Smack-a-Goal is a play on the name of Whack-a-Mole, a popular carnival game.
Kunath said using adCenter gives agency executives an edge.
"There's a valuable audience and a growing segment that are small-to-medium-sized shops that handle online advertising for clients," he said. "Search is becoming a bigger and more important play. The executive wants to bring value to the table when they talk to their client," and through the campaign, Microsoft is positioned as an adviser that is "going to give you some pointers and keywords and strategies and tips," Kunath said.
The 13-by-7-by-1½-inch shrink-wrapped direct mail box displays a picture of a studious-looking Steve with the following copy: "Here's something to help you hit your client's search marketing goals again and again."
Inside the box is a paddle game—the old-school toy with the distinctive pink rubber ball on an elastic string—and more information about the free offer and the adCenter product.
"We wanted something they would keep around the office so that we would continue to be top of mind," Bolduc said.
Steve's head is featured on the self-branded paddle with the sentence, "See how many times you can hit your clients' paid search goals." The paddle also features a URL—StartadCenter.com.
A call-to-action on the inside cover of the box highlights the free clicks and free campaign support offer, along with an expiration date to encourage recipients to act quickly. A toll-free number is listed, along with a promotional code so that Microsoft can track responses.
Microsoft will follow the Smack-a-Goal mailer with what Bolduc calls her "three-touch punch." That consists of a series of three direct mail pieces that drop every four to six weeks as follow-up marketing to those prospects who have not converted.
The three-touch series will be tailored with messaging specific to agency executives. They begin mailing later this month and continue to mail through the fall, Bolduc said. She called the pieces "more subtle touches afterwards to continue to increase the message to the influencer."
The touch starts with an eight-page self-mailer booklet with "the top three tips for getting more sales," featuring Search Master Steve, and an offer for free ads. The next mail piece is a Steve-themed postcard with more tips and another special offer for free ads, and the final piece is an 8-by-10 self-mailer, again featuring—you guessed it—good old Steve peeking through a see-through window.
"Steve is a personification of the Microsoft brand," Kunath said. He's friendly, likeable and approachable."