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Data-Storage Company Launches Effort With Twitter 'Personas' and Apple-Watch Giveaways

Nimble Storage Goes After Rivals Including HP and EMC

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Nimble Storage, a fast-growing data-storage company, is taking on larger competitors such as EMC, HP and NetApp with a new campaign called "Adaptive Flash Challenge."

Nimble Storage had revenue of $125.7 million last year, up 134% over 2013, and is moving into the enterprise space to take on bigger rivals.

"One of the primary objectives as a company is to take the success we've had with the middle market and think of how to position the company in the enterprise space, and how to position the brand relative to incumbent storage vendors," said Michael Hakkert, VP-corporate marketing at Nimble Storage, who joined the company in September from HP, where he served as VP-global integrated marketing for HP's enterprise group.

"We are making a rather large marketing investment this quarter around the 'Flash Challenge' and paid media," he said, although he declined to reveal the budget. "I'm pulling every penny I can from every corner of our marketing budget, without disrupting our existing demand [generation] programs."

The campaign, which launched last week, was created by Hub Strategy and Communication, San Francisco. It features two animated characters, Harry and Mary, who represent IT users with data-storage problems.

The campaign includes online ads, a landing page and social media, including Twitter accounts for Mary and Harry, who tweet about their data issues and how they're solving them.

"Nimble wanted to do something to stand out and be different. They are a challenger brand, so we wanted to be outlandish with the creative," said Jason Rothman, design director at Hub.

"The core idea behind Mary and Harry is to set up an 'us v. them' kind of situation," Mr. Rothman said. "Mary is the Nimble user and Harry is the poor guy who chose the other option. It sets us up to explain the pain points people in this industry are facing, and sets up the pros and cons of using Nimble vs. the other solutions."

Banner ads are running on IT sites including Computerworld, InfoWorld, NetworkWorld and TechTarget, inviting users to "Take the Adaptive Flash Challenge." When users click on the ad they are taken to a landing page, where they can enter the challenge and receive an Apple Watch for doing so.

The challenge involves registering information such as name, title, company and which all-flash data solution users are considering (EMC, HP, NetApp, Pure Storage or other), then taking a challenge to see how Nimble compares with these other vendors in solving data storage needs.

In the first week, more than 100 users registered for the challenge, which resulted in over 30 "stage one" leads, which means the leads were contacted, qualified and had a meeting set up with an account rep, Mr. Hakkert said.

Mary and Harry also engage users through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, where they have profile pages set up and communicate with followers. For example, Mary tweeted the following from her Twitter account this week: "Just completed annual review with our CEO. Thrilled at how my IT team managed the transition from EMC to Nimble Storage."

"We want to make sure these characters are relatable," Mr. Hakkert said. "We are using all social media channels to amplify the message."

Unlike an obvious spokescharacter like Progressive's Flo, Mary and Harry don't portray themselves as employees of Nimble. Mary's Twitter profile, in fact, states that she's an "IT Director for a Global 500 Organization." Harry is an "IT Director at a Global Financial Services Firm."

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission went after Sony's ad agency, Deutsch, Los Angeles, for misleading "consumers by urging its employees to create awareness and excitement about the PS Vita on Twitter, without instructing employees to disclose their connection to the advertising agency or its then-client Sony."

Of course, Deutsch's employees were real people, not spokescharacters.

And Nimble said it worked closely with its legal team in setting up the Twitter accounts and said the use of character profiles on Twitter is for "promotional use only."

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