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Office Depot looks to become service station

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Office Depot has been "taking care of business" for 20 years. The office supply direct marketer and retailer has been celebrating in a number of ways this year, including a custom-published coffee table book about its history and milestones that came out last month.

Cindy Campbell, exec VP-business solutions division at Office Depot, was in New York last month and sat down with BtoB to talk about the company's strategic marketing plan.

BtoB: Has your marketing strategy changed in the last six months?

Cindy Campbell: There's a real fundamental shift, a very fundamental change, which is moving away from being simply a products provider to a solutions provider, with interesting solutions for the office that people wouldn't typically think of us for. We've already announced office coffee service that will be rolled out nationally. We got into that because of the acquisition of Allied [Office Depot acquired Allied Office Products in May] and realized that when our truck pulls up and delivers pads and pencils, they might as well be delivering as much as they can for offices. Customers like that. It's one less delivery person, one less invoice to deal with.

We wrote an aspirational strategic plan this year which will guide our development solutions over the next five years. We're in the beginning stages.

BtoB: What is your database strategy for the Business Solutions Division?

Campbell: To have one database that captures information and helps us understand how to market to our customers in the best way in a multichannel environment.

We've unified the database, but our learning is continuous. The mechanisms of the database are in good shape. As you think about shifting a business away from a product kind of business that we've been, to a solutions type of business what you have to understand about that customer changes, too. As you start to see how that customer's buying behavior changes, you can anticipate what their business need might be.

BtoB: Do you have processes in place to take advantage of that?

Campbell: It's a huge endeavor. We aren't there yet, but I think we're fairly far along. We treat this very carefully. We see transactions from businesses all day long. Not one or two transactions, but thousands of transactions, hundreds of thousands of transactions. We know where our customers' locations are sometimes better than they know because we have to deliver product to their sites. So understanding their distribution footprint, how they're growing, how they're changing, what their consumption might look like; I think that the most fascinating part of what I do is that database and learning how to use it better.

BtoB: What's your biggest b-to-b marketing challenge right now?

Campbell: What's most top of mind right now is continuing the segmentation, which is multifaceted, and making sure we take advantage of our multichannel capabilities and that we move in the direction of solutions so that we can be truly differentiated.

BtoB: How many ways do you segment your database?

Campbell: We're talking in the 20s, but I'm not sure that's right.

BtoB: How do you look at the idea that the customer is in control?

Campbell: For my part of the business, the customer has always been in control because [they can] buy whatever they want from whomever they want wherever they want and any time they want. I don't know if I feel more threatened and less empowered in terms of our dealings with them. I think it is more challenging than any other time in the past and that's a great thing. It just makes you better. It's made everybody better.

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