Management: P&G vs. Martha

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"Cohort management," or the idea of bundling many brands into online marketing efforts aimed at a common consumer group, not only survived dot-com doom but is producing surprising results for package-goods marketers. Procter & Gamble Co.'s HomeMadeSimple program, launched two years ago, now rivals domesticity maven Martha Stewart for consumer reach online, and such companies as Unilever, Nestle and Reckitt Benckiser are pursuing their own cohort programs.

HomeMadeSimple, a Web site and e-mail newsletter supporting five P&G cleaning brands, last year surpassed its internal goal of beating the MarthaStewart Web site in unique monthly U.S. visitors. "The thing I've preached to my team is HomeMadeSimple can be more successful than MarthaStewart," Andy Walter, director of the project, told a recent meeting of the American Marketing Association in Cincinnati, "but we will end it next month if that's all we attain. We have to sell these brands." His research shows HomeMadeSimple is boosting purchase intent for P&G brands, but he said he won't be satisfied until he proves the project fuels sales.

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HomeMadeSimple is still neck-and-neck with MarthaStewart at just under 1.2 million Web visitors in February, according to ComScore Networks. What's more, the number of subscribers to HomeMadeSimple's free e-mail newsletter is close to the 2.4 million paid subscriber count for Martha Stewart Omnimedia's Martha Stewart Living magazine, according to Peter Schwartz, president-CEO of Bridge, Cincinnati, the interactive agency that created HomeMadeSimple.

The project is reaching plenty of consumers at relatively low advertising cost. HomeMadeSimple's only measured media last year, as reported by Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, was $45,000. For one effort, P&G bartered Web and e-mail promotion for print space in Time Inc.'s Real Simple.

Robert Rubin, the Forrester Research analyst whose December 2000 report made cohort management an issue, counts HomeMadeSimple among the best efforts to date. But he acknowledges he's seen few takers for the more ambitious agenda he outlined, in which brand management would fade away as the organizing principle for package-goods marketing in favor of cohort management.

"I don't think we're headed in that direction at P&G," said Mr. Walter.

Yet, cohort marketing is gaining traction. P&G has also launched S-Mag (S for Simplicity), another multi-brand online cohort venture from Northlich, Cincinnati, which includes offers from partner brands, such as Delta Air Lines, and Bridge is developing another similar P&G effort. Unilever last summer extended its Home Basics direct-mail cohort effort online with the MyHomeBasics.com Web site and e-mail newsletter. And Reckitt Benckiser last month launched HomeSolutionsNews, an e-mail newsletter from e-centives, Bethesda, Md., initially for Electrasol dish detergent but with potential to add other household brands.

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