Community Connect clicks deals

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Marketers are utilizing dedicated online communities such as AsianAvenue.com and BlackPlanet.com to reach new customers.

The online communities, along with MiGente.com, a Latino site which launched earlier this month, were created by Community Connect and are proving to be fertile hunting grounds for attracting consumers.

In recent weeks, Community Connect has closed deals with Hewlett-Packard Corp., Amazon.com, Microsoft Corp. and Miramax, all of which are tapping into its expertise in reaching urban minorities.

"The [computer] industry has failed to recognize the needs of people of color, H-P sees this both as an issue and an opportunity," said Art Price, multicultural marketing manager, for H-P's consumer business organization, North America. "Look at their numbers, they've gone within a year on BlackPlanet from 500 people at soft launch to more than a million a year later . . . that's phenomenal growth."

"We are profile-based, so if you want to reach an urban ethnic population . . . we segment by age, geography and psychographics," said Arul Sundaram, who oversees business development and strategy for Community Connect. It offers targeted e-mail lists and other direct marketing opportunities.

MORE THAN A MILLION USERS

Community Connect launched AsianAvenue, its first site, dedicated to Asian-Americans in 1997; BlackPlanet, the popular African-American site followed in 1999. At press time, the Web sites had more than a million registered users apiece; MiGente.com, which launched on Oct. 2, has more than 14,000 users.

He said Community Connect is also mulling the possibility of launching a global community to reach English-speaking Indian populations, particularly those in the U.K.

In the U.S., H-P is running integrated on- and offline marketing efforts on AsianAvenue and BlackPlanet in a new emphasis to attract minorities to its products and services. For example, H-P participated in the AsianAvenue college tour, and has a significant presence on the site sponsoring a contest and giving away digital cameras to winners.

However, H-P isn't the first technology marketer to jump onto the minority bandwagon. Gateway last year embarked on an ambitious co-marketing alliance with Univision Communications and its online portal.

Unlike Univision's broadcast content-based push, Community Connect is more about building grassroots communities and marketplaces by word-of-mouth and viral marketing. The company expects to sign more deals in coming weeks, Mr. Sundaram said.

Amazon has a prominent position on both AsianAvenue and BlackPlanet, except for BlackPlanet books, which has a deal with Doubleday.

"When Amazon is trying to find new customers, the best place they can come is to AsianAvenue and BlackPlanet," Mr. Sundaram said.

Miramax has bought microsites, banners and integrated content sponsorships on both sites. "African-Americans tend to go to the box office on opening weekend more than anyone else, and we can deliver really specific promotions for specific movies," Mr. Sundaram said.

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