Nationwide Lending talks up voice-mail as direct technique

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Nationwide Lending hopes its customers and potential borrowers aren't home when it phones them.

Since last year, Nationwide has eschewed traditional telemarketing in favor of technology supplied by Voice Mail Broadcasting Corp., Irvine, Calif.

Instead of a live agent pitching a product to consumers over the phone, Nationwide leaves 30-second recorded messages featuring the voice of its marketing director, Tim Burke, on answering machines. If a person answers the phone, the system hangs up.

"I think this is a lot less intrusive" than traditional telemarketing, Mr. Burke said. "We're calling during the day, hoping that our people are going to be at work."

Mr. Burke first used the technology in early 1999 to call some of Nationwide's 75,000 customers and thank them for their business.

Six months ago, Nationwide made a series of phone calls to consumers promoting a bill consolidation product and encouraging them to fill out an application on the company's new Web site (nationwidelending.com).

The results have been so positive that more voice-mail efforts have followed. In fact, Nationwide no longer uses traditional telemarketing and has cut its direct mail volume by 60%. Nationwide still sends about 100,000 direct mail pieces a month, Mr. Burke said, but voice-mail technology removes the two-part challenge of using direct mail: getting the recipient to open the mailing and then read the sales offer.

"Here our mail is always open, so to speak," he said, adding that the response rate with voice-mail marketing is 100% better than with direct mail.

Mr. Burke currently tracks 10 different voice-mail messages and uses daily analysis of completed calls and monthly sales figures to determine what pitches are successful.

Mr. Burke estimated the voice-mail system tries to contact about 40,000 people a day four days a week with a connect rate of about 40% to 55%.

"We've tried several different variations of messages and determined you have to have a reason to call, whether it's a new program or rates have dropped," he said.

Jesse Crowe, president of Voice Mail Broadcasting, said developing a creative, personal message is critical for a successful marketing campaign using voice-mail.

"The key is not just the technology," he said. "It's knowing what works, knowing what doesn't work and being able to have the message, script and strategy to fulfill the plan."

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