Net access prime for affinity market

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Drawing on proven strategies from the off-line world, a major Catholic non-profit organization is about to stamp its brand on the universe of Internet service providers and portals.

The religious group Oct. 7 will launch Catholic Families Network, a filtered Web access service and portal run by New York start-up iConnect.com.

This is the first private-label service launched by iConnect, a 7-month-old company founded by people with backgrounds in direct marketing and affinity marketing.

"What we're doing is creating a private area for customers of a particular company or organization to access Internet services," said Alden Levy, chief operating officer. "It's another branding opportunity for a marketing partner, in that they can hammer home their brand name, the brand's identity and any other marketing points they want to get across in an environment that already is receptive to this kind of relationship."

AFFINITY BRANDED NET ACCESS

The idea stemmed from iConnect CEO Michael Salaman's experience marketing affinity clubs to clients of infomercial company National Media, having also seen the success that banks enjoyed in marketing co-branded credit cards.

Such sites can create "affinity branded Internet access and Web community," said David Bernstein, senior VP at iConnect.

So-called vanity or private-label ISPs are "definitely a growing trend as ISPs try to differentiate themselves from the competition," said Joe Laszlo, an analyst with Jupiter Communications. "This is an opportunity for a marketer to develop a deeper relationship with their customers. . . . This approach may not be right for every brand, but brands that are lifestyle or technology oriented are well-positioned to take advantage of these marketing opportunities."

Such ISPs can offer users products, services and information, which iConnect calls MemberFuel.

TAKING CUES FROM OFFLINE

The organization or marketer pays nothing to have iConnect set up the site, provide local dial-up phone access via an agreement with UUNet and create original content. The participating company would earn 2% to 10% of revenue generated by monthly subscriber fees as well as outside advertising.

IConnect plans to charge the market rate for ISPs, about $19.95 a month, making money from subscriber fees and ads. IConnect, which Mr. Levy said has only a "modest" budget to market itself to the outside world, will employ direct mail, e-mail and online ads to market the affinity ISPs.

"What iConnect.com is drawing upon is the success that affinity marketing strategies have shown in the offline world and bringing that proven direct marketing vehicle online," said Mr. Bernstein.

Copyright September 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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