Some are employing all-in-one products to reach the tiniest SOHO operations; some have targeted offices of 10 to 15 employees; and others have thrown out conventional wisdom.
"This is one of the most difficult markets to target," said Chuck Pickett, product manager at Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Vancouver-based Consumer Marketing Center. He is overseeing the HP DeskJet 850C printer line. "You can't find [SOHO customers] in just one place."
"There are more than 40 million SOHOs now, with more people moving into those situations annually," said Russell Marchetta, manager-corporate public relations for Canon USA.
Canon has concentrated on multifunctional office products, or MFPs. Mr. Marchetta cited statistics by BIS Strategic Decisions, Norwell, Mass., showing 62% of SOHO professionals would buy one MFP instead of several single-function products. And 65% said they would buy an MFP in the next two years.
BIS projects there will be 50 million home offices by 2000, a 25% increase from 1994.
In the spring, Canon introduced its second-generation MFP, the MultiPass 1000, touting it as a six-in-one printer, plain-paper fax, PC fax, scanner, copier and telephone.
Since potential business users are scattered, it's not easy to zero in on them using specialty publications, with the exception of the computer magazines, Mr. Marchetta said.
So in addition to computer publications, Canon in September started a round of advertising that includes network and cable TV, newspapers, news and business consumer publications. "It's everything you need next to your PC. Everything." is the theme of ads in the estimated $5 million effort that rolled out earlier this year from DCA, New York.
Hewlett-Packard Co. also began a new flight of advertising in September, part of a $20 million cable TV and small-business magazine campaign backing two new printers-the LaserJet 5L, which retails for $479, and the DeskJet 850C color printer, which retails for $549.
But before letting Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, San Francisco, sketch its first ad, HP conducted intensive market research.
HP found SOHOs are extremely time- and productivity-conscious, want equipment that's versatile but still desire quality, making them willing to pay more than a typical consumer.
As a result, HP simplified its DeskJet 850C line to get the printers up and running sooner while requiring fewer buttons.
Since SOHO shoppers only buy printers every three to five years, HP created in-store demonstration units and added detailed information materials to bring them up to date.
Though the jury is still out on the effectiveness of HP's research and campaign, another company has roared back from the brink of bankruptcy thanks to its intensive SOHO market examination.
Iomega Corp., a Roy, Utah, maker of removable computer storage drives, was ready to close when it brought in General Electric Co. consumer products marketing veteran Kim Edwards to take over as president-CEO.
Shortly after Mr. Edwards took over, the company conducted more than 100 focus groups and 1,000 telephone interviews to determine customer needs.
What it came up with was the Zip drive, an inexpensive but high-performance removable storage drive aimed at the SOHO market, that has left mail-order houses and retailers swamped with orders. At $200 list, the Zip drive is the lowest priced in its category. Iomega also made the drive easy to set up, relying on research indicating that was high on the SOHO wish list.
Early Zip drive demand was driven by product reviews and ads from Dahlin Smith White, Salt Lake City, aimed at distributors in publications like Computer Reseller News and Computer Retail Week. Iomega plans consumer print and TV ads next year.
Mita Copystar America is pursuing larger corporate environments with its Mita AF-1000, a copier, fax, printer and scanner in one machine. The company positions its MFP as a "powerful integrated document imaging system."
The AF-1000 lists for about $6,000 at its 500 U.S. dealers, a sharp contrast with the Canon MultiPass 1000, which lists for less than $900 at office supply chains.
Mita, with creative from Lord, Dentsu & Partners, New York, broke network and cable TV and print ads in September for the AF-1000, with print in Time, Newsweek, and business publications. Spending is estimated at $3 million.