Events a big 1st step

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Capturing details about the swarms of consumers attending events has always confounded marketers, but the emergence of several new tactics and technologies could change all that.

As events continue to gain popularity in the marketing mix, companies may soon leave behind the labor-intensive, low-response pro-cess of coaxing consumers to fill out sweepstakes entries by hand, in favor of rapid, mass-scale systems for getting consumer data at events.

Bacardi & Co. and Canada's Imperial Tobacco were among the first to use new hand-held, touch-screen and wireless gadgets to gather consumer data at events, along with quick methods of screening consumers to make sure they're old enough to participate in marketing and promotion efforts.

COKE MAKES SPLASH

Coca-Cola Co. got into the act last year, and this year Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. have significantly increased their use of high-tech methods for gathering consumer data at events. Consumer package-goods companies won't be far behind, experts say.

"Events are becoming an increasingly important touchpoint for customer relationship marketing, and data collection at events can be extremely powerful, bringing the product together with action on the spot," says David Scholes, president-CEO of Omnicom Group's Targetbase, an Irving, Texas, shop specializing in CRM.

The challenge, he warns, is that many marketers aren't prepared to manage such data, and they run the risk of "having all kinds of data trapped in silos within the company, and never tying it back to the overall marketing efforts."

For its "Rocket Cash" sweepstakes promotion last year for Sprite, Coca-Cola used a hand-held, touch-screen device to gather the e-mail addresses of teen-agers and young adults. Marketing representatives invited attendees at a wide variety of events, and even on the street, to tap their phone numbers, e-mail addresses and birthdays into the device created by Gold Media Group, St. Louis.

Each evening, Gold Media sent the data to Sprite's Web site, and e-mails were automatically sent to people who had provided their addresses; participants were continually updated about their status in the sweepstakes. The system also allowed marketing reps to give headquarters specific feedback from a menu of how the weather and other factors affected promotion participation, so organizers could take immediate action and make strategic adjustments. Interpublic Group of Cos.' Momentum, New York, coordinated the promotion.

PHOTO PICKUP

Rum marketer Bacardi has used Gold Media's devices within the last year to verify consumers' ages by taking a digital photo of their driv-er's licenses or identification cards as part of an instant-win sweepstakes at events. Javelin, St. Louis, coordinated the promotion. Mon-treal-based Imperial Tobacco also is using Gold Media's devices on an ongoing basis for promotions backing Player's brand cigarettes.

"A hand-held or touch-screen device is so much faster than filling out a piece of paper that consumers are a lot more willing to participate in promotions, and at the same time we're gathering information that can be used for marketing purposes down the line," says Mark Jabara, Gold Media president.

Ford has latched onto capturing e-mail addresses at events as a potent way to develop ongoing marketing relationships with young consumers. Last summer, Ford Focus was a sponsor of Area One, a major concert tour, and at each of 17 stops the carmaker took photos of thousands of consumers posing alongside souped-up Focus models at Ford's 20,000-square-foot tent.

To see their photos, consumers were required to provide their e-mail addresses and visit a special Web site (focus247.com), where visitors could download their photos in a Focus-branded "frame," and e-mail the photos to their friends. At a typical stop, where 2,500 event attendees had their pictures taken, 87% eventually downloaded their photos, says Brian Deffaa, a Ford assistant marketing manager who helped oversee the promotion coordinated with WPP Group's J. Wal-ter Thompson USA, Detroit.

"We have created a separate database of the e-mails of people who participated and who expressed interest in receiving more information about Focus in the future, and we're tracking these people as leads on an ongoing basis," Mr. Deffaa says.

Rival carmaker GM has honed its trackside consumer database-generation efforts at Nascar races with instant-photo promotions, says Terry Dolan, assistant brand manager of marketing for Chevrolet.

CHEVY IN GEAR

At each of six Nascar races this year, Chevrolet snapped digital photos "in the tens of thousands," inviting consumers to visit chevy.com to see their photos, Mr. Dolan says. Once there, consumers were asked to provide their e-mail addresses and indicate whether they wanted more information about Chevrolet cars.

"We get a substantial number of people who say they want more information; then we send them e-mails on a quarterly basis, and very few opt out," he says.

"Technology holds great promise for marketers seeking more details about consumers," says Debbie Major, senior VP-technology at Targetbase, "but gathering the information is useless without a plan to manage and act on the data."

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