IBM Web test shows dramatic payoff

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In a campaign that blended a targeted Web site, CD-ROMs and direct mail, IBM Corp. has found a way to reach highly specialized petroleum engineers and vendors for as little as $500 a prospect, a fraction of its previous cost.

In the past, the cost to reach one of these highly-skilled scientists through direct sales calls on an individual level could run as high as $20,000, according to Fred Fassman, VP-distribution at IBM North America, Armonk, N.Y., who oversaw the creation of the Web-oriented program with Blau Marketing Technologies, Fairfield, Conn.


The multimedia campaign, launched last fall at a cost of less than $2 million, revolves around a Web site dubbed Seismic Connection.

So far the site has attracted roughly 4,000 new prospects for IBM, which comes to a cost of approximately $500 a prospect.

In fact, the site actually does triple duty: It serves as an information resource for petroleum engineers, a marketing vehicle for petroleum industry vendors working in partnership with IBM to reach hard-to-find industry buyers and influencers, and as an avenue for IBM itself to prospect for business partners in this narrow but very lucrative vertical market.


The target for IBM and its business partners is the 70,000 geophysicists working worldwide in 13 different countries. Through its partners, IBM wants to sell high-end computer solutions and services. According to IBM data, roughly half the target audience regularly use e-mail and share information via the Internet.

To reach this dispersed, hard-to-find group, IBM and Blau used a combined CD-ROM/Web marketing attack to attract scientists to a registration-based Web site, and supported it with a search engine banner campaign and trade print advertising.

The effort began with the Web site launch in August, which included a keyword banner buy on eight search engines from September through February, and a 15,000-piece direct mail drop in October.


The direct mailing, shaped like a cube, invited geophysicists to order a CD-ROM for special access to the Web site.

Over 15%, or 2,250 of the direct mail recipients requested the access disk, and of those who ordered one, approximately 25% signed onto the Web site within two weeks of receiving the disk, Mr. Fassman said.

"This was a great buyer group," he said. "What we're selling [via business partners] are $100,000 to $250,000 solutions for geophysicists."

IBM has also signed 24 new business partners to vend the high-end processors and servers used in petroleum mining research and predictions, all of whom are scheduled to appear on a subsequent release of the CD-ROM and in links from the Web site.


According to Peter Blau, executive VP-chief creative officer at Barry Blau & Partners, the site has pulled in more than 5,000 registrants, with about 60% of them logging on from their CD-ROMs, 10% responding to search engine banners, and 30% logging on after receiving the mailing, seeing November print ads, or otherwise finding the site.

Of the 5,000-plus registrants, 80% are individuals from companies that are not current IBM customers, according to Sharon Nardini, IBM manager-interactive direct marketing.

To retain the petroleum specialists signed on to the IBM Seismic site, the company launched PetroConnect as a subscription-based industry service that sells mining articles and information from 7,000 information sources.

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