Ingrid Van Den Hoogen, Senior VP-brand, global communications & integrated marketing, Sun Microsystems

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Sun Microsystems spent the past year proving to clients and the tech industry that it really is "easy being green"—if you've got the right product and marketing. The eco-friendly messaging was one of the key tenets of this year, the second in a brand transformation effort to position Sun as a leader in the "Participation Age."

"When we started the eco-messaging a year ago, a lot of people scratched their heads and said, `What are you doing? No one wants to hear that message,' " said Ingrid Van Den Hoogen, senior VP-brand, global communications & integrated marketing. "A lot has changed in a year's time."

The environmental message was at the core of Sun advertising this year, including print ads (with one particularly popular ad depicting a server chained to a tree), outdoor, online and event marketing. The launch event in New York billed Sun's newest server as the world's first eco-responsible server, with Sun bringing oil rigs, oil barrels and earth loaders full of coal into Times Square to show how much fuel it takes to run a data center for one hour.

The featured new "green" server, the UltraSPARC T1, sold briskly and within two quarters became a $100 million product line—the fastest server growth in Sun's history, Van Den Hoogen said. It helped push Sun servers back into the No. 3 market share spot, with a 13.1% share by revenue.

Strong server sales are likely to continue as Sun sets up co-marketing deals with utilities and other green partners. California utility Pacific Gas & Electric, for instance, is offering $1,000 rebates to purchasers of the eco-friendly servers, and Sun is working with other power companies on similar deals.

Web 2.0 companies comprise an ongoing growth engine—and marketing focus. With some 3,000 new start-ups in Silicon Valley, Van Den Hoogen wants to make sure they work with Sun. To that end, the company launched a "try and buy" program that allows customers to try out hardware for up to 60 days (with both free delivery and return).

The program, launched in February, is an extension of Sun's free software trials and so far has been quite successful. More than 60% of the participants are new customers to Sun, Van Den Hoogen said. And although many do return the hardware, there are also "a boatload" who buy, she said.

Webcentric sales and marketing for the program cuts costs and has had the bonus side effect of building a database of companies for Sun and its partners to call on.

Employee blogging remains a valuable customer service and communications tool for Sun. Those taking part range from CEO Jonathan Schwartz to software and hardware engineers to Sun's top lawyer, Matt Dillon. "We've got a vibrant blogging community that talks to all kinds of participants. We're really proud that anyone at Sun can blog," Van Den Hoogen said. —B.S.B.

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