US Interactive and Be Free Announce Strategic Partnership

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Internet services agency US Interactive Inc., Philadelphia, and Be Free Inc., Pittsburgh, a provider of online channel technology, announced a strategic alliance last week to generate traffic and develop new Web-based marketing programs for e-commerce clients.

Together, the two companies will help Internet-oriented retailers reach more customers through the deployment of online sales channel technology that interconnects their merchandise displays with an extended network of affiliated Web sites. The sales transaction itself, however, is actually driven back to the originating Web site's electronic store.

Developing these Internet direct marketing programs is becoming big business for traditional agencies as well as smaller communications companies with advanced Internet technology expertise.

US Interactive spokesman Mike Carter said that in the near future 40 percent to 50 percent of all e-commerce-oriented transactions will be driven by such technology.

"I think by the end of the year, half of the successful e-commerce sites will have some kind of affiliate program."

In basic terms, Carter said that Be Free is essentially a software company that develops and manages affiliate solutions. He said that Be Free's technology and understanding of affiliate network marketing will be combined with US Interactive's proprietary strategy solutions to deliver more online productivity for clients. Carter explains that, together, the two companies provide three legs to the stool: the business strategy, the Internet strategy and the digital marketing and technology competencies.

Gordon Hoffstein, president/CEO of Be Free, said US Interactive is the first Internet professional services company to partner with Be Free. He said "Their vision of the E-Roadmap includes a significant area that depends on Be Free's affiliate sales channel solution to help extend the reach and maximize the online selling potential for its clients."

At US Interactive, CEO Steve Zarrilli said that solutions like Be Free's present a cost-efficient and effective way to garner virtual foot traffic and ensure that the E-ROI for a business is met.

Carter reaffirmed the efficiency of such approaches and noted that more companies are turning to strategic-oriented solution companies rather than traditional advertising or marketing consultants.

"We run into three competitors, the traditional advertising agency, management consulting companies, and systems integrators."

He says agencies can do great creative but he questions how many of them can really build an Internet infrastructure. He also notes that management consulting companies and systems integrators are great at pinpointing problems or building networks; but can they develop customer service relationship programs?

"Clients today are demanding that a new breed of Internet service company emerge." he said.
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