Callaway Golf to Tee Off With Bilingual Hosted Online Chats

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Callaway Golf Co. will test bilingual hosted chats online next month in a bid to reach international audiences.


The Carlsbad, CA, golfing equipment manufacturer hopes the move will strengthen loyalty to its brand via increased consumer visits to callawaygolf.com.


"What we've found over the course of the last year is our international traffic has grown; it's almost doubled in terms of percentage," said Darian C. Pasterski, vice president of e-business at Callaway Golf. "That is pretty significant if you consider the fact that we don't have content in other languages yet."


The bilingual question-and-answer session is designed to make the company and the professional golf players who use its equipment more accessible to fans.


"What we're contemplating for the first chat is to manage it in two languages, so that people could submit questions in two languages and the answers would also be featured in two languages," Pasterski said.


That second language most likely will be Spanish. Pasterski would not disclose the next guest or the Web traffic that comes from overseas markets.


"I think for Callaway Golf online, it is a very deliberate desire on our part to reach out to more than just the U.S., English-speaking consumer," Pasterski said.


Founded in 1982, Callaway Golf today is the leading manufacturer of premium golf clubs under the Big Bertha label. Revenue last year was more than $800 million.


The company introduced callawaygolf.com in 1996, with the latest redesign as late as January.


Callawaygolf.com has hosted only one chat so far this year, with pro golfer Annika Sorenstam. The session, which was in English, lasted an hour and attracted nearly 200 questions. The site ran four chats last year, all in English.


It will not be easy handling questions in two languages. The company has to settle logistical issues, decide how many participants can be accommodated and make sure the responses are common across the two languages.


Once feedback is in, Callaway Golf will determine whether the bilingual chat should continue, morph into a multilingual effort or be mothballed.


The first bilingual chat will be promoted in Callaway Golf's outgoing communications, including e-mails to its house list, whose size was not disclosed.


In addition, the company will run banners on the Web sites of partners such as The Golf Channel and may send e-mails to The Golf Channel's online database.


There is only so much a manufacturer such as Callaway Golf can do online to attract new customers or retain the loyalty of existing ones. It does not sell online for fear of antagonizing its retail channel.


"We feel very strongly that physical trial is a very important element of a golf club purchase," Pasterski said. "One of the ways we can be effective is to try to develop these things that ultimately drive consumers to retail."


Callaway Golf will run a Father's Day promotion online, details of which are still being ironed out. That promotion will drive traffic to retailers that stock Callaway Golf equipment.


"If you don't sell direct to consumers online, it's a very difficult proposition to say, 'I'm specifically contributing to a selling effort,' " Pasterski said, "unless you do an integrated campaign with vouchers or coupons or something like that."


But even though callawaygolf.com's designated role is as a customer acquisition and retention tool, the results may be intangible.


"Can we say the existence of the Web site helps sell more golf clubs? Can't prove it," Pasterski said. "Can we say that having a chat or a bilingual chat is going to help us with anything other than goodwill and a positive experience, specifically to encourage a purchase? Nope. Are we working toward more tangible, measurable ways to do that? Yes."


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