E-marketing Evolves at US Web

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Internet services firm US Web is driving offline magazine subscriptions and other free trial offers by making a pitch at the time of purchase on e-commerce sites and has just won the account of online marketing trailblazer Sports Illustrated and its Web site, CNN/SI (www.cnn/si.com).

The audience development division of US Web, Santa Clara, CA, formerly known as Cybernautics, designs and implements e-mail marketing campaigns for publishers, pharmaceutical, packaged goods and software companies. US Web merged this month with marketing communications and technology solutions provider CKS Group, Cupertino, CA, to form US Web/CKS.

US Web has been conducting online marketing campaigns for three and a half years and has witnessed the evolution of the Internet into a mainstream medium, according to director of business development Chris Frey. When the company started out, Frey said the goal was driving traffic to promote content and increase page views. The next phase of marketing was community focused, driving chat and site memberships. Over the past year, he said e-commerce has started to kick in.

US Web started forming strategic partnerships with e-commerce partners such as REI Equipment and Webley.com and with online incentive programs such as NetCentives and BonusMail. It has developed a proprietary list of opt-in e-mail addresses and also rents e-mail lists of "trusted vendors" to which it delivers messages with hyperlinks to offer pages. Frey said most of the offers are sweepstakes or promotion-based and consist of some sort of free trial. Users that elect to receive an offer earn extra incentive points.

According to Frey, the closer the affinity of an offer to the content of a site, the better the response. "When the campaign is focused on people that fit a certain profile, the response has been phenomenal," he said.

Software developer MacroMedia sent an e-mail message to its customer base prior to a new product announcement, asking them to opt in to receive additional information. When the software was released, 40 percent downloaded it.

Sports Illustrated, New York, has seen response rates about half as high from one campaign and continues to test a series of different online marketing approaches.

SI was one of the first magazines to participate in an e-mail campaign with Interactive Features Syndicate, Seattle, that targeted prospects from the registration databases of sports related Web sites who consent to receive a four issue free trial offer. The offers are HTML mail cartoons that look like a mini-Web site when opened and can be personalized and passed along to others. SI has been working with IFS for 10 months.

Some sites took the SI offer and e-mailed it to their customer list, said Amy Mulderry, online marketing manager at Sports Illustrated. The magazine also is looking to draw names of registrants from other Time Inc. sites.

Traffic at the CNN/SI site is a primary source of leads, Mulderry said. Fans that sign up for a free e-mail address at CNN/SI receive the free trial pitch while participants in the site's fantasy football and baseball leagues are presented a trial subscription offer during registration.

Offers also appear as part of the checkout page for the NFL/SI online store, the Ultimate Football Shop, as well as on banners ads and links. SI has also tested offers at other sites where consumers provide their names and addresses. "Wherever there is a collection [name and address], we'll have an offer,'' Mulderry said.

US Web will assist CNN/SI in launching its e-commerce site Dick's Sporting Goods, which will go up in February. That site will also feature a free trial offer at checkout.

"There is an infinite number of subscriptions we could generate online as more people get e-mail addresses,'' Mulderry said. "The Internet was custom made for direct response."

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