*Zaptel.com Scratches its Niche With Direct Marketing

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Virtual phone card provider Zaptel.com will launch a series of direct marketing campaigns within the next month to reach its target audiences of college students and ethnic markets.

A virtual phone card functions the same as its physical counterpart, but the consumer either prints out a toll-free phone number and personal identification number or jots down the information from his computer screen. Customers are predominantly international callers looking for low rates and college students given cards by their parents.

To reach these audiences, Zaptel's campaigns will target international organizations, such as Asian student organizations on college campuses and aupair associations.

Within the next two weeks, the site plans to drop 3,000 pieces to members of an aupair organization.

"In these niche markets, we are connected with the overseeing association and we've created an alliance with them," said Dan Falter, vice president of marketing for Zaptel, LLC, Libertyville, IL. "[For aupairs, phone cards are] great for them because a host family doesn't care what it costs to call Sweden and the aupair will be charged quite a bit."

Next month, the site will drop an additional 3,000 direct mail pieces to international student organizations. The focus of this piece will be a pad of tear-off sheets that promotes the site. The lists will come from the organizations. Other monthly mailings will follow.

In April, the site will begin to aggressively promote its "associates" and "friends" programs through an e-mail marketing campaign. To kick-off the campaign, the 2,500 members of the site's ZapAlert e-mail service will be notified of the programs.

The associates program is an affiliate program where Web sites post a banner. They receive a 7 percent cash commission derived from sales resulting from consumers that clicked through the site. The program currently has 50 members.

The friends program allows sites to register their Web addresses. Whenever $100 worth of phone cards is purchased from visitors from a "friend URL" the site earns a $10 phone card.

Additionally, the April e-mail will present a $5 discount on a $20 virtual phone card to its ZapAlert members.

Zaptel.com has been testing print ads in college newspapers. It ran full-page ads with quarter page follow-ups in eight newspapers. The efforts have been successful, said Falter. "We targeted campuses that had a reasonable percentage of international students. Word is spreading because these students talk to each other."

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