Culligan Tests E-Commerce Waters

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Culligan Water Technologies Inc. is testing e-commerce with a new e-mail marketing campaign that aims to gauge if online consumers are open to buying cooler-based 5-gallon jugs of bottled home water through the Internet.

Handled by interactive agency ImagineThat Inc., the campaign comprises 36,000 e-mails split equally between consumers in select metropolitan test markets in Nevada, Missouri and southern California.

The effort, which began yesterday, is Culligan's first Internet marketing push, said Derek Bonney, vice president of business development at ImagineThat, Lisle, IL.

"They're trying to put their toe in the water to see if people, one, are susceptible to online advertising regarding bottled water products because traditionally Culligan's been door-to-door delivery and also to see if they're susceptible to doing the transaction piece of it online," Bonney said.

The one-shot e-mail was sent to homeowners and new movers, consumers who are predisposed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and parents. All opt-in consumers names were rented from ad network 24/7 Media Inc., New York.

Bonney said that the campaign was highly targeted and personalized so as to convince online consumers to opt for home-delivered bottled water and the possibility of receiving up to six bottles of water for free.

"There were three separate messages, one for each audience, geared towards specific benefits of purified water for each group," Bonney said.

"Three separate landing pages [linked from the e-mail] have also been developed for each audience that reinforce the benefits of water, outline the promotion and contain the e-commerce engine."

To respond to the offer, consumers have to click on the e-mail to be led to a specialized landing page on the site at They will then be asked to enter their zip code for locating the nearest Culligan dealer or franchisee that will fulfill the order.

If there is no dealer in the consumer's zip code, then the promotion is not applicable to the e-mail recipient - a key qualifier. Nor is the promotion applicable to existing Culligan customers, since this is a fresh acquisition initiative.

In addition, consumers have to supply their credit card number to enter into a yearlong contract with the company. This contract can be broken at any time.

"The other thing is," Bonney said, "they're not going to take the sale away from the dealer because in order for you to take the service there has to be a local dealer in your area, so it does tie back into your preexisting dealer channel."

In business for 65 years, Culligan, Northbrook, IL, is part of U. S. Filter, which is owned by Universal Vivendi. It makes household water softeners, microfiltration products, filters for tap waters, desalination systems and portable deionization services for industrial and commercial users.

But Culligan also sells bottled water through its nationwide dealership, including brands like Bruner, Everpure and Elga. The e-mail initiative, however, pushes Culligan's branded home bottled water delivery service.

"They're shifting to the home market for bottled water," ImagineThat's Bonney said. "They've always served the home market for filtration systems but they really haven't hit [consumers] hard enough for home bottled water services."

Response from the test markets will determine if Culligan should expand the service to other regions.

"The targets were chosen because of high area [bottled] water consumption, brand awareness and dealer penetration," Bonney said, adding that "product pricing can vary pending locale but all orders will be transacted online and fulfilled through a local dealer."

While Culligan would like to play its cards close to the chest on future plans, it is aware that competition may follow suit. Rivals in the home bottled water area include Sparkling Spring, Hinckley and Schmidt, and Sparkletts, who compete with Culligan in different markets.

Bonney is confident that the e-mail push - whose cost he would not disclose - would generate a satisfactory response.

"I'll float between an 8 [percent] to 10 percent response rate and then I'd like to see about a 25 percent acquisition rate," he said. "So about 25 percent of those who respond should go ahead and make the actual purchase."

Based on the feedback gained, Culligan might pursue a traditional mailing.

"The plans may call for a direct marketing initiative or hard copy mailing to see what the comparisons are as far as acceptability by consumers," Bonney said. "Are they more receptive to direct mail or is opt-in e-mail a better choice?"

But he hasn't lost sight of the toughest task ahead, which the e-mail campaign is meant to overcome.

"I think the biggest challenge it's going to address," Bonney said, "is whether or not the online audience is willing to buy products such as cooler-based bottled water online or is it going to have to be a dealer that has to go to your house and do the face-to-face deal with you?"


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