EC-Gate Seeks to Crack US Market

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What do a walnut and a nutcracker have to do with a company's selection of a firm that will help build its business-to-business e-marketplace?


Plenty, according to EC-Gate, Toronto.


The e-marketplace developer, which has been operating primarily in Europe and Canada for the past year-and-a-half, is moving into the United States with the launch of its first direct mail campaign. It is targeting mid-sized to large businesses in the food services industry.


Starting in late November and continuing through February, chief decision-makers -- including CEOs, chief operating officers, chief information officers and chief technology officers -- will receive a walnut in the mail followed a few days later by a silver nutcracker. The campaign is being spread over an extended period of time to allow for follow-up by sales representatives. Lynne Kilpatrick, vice president of marketing at EC-Gate, said the idea behind the nut-and-the-nutcracker theme was to help to convey several messages.


"First, we wanted to show them that when thinking about building an e-marketplace they shouldn't have to pay for technology they don't need," she said. "Second, we wanted them to see that the technology we can provide them with doesn't have to be complicated and scary. It's also a great way to show them that we provide simple solutions for hard-to-crack problems."


Kilpatrick said EC-Gate is targeting the food services industry first because it has had success "with this particular industry in the past, and we had solid results that we could discuss" with U.S.-based companies.


It plans to send more than 2,000 pieces. The walnut is sealed in a white box and is accompanied by a note asking, "What does this have to do with your business? You'll see very soon." Two days later the nutcracker is mailed. It arrives in a 9.5-inch-by-12-inch white box along with a personalized letter and a glossy informational pamphlet.


The letter includes the name, e-mail address and phone number of a regional director. A toll-free number is also provided.


The pamphlet addresses the importance of having an e-marketplace and contains a detailed description of what EC-Gate can do.


"We went with this approach because, after looking at the marketplace for the last 18 months, it seemed that every ad we saw was conveying the theme of fear and included a lot of techno-babble," Kilpatrick said. "Our goal was to counter these two things, and we attempted to do that even with the soft call-to-action. The idea was to use this as a lead generator for our sales reps, so we wanted to make it easy for them to reach out to us."


Kilpatrick did not reveal the cost of each piece. She said the cost of the overall campaign was several hundred thousand dollars but less then $500,000.


"These pieces were much more costly than your average direct mail piece," she said. "But this was not a mass mailing. It was targeted, and with the nature of our target, we had to create something that was going to make it onto their desk. It had to be high-impact and be well done. If we did something cheaper and simpler, it would have been a waste of money."


Kilpatrick said if the campaign generates just one lead that is converted into a customer, the campaign will have paid for itself.

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