InPhonic Finds Wireless Users Eager for Branded Phones

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InPhonic -- a 6-month-old Internet company that helps companies establish wireless distribution services -- ran its first direct marketing test effort earlier this month with three partners, generating a 4.5 percent response rate in less than a week.


Working with Lycos, Sandbox.com and Talk City, InPhonic sent more than 1,100 text messages Nov. 6 to the sites' registered members on their cellular phones. The messages read: "We hope you are enjoying your cellular phone! Call (a toll-free number) for an additional FREE phone."


More than 48 percent of those who responded to the initial message have signed up for the free phone.


"The goal of the program is to gauge the level of interest in our partners' end-users in m-commerce and in this type of call-to-action," said David Steinberg, president/CEO of InPhonic, Washington. "We also wanted to get and quantify that market data in time for the holiday season."


InPhonic thought it was best not to use an offer for a specific product from any of its partners yet. "Right now we just wanted to get basic information on the interest of the program from consumers," Steinberg said. "And we wanted to deal with a product that we know cold."


InPhonic has more than 60 partners, most of which are Web-based.


"This gives us one more way to get in touch with our members and vice versa," said Alan Leifer, vice president of marketing at Sandbox.com, Reston, VA, an online sports and entertainment site with more than 5 million registered members. "It allows us to extend our online dialogue through a wireless device."


Through agreements with AT&T Wireless Services, Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems, Nokia, Motorola and Ericsson, InPhonic allows its partners to create their own Internet-ready branded cellular phones, allowing them to market directly to their customers.


Steinberg did not disclose the number of consumers who use the branded phones, but he said InPhonic plans to have more than 500,000 Internet-ready branded phones in the hands of consumers by the end of 2001. He did not disclose how many members from each company received the message.


"We are very happy with the response and conversion rate that it has already generated," Leifer said.


He said that while it is still in the planning stages, Sandbox.com intends to run some type of marketing promotion with InPhonic during the holiday season.


Steinberg also said the people who received the messages are part of a "100 percent opt-in network" and have indicated that they wish to receive messages from the companies on their phones.


Those interested in the free phone offer were directed to "dial 5 and then send" in order to be connected to a teleservices operator at InPhonic's inbound call center, which has 18 full-time operators. In order to receive the phone, consumers had to agree to a one-year commitment. They were set up with a rate plan as well.


Starting Dec. 1, InPhonic plans to run similar marketing campaigns with its top 20 partners. Steinberg said the text of those messages will be in the form of updates about the company with an offer tagged to the end. The messages can contain a maximum of 110 characters.


Users of the phones will only receive messages from the companies branded on their phones.
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