Suntory Waters Down Acquisition Rates

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Suntory Water Group is attempting to make its Web destination, Water.com, a supersite for businesses and consumers alike that wish to have water shipped directly to their offices or homes. In the process, the company has found that the site and its savvy marketing campaign have reduced its customer acquisition costs by as much as 40 percent.


Water.com launched in December with the primary purpose of allowing customers to order Suntory Water products online. However, last month the company announced it was trying to "own the online water space" by bringing on other water providers such as Snowbird, Water Boy and Leisure Time.


Each company has a strong presence in different sections of the United States. By bringing the companies together, "we've furthered our reach. We pretty much have the whole U.S. covered," said Steve Bayliss, vice president of marketing at Suntory Water Group, Atlanta.


The other bottlers, which pay a fee to Suntory for each sale made on the site, were particularly happy with the arrangement since many of them did not have an e-commerce presence on the Web, Bayliss said. "Their sites were pretty much brochureware," he said.


The marketing of Water.com has been the antithesis of many of the efforts seen in other categories. "We're not spending a fortune on above-the-line media because we can do things at a relatively low cost that other people can't," Bayliss said.


An example of this strategy is the way it has leveraged its partnerships with the other water providers. Under their agreements, the companies must participate in four of six forms of marketing for the site. This includes placing the Water.com logo on their products and mentioning the site in advertising and public relations efforts.


The Web address already appears on "tens of millions" of Suntory products such as its water coolers and bottles, Bayliss said. The company has 1.2 million direct delivery customers.


Suntory also has launched its "Take the Best Part of Work Home" campaign with its 600,000 corporate customers. Employees of these companies can receive a discount if they start receiving home delivery.


Online, the company has struck deals with peripheral sites such as Vitamins.com. Through these strategic partnerships, the companies have agreed to cross-promote each other by distributing promotional brochures to current customers as well as by including links on their respective sites. Water.com also is partnering with SelfCare.com and eDiets.com.


In four weeks, Water.com has drawn more than 1,500 affiliate sites through its use of LinkShare.com. If a new customer comes through an affiliate site, it earns a finder's fee of $15 to $30.


All of these efforts have slashed the company's customer acquisition costs. Clients acquired via these Web efforts generally cost the company 40 percent less, according to Bayliss. A typical acquisition through traditional vehicles costs the company $130 to $150. Water.com also provides health information and research regarding hydration.


Suntory products are available across the United States, delivered straight to homes and offices in more than 40 states and in Ottawa. Its five brands include Crystal Springs, Hinckley Springs, Belmont, Kenwood and Sierra Springs.
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