MPS Touts Marketing Potential of Internet Bills

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Bell & Howell Mail Processing Systems, Durham, NC, has introduced Impact Internet Billing, a product the company says will give high-volume billings clients the ability to carry out targeted marketing programs electronically.

MPS, the largest division of Bell & Howell Co., Skokie, IL, an information retrieval system concern that sells traditional paper billing devices such as inserter machines, said Internet bills have even more potential for direct marketing.

"You've got more capability to [market] with an electronic bill than you do with a traditional paper bill because of its interactive nature," said Bill Walker, executive director for digital messaging at MPS.

Based on customer profiles or the content of bills, he said, electronic systems can specify a particular marketing message, place a banner ad or provide links to more product information.

Impact combines MPS paper document processing hardware and software with electronic billing and payment technology from electronic billing service firm CheckFree Corp., a unit of CheckFree Holdings Inc., Norcross, GA, and Internet billing software company edocs, Westborough, MA.

Though components of Impact are already available, the full system will be rolled out to pilot customer sites between now and the end of the year. The product will be generally available in the first half of 1999, Walker said.

CheckFree, which will handle electronic payments services for the Impact product, will operate on a transaction fee depending on customers' bill volume, Walker said. CheckFree and Bell & Howell also will jointly market the system.

"Historically, we believe that the perception in the marketplace is still that Bell & Howell is in hardware exclusively," said Erika Mangrum, executive director of marketing at MPS. "We get a lot of name recognition in that marketplace, but not as much in the software marketplace, and we really wanted to strengthen that."

To do that, MPS sponsored a breakfast at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville and enlisted ad shop Rockett, Burkhead, Lewis & Winslow, Raleigh, NC, to put together a small mail campaign to promote the event.

In staying with an egg and breakfast theme surrounding the MPS event, RBL&W designed a boxed mailing that included an ostrich egg and invited recipients to "find out more about what we've got incubating."

"We needed something that would give top-of-mind impact," said RBL&W senior account executive John Fredette, who described the mailing as "sort of like Martha Stewart meets P.T. Barnum."
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