*GetSmart Sweepstakes Drives Loan, Credit Card Requests

Credit and loan products Web site GetSmart.com has added a sweepstakes as the latest means of collecting data for future direct marketing efforts and gaining user feedback for site improvements.

The On the House sweepstakes — timed to reach consumers with excessive debt from holiday spending — awards a free month's rent or mortgage payment to a visitor who provides his e-mail address and status as a homeowner or renter. Entrants become eligible for a second month of payments by providing their name and ZIP code.

GetSmart, Burlingame, CA, serves as a search engine for home, auto and student loans, credit cards, debt consolidation products and small business financing from more than 100 lenders and more than 70 credit card issuers. Visitors enter their financial criteria and the site returns offers from competing institutions in the form of online applications or a phone number.

The site, which processed 450,000 loan applications in 1998, submits more than 40,000 applications per month. Once an application is processed, all further decisions — such as pulling a credit score and marketing — are handled by the specific lender. GetSmart receives commissions based on site traffic, applications and successful applications.

The company maintains a database of e-mail addresses as well as records of 15 million visitors from its internal tracking system. Senior vice president of marketing John McNamara said the site can track the origin of every visitor since its 1996 launch. From its cross-promotion campaign, which started six months ago, 3 million visitors have been contacted via e-mail or direct mail about new offers relevant to their interests.

Sweepstakes and other contests are conducted periodically to drive additional traffic to the site. GetSmart uses relationships with such partners as Time Warner and the MyPoints program from Intellipost to send both e-mail and direct mail that targets, for example, high school seniors with credit card offers.

McNamara said GetSmart will conduct large outbound e-mail campaigns to a partner's database if they know a segment has been looking for a specific product. The e-mail messages can contain a link to a specific set of offers or to the site itself.

Sweepstakes leads are used to test new offers and determine why visitors come to the site, but McNamara stressed that none of the information is shared with its advertisers. GetSmart has determined that 90 percent of visitors choose only to browse the site. Visitors who leave an e-mail address create a ready-made list for at least one additional communication.

GetSmart uses that communication to establish a dialogue for research and establishing satisfaction benchmarks. Visitors are asked what it will take to gain their repeat business and how the site can be improved. McNamara is surprised more sites do not conduct such research.

“Once a group gives you permission to ask one question, the possibilities start opening up,” he said.

GetSmart is one of three sites with financial selection criteria that First USA uses to offer various credit cards. Angel Carra, First USA channel manager for Internet marketing, would not disclose application conversion rates, but said selection criteria makes the process easier on consumers.

“They are a great partner to work with, and growing their site will benefit us more,” she said.

GetSmart currently advertises at more than 150 mostly portal-type sites, but has just rolled out an affiliate program that will add 500 to 800 lower tier financial sites to its network.

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