IBM Small Business Campaign Will Use DM

Computer products and services giant IBM Corp., Armonk, NY, this week launched an advertising campaign that will incorporate several direct response and direct marketing components as part of a massive new effort to target small businesses.

After launching the $100 million global marketing effort with an image campaign in the Wall Street Journal, the company will kick off a series of direct response efforts around the world, primarily using local newspapers. Direct mail campaigns, which will be largely product-focused, are set to begin distribution in June. The company did not specify how many pieces it planned to drop as part of the initial effort.

“This is the biggest, most comprehensive effort targeting small business that IBM has ever done,” said Jani Byrne, director of small and medium business marketing at IBM. “We've created a set of advertising campaigns that that allow us to build a relationship with small businesses.”

She said the SMB division has adopted a policy that all its advertising efforts in the campaign must produce measurable results. In order to measure the effectiveness of its efforts, the company will conduct a series of direct response tests that guide customers to specific phone numbers and Web landing pages so that response rates can be tracked and ad messages tweaked.

“We're developing a matrix of direct response advertising, some weighted more heavily to the product, some weighted more heavily to the content,” said Byrne. “We are working very hard to be able to measure the effectiveness of what we're doing. We need to know if what we are doing is effective so that we can change it in real time as we need to.”

The marketing effort is supporting an array of new services and products tailored specifically for small businesses, including tools for sorting Internet content, bundled hardware and software packages, training programs to assist entrepreneurs in managing their technology needs and tools to assist companies in developing e-commerce strategies.

The offerings, Byrne said, were developed after conducting focus groups with small-business owners around the world. The research revealed that small businesses, strapped for time and resources, are seeking guidance in developing cost-efficient technology solutions and in finding ways to make the Internet work for them.

One of the core strategies of the advertising campaign, she said, will be to gather data on small businesses in order to facilitate future direct marketing efforts. In addition, IBM is staffing its call centers with dedicated small-business advisors that will be available for consulting but also will compile a database of information on small businesses in order to help IBM anticipate their future needs and target advertising toward them in the future.

“The whole tenet behind the direct response advertising is to bring the benefits of direct mail to the advertising arena,” she said.

In addition, she said, the marketing effort will incorporate a considerable amount of interactive work. Customized e-mail campaigns and electronic newsletters are expected to play an increasingly important role in the effort over time.

IBM is using two agencies for the marketing effort. Ogilvy & Mather, New York, is handling the launch and creating the overall image for the campaign, while BrannBlau, Wilton, CT, is handling the direct response and direct mail efforts.

IBM's aggressive foray into the small business arena pits it against some new competition, including direct marketers Gateway, Dell and Micron, all of which have specific programs targeting this diverse market.

Unlike those direct sellers, however, IBM plans to continue to push its products through its reseller channel partners.

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