Alcatel Internetworking Inc., seeking to establish a new brand within the international company that had acquired it, eschewed the hard sell and chose informational e-mails to build relationships with potential customers.
The Calabasas, CA, enterprise networking firm, formerly known as Xylan, became part of Paris-based telecommunications and Internet technology company Alcatel four years ago. Since then, Alcatel Internetworking has labored to move away from its old brand and communicate its new identity.
Alcatel Internetworking also sought to distinguish itself from other Alcatel business units active in North America, said Jennifer Harper, senior marketing director-North America for Alcatel Internetworking. It sought to accomplish its goals economically in conjunction with its existing marketing efforts in direct mail and trade show promotions.
Deciding to try e-mail marketing, Alcatel Internetworking began a six-month test two years ago to determine what formats worked best. The firm divided its database of 40,000 initial prospects — culled from trade show contacts, existing customers and word-of-mouth reference — into chunks and tried various e-mail strategies.
Alcatel Internetworking's prospect list consists of IT managers, engineers and corporate executives with influence over technology procurement, such as chief information officers.
The firm hired Emark Solutions, a Portland, OR, lead-generation and marketing firm, to handle data warehousing, database management, e-mail distribution and tracking and reporting on the campaign.
The marketing team found that offering prospects hard information about Alcatel Internetworking's products lacked the same effect as “soft” educational e-mails. Surveys showed that people were most apt to read and recall e-mails that offered useful information about enterprise networking technology, rather than a direct solicitation for a product.
“If nothing else, people remembered getting the information,” Harper said.
Alcatel Internetworking offered prospects three monthly e-mails: a newsletter, a technology brief similar to a white paper and “technology term,” a definition and discussion of specific industry terminology. Of the 30,000 prospects who opted in, a majority decided to receive all three, she said.
That list of prospects receiving the informational e-mails has grown to 53,000. The growth has come from the use of rented lists and contacts made at trade shows as well as prospects passing the e-mails along to interested colleagues.
Harper also took pains to ensure the e-mails are interactive to a degree, and she answers any response from prospects to the information she distributes. For example, a “technology term” e-mail on telemarketing predictive dialers, a hot topic in that industry, resulted in hundreds of responses from readers.
“We learned that people actually wanted to be heard and liked to express their opinion,” Harper said. “And they liked to think that we wanted to hear it.”
Since the campaign began, Alcatel Internetworking has cut the monthly newsletter, which contained links to industry and technology news. The newsletter was the most labor intensive of the three offerings, and few prospects protested when it was terminated.
Because no direct offers are made in the e-mails, tracking response can be a challenge, Harper said. Alcatel Internetworking's marketing department hands over leads to its sales force, which can make equal claim to any revenue generated.
Through analysis of closed sales, Alcatel Internetworking has determined that 5 percent to 10 percent of sales come from leads that originated with the e-mail campaign.
To help track response, Emark developed a system of personalized Web pages via which Alcatel Internetworking prospects can respond to e-mail offers of information. Prospects click on a link and log into their personal page, which registers which pieces of information they downloaded and which e-mails they read, and makes that information available to marketers in real time.
“It's exciting for a true marketer,” Harper said. “Basically, I'm a fly on the wall, watching them open e-mail, read it or even call me.”