*LifeServ Reaches New Parents, Home Buyers

LifeServ, which debuted software to guide couples through their wedding preparations in 1997, launches a new product today aimed at expectant parents and has integrated its WedServ software with the Internet and a CD-ROM into a personalized network designed to lengthen a user’s exposure to content and marketing offers.

BabyServ lets couples receive offers targeted to the different stages of pregnancy and the first year of a baby’s life based on demographic information and product requests they provide when registering for free life event planning software and a CD-ROM at the Web site www.babyserv.com. Offers also can be delivered in real time based on system usage patterns tracked by LifeServ, Chicago.

The company plans to introduce a HomeServ product aimed at home buyers next month and is developing ones for going to college and retirement. WedServ increased its membership from 10,000 to 100,000 in one year, and CEO Rob Reynolds is aiming to recruit a combined 1 million members for its various products this year.

“We get a huge leveraging effect from life events,” he said. “We know who you are and where you are [in a life event]. You tell us what information you want.”

LifeServ is striving to create sticky sites that will keep consumers engaged for long periods. Reynolds said WedServ members spent seven hours per month for 11 months using the software and 30 hours on its Web site for a total of 107 hours over the course of wedding planning. By comparison, he said women spend just one hour a week for four to five weeks reading bridal magazines.

“It’s not about the content but how you package it,” he said. “We don’t recommend. We’ll educate you about life insurance and associate a special offer or contact from Prudential Insurance. It’s a soft, integrated sell.”

BabyServ mixes marketing messages into schedules, to-do lists and reference links that are tied to the stages of pregnancy and birth. It also creates a personalized Web site for each couple to keep friends and family updated, send birth announcements and photographs and communicate gift requests. The software acts as a browser overlay to direct members to informational and e-commerce sites while the CD-ROM is a multimedia reference library with product recommendations for specific situations.

For the first time, LifeServ has lined up one set of major partners that will create awareness and provide content for the BabyServ and WedServ products and another set that will serve as preferred merchant providers. Baby formula manufacturer Mead Johnson, Evansville, IN, partnered with BabyServ to add an Internet leg to its Enfamil Family Beginnings relationship marketing program that uses direct mail and inbound teleservices. Mitch West, director of customer relationship marketing at Mead Johnson, said that of all the Web sites he approached, BabyServ was the only one with a message not centered on selling.

“Their model is built around customer relationship marketing. It’s not about banner advertising and click-through,” he said. “We don’t need advertising, we need relationships.”

As more and more Internet-savvy women become mothers, West said, BabyServ provides a way to reach them in their preferred medium.

Mead Johnson is one of 10 major partners that have signed sponsorship contracts worth $2.5 million. All partners are charged between $3 and $8 per relationship referral, and LifeServ earns a residual fee on each transaction.

Gary Wright, CEO of National Bridal Service, Richmond, VA, said WedServ adds value to the members of its network of 700 bridal specialty stores and 600 wedding planners by helping customers identify their needs. NBS distributes the WedServ CD-ROM through a network that reaches 300,000 brides each year.

“If a bride is looking for a place to purchase a dress, register for china or rent tuxedos, we have those recommendations,” Wright said. “For us, it’s a godsend. What it does for the retailer is add some zip to all their advertising.”

LifeServ’s commitment marketing model would qualify it in today’s terminology as an infomediary focused on the lifestage audience. With BabyServ, however, the company will turn the infomediary concept on its head by using partners to recruit members and members to market products.

In addition to Web advertising and affiliate programs, BabyServ will be promoted with inserts that include its URL in 20 million direct mail pieces from Mead Johnson, which reaches three out of four new birth mothers every year, in two monthly drops of 40 million pieces by credit card issuer First USA and in bind-in cards in Baby Magazine.

BabyServ and WedServ software have a bulk e-mail capability to communicate guest and gift list information and requests through a hyperlink to the member’s Web site. The company also is working on a deal in which a couple would connect out-of-town guests to discount airfares.

“We could almost get the members to sell for us,” Reynolds said.

Additional features of the BabyServ and WedServ systems include product requests by ZIP code to put members in contact with local merchants, an e-commerce wedding site and a feedback area where members can rank service providers and access the results.

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