When spam virus Melissa began rippling through thousands of e-mail systems late last month, the first reaction among makers of anti-viral software was to make a vaccine available to its customers. But the flurry of customer contact in the wake of the outbreak also created an opportunity for these software makers to gather thousands of new leads and to do some direct marketing.
“It sounds kind of awful, but we're really excited that it happened,” said Kimberly Eickerman, marketing communications manager at Alladin Knowledge Systems, a Seattle company that markets several security systems containing anti-viral software. “Nothing sells better than a real-life example.”
The company this week sent a 10,000-piece mailer touting its eSafe Protect Enterprise product, a package for corporations that offers centrally managed protection against viruses, vandalism and resource protection.
“It's such a great selling point that this Melissa happened,” said Eickerman. “We're going to maximize it.”
Eickerman said the mailing, which had been planned before the Melissa outbreak, but was moved ahead a few days to capitalize on the concern among computer system administrators, contained a brief letter mentioning the virus and a one-page collateral sheet outlining the benefits of eSafe Protect Enterprise.
The mailer went to a list of software-buying decision makers culled from the subscription lists of four magazines in which Alladin advertises: CIO Magazine, Information Security Magazine, Internet Security Advisor and SC (Secure Computing) Magazine. In addition, the mailer went to a list of leads obtained from recent trade shows.
The mailer was scheduled to be followed this week with telemarketing calls geared at setting appointments for system administrators to meet with Alladin's regional sales managers.
Although Alladin does use e-mail and makes its anti-viral software available for free trial from its Web site (www.aks.com), Eickerman said the company has had its best results using direct mail and telemarketing.
“We haven't found e-mail to be as effective as traditional methods,” she said. “The funny thing is that our audience, system administrators and CIOs, get so many e-mails. We've found that system administrators get really offended by being bombarded with e-mails, and CIOs, we've found, don't necessarily look at them.”
Dan Schrader, director of marketing at Trend Micro, Cupertino, CA, a maker of computer security systems, also is seeking to capitalize on businesses' concerns over Melissa, but primarily has been using e-mail to get its message out. The company markets software that protects corporate computer systems against viruses.
Ironically, the Melissa outbreak actually forced the company to put its direct marketing efforts on hold during the crisis as it devoted its resources to customer service, but the company was planning to follow the outbreak with some direct marketing.
The company increased the frequency of its electronic newsletter, normally distributed every two weeks, to once a week as soon as the outbreak occurred.
“There's no need right now to do lead-generation efforts,” Schrader said. “Right now, we're just working through the thousands of leads that have come in in the last couple of days.”
Within about two hours after the virus was detected, Trend Micro sent out a blast e-mail to its customers to let them know that the company had posted an update to its anti-virus software at its Web site (www.antivirus.com). By the end of the day, Trend Micro had posted a tool for network administrators that allowed them to scan their e-mail servers for infection using the Web site, without actually downloading any software.
“In the first week, we did 9,000 scans, and every one of them was a lead,” said Schrader. “Every one of those was someone responsible for running an e-mail system, and those are very valuable leads to us.”
The company is collecting data from those system administrators who opted to register when they used the network version of the scanning tool.
“We won't be too shy about contacting them,” he said.
The company also made another version of the scanning tool available for home users and small businesses. That tool was used more than 100,000 times by Web-site visitors in the first week, he said, although those customer contacts will not be used for marketing leads.
“If we had stopped and collected data from everyone who visited our site, it would have slowed down our system too much,” he said. “For us it was an image-building exercise. People in the direct mail industry might say we're crazy, but it was appropriate for us at the time.”
Trend Micro seeks to sell all its products through the reseller channel. It traditionally does some limited direct mail and telemarketing to end users and supports its resellers in their direct marketing efforts.
Although the company has been blanketing the Internet with press releases about its anti-viral software in the wake of the outbreak and has accelerated its e-mail newsletter schedule, it also exercises a lot of caution when sending its electronic messages directly to customers, Schrader said.
“We are very careful in how we use downloads,” he said. “We give people the option of opting out of receiving more information from us. We're in the security industry, so we have to be concerned about people's concerns about privacy.”