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Sports themes score for b-to-b

Business-to-business technology marketers have found that their audience of business decision makers responds well to entertaining messaging — often relating to sports — as a way to cut through the current economic malaise and keep the conversation going around their products and services.

B-to-b agency Doremus launched the Sage Experience campaign for its client Sage Software, which provides business software for small and midsize companies, in March — at the height of the recession.

“When we launched, we were in the middle of the worst doom and gloom,” says Kevin Jenkins, VP and account director for Doremus in charge of the Sage account. “So, we launched in sports media. The idea was that sports provided an escape from those business realities.”

Rich media banners appeared on content surrounding March Madness, the opening of the Major League Baseball season and golf’s Masters tournament, as well as business publications.

“We closely tracked each month what the results were by property and ad type,” says Dennis Frahmann, EVP of marketing for Sage.

Sage’s position was familiar to other b-to-b marketers, whose campaigns are often laser-targeted to prospects in different places along a sales cycle. Because of the severity of the recession, companies like Cisco Systems, a marketer of networking software, were forced to re-evaluate their messaging.

Cisco had launched a campaign featuring case studies from companies who had implemented its technology. But it realized that it had to focus more specifically on how its technology provides cost savings, and turned to its partners to help get that message across.

“Our partners [range from] sports leagues to nonprofits,” says Diane Dudeck, senior director of worldwide media, entertainment and sponsorship marketing at Cisco Systems. “We had [NHL commissioner] Gary Bettman speak at a customer event about how [the league] is using our technologies to deal with their sponsors and their teams through this downturn.”

Another marketer, Neolane, turned to direct mail in September with a baseball-themed dimensional mailer, complete with a complementary package of Big League Chew gum.

“A lot of people have pulled back and are not doing any direct mail,” says Kristin Hambelton, senior director of marketing for Neolane. “But if you look big picture in terms of what works, adding another channel helps.”


Neolane created a dimensional direct mail piece, “Big League,” which was sent out over the course of a few weeks this fall to 500 potential customers. It included a cover letter, three case studies, and a pack of Big League Chew gum.

The baseball theme, including the tagline “Is your cross-channel marketing ready for the big leagues?” fit with previous Neolane creative, and tied in with the Major League Baseball pennant races and playoffs.

“Our target was marketing directors or above, people that showed interest, whether they downloaded a whitepaper, attended a webinar or clicked on a Google ad,” says Neolane senior director of marketing Kristin Hambelton. “Our goal was to get them to look at case studies and the Flash demo. When we called them, we asked them to share some challenges they might be having in order to uncover opportunities to move them along the buying cycle.”

Private URLs, at which recipients could download the case studies in more detail or view a Flash demo of Neolane’s software were highlighted in the collateral. When prospects visited the URLs, Neolane’s software — the same it was promoting, Hambelton notes — captured the lead and made it available to the company’s business development department so it could prioritize calls.

The idea for the mailer developed over a few months and was based on the success of a dimensional direct mail piece sent in the summer.

“The response to that mailer gave us the confidence to do something a little more expensive and a little more comprehensive,” Hambelton explains.

She attributes the success of the mail strategy to Neolane’s familiarity with its target customer, which leans more toward marketing executives and decision-makers than the IT department.

“If it was strictly an IT audience, I would’ve done something different,” Hambelton explains. “That department’s information needs, how they consume and how they want to interact are different. They might not be as appreciative as a marketing person to a dimensional mailer. Marketers put it on their desk, look at what went into it and think about it.”

The company will continue this strategy going forward. “The next one might target people farther along in the sales cycle,” Hambelton adds.


Amid a dismal market, Cisco decided to reposition its ongoing “Human Network” campaign with the “New Ways” campaign, which launched in January. The effort, which incorporates social components heavily, focuses on Cisco’s Webex Web conferencing tool and unified communications products.

The goal, explains Diane Dudeck, senior director of worldwide media, entertainment and sponsorship marketing at Cisco Systems, was to show businesses that they could use Cisco’s collaboration technology to cut down on travel costs and save money in the downturn.

“Businesses were focused on the short term — it was all about cutting costs,” says Dudeck. “But it wasn’t a time to stop spending. It was a good time to make investments in technology, increase efficiencies and distance yourself from the competition.”

In one creative execution, the Elect-a Guru microsite allowed visitors to upload a picture of themselves or a friend and incorporate it with one of the company’s television commercials for the effort, “Guru.” Users could e-mail the completed video — the silhouetted head attached to the titular Cisco guru — to friends.

“We felt that we needed to take a bit of a humorous approach to entice business and decision makers to think about Cisco in a new way and have those conversations to understand how technology could help them get through the downturn,” Dudeck says. “We were happily surprised from a viral perspective — 82% of the people who watched the videos shared them with someone else.”

A main goal of the campaign was to drive people to Cisco.com. The main thrust of site collateral was “Five ways to thrive in today’s economy.” Cisco used banner ads and increased its search spend by 50%, believing that business leaders and technology decision makers would be looking online for ways to save money in the downturn. When people clicked on these digital ads, Cisco.com displayed content related to the ad copy.

In addition to the digital and television collateral, Cisco used events. It partnered with BusinessWeek on webinars. Also, as part of the launch of the “Five ways to thrive” milieu, Cisco partnered with the National Hockey League, inviting several of its customers to the league’s 2009 All-Star Game. There, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman appeared with Cisco SVP Rob Lloyd, discussing the ways Cisco technology helped the league.

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