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Starbelly.com Tries E-Direct Marketing

Starbelly.com, a business-to-business promotional products site, plans to run its online marketing campaign using offline direct marketing principles.

Beginning in March, the company will test dozens of banner ads, rotating the creative, as well as different offers to reach businesses, groups and organizations that make up what Starbelly estimates to be a $75 billion premium items market.

“We're going to cycle through a lot of different offers and creative in real time to get to what works,” said Jennifer MacLean, executive vice president and general manager for Starbelly.com, Chicago. “The number of impressions we're going to make are going to be in the hundreds of millions. They'll be out there testing what click-through is.”

Avoiding TV and radio, the site is looking to more of a direct marketing approach to reach its buyer base. “We're concerned about return on investment, so we're taking an analytical approach by measuring what's effective and what's not,” said MacLean. “We're approaching this very differently from other dot-com companies because we're applying [direct marketing principles] to online marketing. [These principles] are tried and true and they work.”

Starbelly will be working heavily with Flycast, as well as with DoubleClick.

Offline, the company will run a 10 million-piece direct marketing campaign that will include direct mail, co-op and in-pack pieces. Heavy drops will begin in March. MacLean plans to test two or three different pieces of creative and multiple offers.

The company also plans on investing heavily in print advertising in business and trade publications, as well as a broad public relations initiative.

Sponsorships will play a large part in the marketing of this site as it has recently cut a deal with Yahoo to co-develop Web broadcasts and Web seminars. One such Web broadcast will include a discussion about permission marketing with Seth Godin, vice president of direct marketing at Yahoo Inc., Santa Clara, CA. It also plans on sponsoring high-traffic areas on other sites such as business events calendars. It will invest in keyword buys with a number of major search engines.

An affiliate program will be rolled out as well. It will operate on a sliding scale based on quarterly revenue. Affiliates should earn an average of 6 percent commission.

Starbelly is working to build its e-mail lists as interested buyers can currently register at the site for more information. It plans to launch an e-mail marketing campaign and is currently in discussions with YesMail and MatchLogic.

This month's launch is a soft one, and the site has undergone a 300-person friends-and-family beta test for usability.

By March, users will be able to select from up to 10,000 premium items, including golf shirts, mugs and hats. The site also will create private-label company stores known as StarStores. It is currently handling 40 such stores for corporate clients.

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