TimeBills.com Campaign Is No Accident

TimeBills.com, Boston, which allows professionals who bill services by the hour to keep track of their billings on the Web, began testing a direct mail piece this month featuring a photograph of a man holding a tinkling baby.

The concept is a twist on the premise that people who use the service will save time and get home early. For the man depicted holding the infant, getting home early also has some drawbacks.

“The dot-com space is so crowded that we knew we had to do something to stand out,” said Jeffrey Hunt, vice president of marketing at TimeBills.com.

This is the first offline effort for the company, which has been doing some online banner and direct e-mail promotions. TimeBills.com expanded into postal direct mail, Hunt said, because of the greater abundance of names and lists that are now available. The agency that created the test campaign, Passaic Parc, Wellesley, MA, sought to break through the clutter with something eye-catching, according to agency founder Robert Rosenthal, who wrote the copy for the direct mail piece. The concept was selected from 200 ideas.

“Our view is that probably somebody was offended somewhere,” he said, “but a company like this needs to be put on the map. If a lot more people pay attention and now know who TimeBills is, and a few people get offended, so be it.”

Both Rosenthal and Hunt said they had not yet heard any negative feedback from prospects who received the mailings. As the campaign rolls out next year, the agency plans to stick with the theme that humorous things can happen when people have more time on their hands. Another mailing planned for late January will use the same photo, Hunt said.

In addition to serving as an attention-getting device, the 30,000-piece mailing served as a test for two formats and six lists. The company mailed 5,000 pieces each to test names from six rented lists, each of which was split in half to test the two mailer formats: a large, single-fold self-mailer and a 6-inch-by-9-inch postcard. Both formats used the same photograph.

Preliminary observations revealed that both the larger self-mailer and the postcard were generating similar levels of response, although Hunt said he has not yet fully analyzed the information. This means the company probably will use the more economical postcard format when it rolls out a full campaign next year.

Hunt also said the best-responding list among those tested was the one targeting Web professionals, while other test segments, including some obvious targets like attorneys and accountants, did not perform as well. He said the lower response rates among certain professional groups might be attributable to lower usage levels of technology in general among those groups.

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