H&R Block hoping for many happy returns

It's a tall order, but the marketing mavens at H&R Block think they can do it. 'Our strategy,' says Kevin Mobley, H&R Block's director of international and ethnic marketing, 'is to make tax preparation and filing fun.' Fun? Filing your tax...

It’s a tall order, but the marketing mavens at H&R Block think they can do it.

‘Our strategy,’ says Kevin Mobley, H&R Block’s director of international and ethnic marketing, ‘is to make tax preparation and filing fun.’

Fun? Filing your tax return?

‘I know,’ says Mobley. ‘But instead of the drudgery people go through every year, we’re trying to put a positive spin on it.’

The Kansas City, Mo.-based tax preparer, along with its Canadian subsidiary H&R Block Canada of Calgary, is putting some marketing muscle behind a couple of programs – both online and traditional – in order to make processing all those schedules, slips, calculations and receipts something people can look forward to.

Earlier this month, H&R Block launched its expanded and redesigned Web site, www.hrblock.ca, which features an online tax program. The nearly four million taxpayers who have participated in the federal government’s Netfile program can use H&R Block’s online program to file their returns directly. In addition to the secure online tax preparation program, the redesigned hrblock.ca also offers taxpayers exclusive, personal assistance from H&R Block tax professionals. There is no software to download or install.

‘It’s a nice way to grow our business in Canada,’ says Mobley of the online program. ‘And it offers more than just tax filing. There are also other services, too, such as assistance options, tax tips and occasional live chats with a company tax expert.’ For a fee, there is also professional tax guidance available online. Specific questions are answered within 24 to 48 hours for $19.

Using the former Wunderman Cato Johnson – which recently changed its name to Impiric – for global direct marketing, and Landor & Associates for branding, H&R Block also devised the Double Back direct mail campaign.

Double Back is a contest in which H&R Block Canada will match the refund, or pay the balance due – whichever one applies – up to $1,000 for 100 taxpayers. The grand prize winner will get his or her annual income matched by Block up to $50,000.

According to Anneliese Acton, senior account manager at Impiric, Double Back went to approximately 1.2 million customers, many of whom were H&R Block customers last year or the year before, but some of whom were new prospects.

The offer included a certificate entitling the recipient to a scratch-and-win card.

‘It’s both a retention and acquisition effort,’ explains Mobley of the contest, which runs until May 1. ‘And it’s also a program that we think will create some excitement.’

The company was able to identify non-customers by comparing names on purchased lists in targeted areas to its current customer base.

‘We’d learn from that list who were not H&R Block customers but likely to respond to the offer, and so that is who we targeted.’

Recipients who had been H&R Block customers were enticed back to the fold with a 10% discount, says Mobley.

‘Double Back seems to be received very well,’ he continues. ‘There is lots of interest building in it, as people realize they have a chance of doubling their tax refund, or their income.’

The direct marketing and online initiatives are part of a global US$100 million advertising campaign. In Canada, where H&R Block set up shop in 1964, there are nearly 1,000 storefront locations and a steady customer base of two million. Mobley says the Internet and technology – as well as federal government initiatives that simplify and speed up the tax filing process, such as Telefile – have not hurt business.

‘We were really one of the first to market with electronic filing, nearly 20 years ago,’ he says.

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