Branchez-Vous! links brand with the Net

There aren't too many jobs in which the list of responsibilities would include playing Tomb Raider 2 during office hours. But François Boulet happens to have one of them....

There aren’t too many jobs in which the list of responsibilities would include playing Tomb Raider 2 during office hours. But François Boulet happens to have one of them.

As newly appointed vice-president of content and services for Internet portal Branchez-Vous!, Boulet is responsible for improving the site’s current offerings and developing new features that will make it more attractive to those seeking a French-language entryway to the Web. So it wouldn’t be at all out of line for him to spend some time checking out a PC game before deciding whether it should be added to the portal’s gaming site, Jouez!

Mind you, he hasn’t had a whole lot of time for play since taking the job in August. A veteran of Quebec’s online marketing scene, Boulet chose to come on board at a time when Branchez-Vous! is looking to establish itself as the province’s number one portal site.

It’s a high-pressure situation, although not nearly so stressful as the senior post he held previously at Canoe. Boulet resigned that position in mid-August – on the same day, as it turned out, that corporate owner Quebecor purged a third of the staff. (‘I knew something was coming, but I didn’t know how big it was,’ he says now.)

Founded five years ago by Montreal-based Invention Media, Branchez-Vous! (www.branchez-vous.com) offers daily news and information content, along with a variety of vertical sites devoted to specialized areas of interest such as travel (Voyagez!) and shopping (Magasinez!).

For Boulet, whose background also includes a stint with Montreal’s Cossette Interactif, the first order of business is to refresh the content and services on Branchez-Vous! and its vertical sites. In addition, he’ll be trying to figure out just what to do with the 200-plus French domain names to which Invention Media currently owns the rights.

One of the challenges, he says, is seeing beyond what already has been done on the Internet, and envisioning new things that could be done.

‘The Web is such an amazing platform that looking at what others are doing can be a limitation,’ Boulet says.

Given the liberal use that Branchez-Vous! makes of the exclamation point, one might be forgiven for assuming that the site is just another Yahoo! imitator.

Not so, says Boulet. While the world’s most successful portal brand certainly provides a source of inspiration, it’s not an exact template. Yahoo!’s emphasis is on its exhaustive directory and search engine, he says – but Branchez-Vous! focuses on offering rich content and attractive services such as instant messaging, which research has indicated is much more popular in Quebec than anywhere else in Canada.

The site has also gone a step beyond Yahoo! and many of the other portal players by entering the free Internet access game. Branchez-Vous! introduced its offer – which allows consumers to download the necessary software from the site free of charge, in exchange for some personal information – this past June. Advertising support, created by Montreal-based 2B Interactive Communication Marketing, ran in outdoor, transit and print in 10 cities across the province.

Patrick Pierra, president of Invention Media (which intends to change its name to Branchez-Vous! once it goes public), says he’s hoping the free-access offer will appeal to the 60% of Quebec francophones who aren’t yet online.

‘Gaining traffic is the most important thing right now,’ he says. Ultimately, the goal is to build the Branchez-Vous! brand, and to put the site among Quebec’s top three.

In a further effort to attract French-speaking newbies, the company has introduced Branchez-Vous!-branded personal computers. The machines are available at two different price points, and come with everything the francophone user needs to access the Internet.

For now, the Branchez-Vous! PCs are only being sold online, but Pierra says he would like to make them available at retail eventually.

The idea is to link the Branchez-Vous! brand with the Internet in the minds of consumers, he says. ‘We see BV as a brand through which people experience the Internet.’

Once the company has shored up its stronghold in Quebec, there are plans to begin exploring the European market. More branded products like the Branchez-Vous! PC could be in the offing as well.

‘We’re not going to sell Branchez-Vous! soda,’ Pierra says. ‘But you can expect other devices linked to the computer.’

Also in this report:

- Home Depot leaves well enough alone: Retailer’s Quebec foray follows the same strategy that has worked elsewhere in Canada p.21

- Revenge of the curds: Dairy Farmers go for breakthrough in new cheese campaigns p.22

- Spokestoon makes noise for Rogers AT&T: Street-smart character helps build awareness in ultra-competitive wireless market p.23