Vickers & Benson Direct + Interactive

Having moved last spring from a stand-alone interactive development company to become the president of Interactive for Vickers & Benson Direct+Interactive (VBDI), Michael Shostak now understands for the first time what it means to work for a truly integrated interactive agency...

Having moved last spring from a stand-alone interactive development company to become the president of Interactive for Vickers & Benson Direct+Interactive (VBDI), Michael Shostak now understands for the first time what it means to work for a truly integrated interactive agency that successfully blends traditional marketing savvy with in-depth technological expertise.

‘When it comes to solving marketing problems on the Internet’, says Shostak, a veteran of the Web, ‘we believe an interactive agency with strong technical skills and a heritage in traditional marketing disciplines such as consumer insight, branding and audience measurement is in a better position to respond than an all-things-to-all people Web development shop that solves a wide variety of problems.’

With a growing staff of nearly 100 and a blue chip client roster that includes the Bank of Montreal, Sprint Canada, Purina, CB Richard Ellis and others, VBDI was founded in 1997 in response to increasing client needs for more sophisticated interactive marketing. As president of the 50-person Interactive division of VBDI, Shostak says his team goes beyond typical agency creative marketing services with its ability to design and build full Internet experiences with transactional and database management capabilities. And with the recent purchase of Vickers and Benson by Paris-based Havas Advertising, the world’s fourth largest communications group, the Toronto shop will become a founding member of Arnold Worldwide Partners, enabling it to take advantage of increased opportunities to expand into global markets.

Shostak believes that during the past five years, companies have experienced three waves of business evolution on the Internet: the first wave was about establishing a corporate presence online; the second wave led many organizations to develop e-commerce transactional capabilities (B2B or B2C); and now, companies are entering the third phase in which they are using the Internet to build and measure customer relationships online.

‘During the second wave, many agency-based interactive shops got lost in the shuffle because of a lack of technical bench strength to respond to the market’ he observes. ‘But we have always had the technical strengths.’ (By 1998, VBDI had already built sophisticated, award winning e-commerce transactional sites).

Shostak says that the third wave, the customer relationship wave, is where the traditional agencies again have an opportunity to catch up with the market, particularly those who have tackled the technological challenges.

For Toronto-based cars4U.com, VBDI faced the unprecedented challenge of positioning, designing and building Canada’s first online automotive e-dealership. A classic example of the future of web development, VBDI built a web site that makes an involved buying decision easy for the consumer.

A true one-stop shopping experience, the consumer can research, price, finance, pay and arrange for the delivery of their vehicle – all online. Because the car business itself is complex, cars4u and VBDI collaborated extensively on researching and understanding how consumers make car purchase decisions, functionality and design of the site.

‘The depth of VBDI’s technical skills allowed them to capture business rules inherent in a car purchase’ says Barry Shafran, president and CEO of cars4u.com. Launched in September, the site quickly began selling the first cars ever online in Canada.

‘We chose VBDI as strategic partners because of their excellent internal resources and web development ideas’ says Shafran. ‘They worked hard to understand what we wanted and translated an extremely complex project into a well-designed site with clean, easy-to-use functionality. They adapted well to ongoing changes, and we were able to collaborate on many ideas that made the site such a success.’ In the next stage, VBDI will measure and analyze results to determine what’s working and what’s not, and more importantly, to start building an understanding of how to best build customer relationships online.

Although Ralston Purina Canada does not sell their products online, they did want to build strong customer loyalty. So over the past year, VBDI built and launched a two stage Web site that positions Ralston Purina Canada as the industry expert in pet care and nutrition.

Given a uniquely Canadian identity, Purina.ca uses a variety of community building tools, such as a Puppy Care Club, over 300 pages of rich content on dozens of products, detailed information on health, training, grooming, and a Canadian ‘Hall of Fame’ honouring animals for acts of heroism.

‘The site nicely captures our corporate character of being caring, knowledgeable and trustworthy’ says Susan Molenda, Ralston Purina’s vice-president of marketing. ‘We’re confident that the depth of content will lead to increased brand loyalty and opportunities to deepen relationships with our customers.’ During the next stage of development, VBDI will look at how Purina can best evolve and measure customer loyalty online.

For Sprint Canada, VBDI recently designed and built a consumer portal, sprint.ca, and a small business portal, ascenda.ca, and continues to handle the company’s branding, direct marketing, online development and marketing.

‘Clients are looking for two things: a single, integrated, strategic voice and accountability’ notes Shostak. ‘Sprint Canada is a good example of a tightly integrated client where we can use offline direct mail methods to build awareness, drive traffic online, and then measure results.’

‘What impressed us most about VBDI is that they have a stable of good, consumer-savvy web designers and developers who consistently come up with creative ideas and applications’ says Lilly Buchwitz, Sprint’s manager of portal websites. ‘They are a team of professionals who are dedicated to our account who understand our business and our objectives. With this level of commitment, VBDI is in the best position to help us as we evolve our business and move forward with us.’

After five years online, the Bank of Montreal wanted to develop a more sophisticated presence, including measurement of ROI and relationship marketing initiatives. So they asked VBDI to re-design several key BMO sites, including the creation of online financial planning tools, content customization, management systems and needs assessment tools.

‘We wanted to create a consistent, superior online experience across our many lines of business’ says Wayne Fagan, Bank of Montreal’s senior manager of new media. ‘With our strategic partnership with VBDI, we were able to create a multi-functional, integrated experience that builds loyalty among customer segments online, while simultaneously leveraging relevant information offline.’

According to Shostak, sophisticated marketers are now understanding that, in the final analysis, the Internet is really just yet another channel to talk to customers and that it’s power is in it’s ability to help build, reinforce and measure relationships.

‘That’s why integration makes such sense — you understand and deliver the message from every possible aspect. As the role of branding in shaping consumer behaviour intersects with the traditional profit-and-loss business model, a whole new science is evolving. And it’s terrifically exciting to be working at its leading edge.’

Also in this sponsored supplement:

- Overview p.E1

- Armantus p.E2

- BAM Solutions p.E3

- Modem Media p.E5

- MacLaren McCann Interactive p.E6

- MarchFIRST p.E8

- Digital@JWT p.E9

- Rebellium.com p.E10

- Devlin Applied Design p.E12