Another year gone...well, almost. So, what have been the top stories of the year? ...

Another year gone…well, almost. So, what have been the top stories of the year?

Think dot-com start-ups. Dot-com failures. Direct response marketing successes…and flops. They’ve all received ink in the pages of Strategy DirectResponse and its newer incarnation, Strategy Direct + Interactive, over the past year.

Here, we take a look back at just a few of the stories that have graced the cover of our monthly supplement since last year’s RSVP Awards.


Tech school learns marketing lesson


March 27, 2000

SYNOPSIS: Halifax-based Information Technology Institute (ITI), a private post-graduate training organization, has aggressive plans to grow its business throughout North America, yet a brand audit conducted by Toronto-based OgilvyOne Worldwide reveals that it must first shore up its image in a big way.

Working in concert with OgilvyOne, ITI develops an integrated direct response marketing program that includes television, radio, print and direct mail components in an effort to eliminate the ‘inconsistencies’ in its marketing proposition.

Delivering the message that ITI’s training programs can offer students a complete e-business education, the multi-pronged international marketing effort employs high-quality creative elements that lead to an immediate lift in new student inquiries of approximately 70%. ITI also has plans to feed the data gathered from the campaign into a new customer relationship management (CRM) platform expected to go live later in the spring.

UPDATE: ‘We continue to experience record inquiries and record sales,’ says ITI executive vice-president Tom Quigg, who offers most of the credit for that success to the campaign developed by OgilvyOne.

‘DRTV is clearly the bullet that is breaking through and getting our message out,’ he says, adding that the organization’s brand is now being communicated in a consistent manner throughout all the media within its executional mix. ‘Everywhere you look, we’ve got a fully integrated approach,’ he says.

Underscoring the impact of the new marketing efforts is the fact that ITI has, since last March, successfully expanded into Seattle, Wash., Portland, Ore. and Denver, Colo. It has also experienced a significant sales boost in Canada. ‘In our Canadian markets, we’ve had about a 50% improvement in inquiries and in net results this year over last,’ Quigg says.

Adding that ITI is ‘almost live’ with its CRM platform, which cost more than $1 million to develop, Quigg says the institute is confident that it will soon be able to realize its goal of increasing its U.S. sales to the point where they account for the majority of the organization’s revenue.

‘This has truly been a tremendous lesson,’ he says. ‘With a strong brand and the right measurement yardsticks in place, we can really predict the future and forecast where we want to be from a profitability and revenue perspective.’


Wedding information site woos Canadian couples


June 19, 2000

SYNOPSIS: Intent on becoming the first stop for Canadian couples planning a wedding, start-up Web venture launches a site last May with a splashy $1-million-plus advertising campaign in both traditional and online media. Among the site’s wedding-related information and service features are a complete ‘to do’ planning list, a gift registry, and supplier listings for services such as catering and live music.

With an estimated 60,000 weddings held every year in Canada, co-founders Jennifer Hoskins and Kim Machado feel sure their venture will be profitable within two years of launch. Idoido’s main revenue generator, they say, will be the processing of e-commerce transactions for retailers who open ‘stores’ on the site. The founders also hope to be able to leverage the data they gather from site visitors in order to develop targeted direct marketing offers in the not-too-distant future.

UPDATE: ‘It was a tough summer,’ confesses co-founder Kim Machado, who says Idoido was not immune to the increased pressure being felt by dot-com enterprises everywhere to produce real profits for their investors.

As a result of that pressure, she says, Idoido wasn’t able to secure the financing it needed in time to implement the next stage of its business plan, which included the addition of a critical e-commerce component. Instead, the ownership duo scaled back their aggressive marketing plans and focused on improving the look and functionality of the site itself.

Relaunched in September, has since seen its traffic double and its ‘stickiness’ improve radically, according to Machado, who projects that the ‘beefed up’ site will exceed its initial traffic and membership projections by the end of the year. A good thing too, since at press time Idoido was on the verge of finalizing its much-needed next round of financing. Machado adds that there will be some new partnership announcements made in the very near future.

‘We’re in [a good] position now that the site is built and the traffic is starting to prove itself,’ she says, adding, ‘We’ve certainly gone in the right direction. It just hasn’t happened as quickly as we anticipated.’


Web start-up looks to deliver smart content to women


August 14, 2000

SYNOPSIS: Hoping to leverage their respective strengths as a Web designer and a writer, two female entrepreneurs launch, a Web site devoted to delivering intelligent and witty editorial content across a wide range of subject areas – everything from eroticism to personal finance – to an international audience of women 18-34. Built upon an advertising and sponsorship model, the revenue plan inspires co-founders Natasha Kong and Nicole Blades to offer advertisers the opportunity to sponsor contests, surveys and other customized research elements on the site. Kong says SheNetworks also plans to add an e-commerce component to the site in the New Year.

UPDATE: A mere two months after its official launch, SheNetworks was restructured and its business model completely refocused to deliver market research on its target demographic to corporate clients.

According to co-founder Natasha Kong, the advertising and sponsorship model very quickly proved to be an untenable approach, given the sorry state of the dot-com industry throughout North America.

‘Right now, the content game online is very, very difficult,’ she says. ‘We realized that we either had to be flexible and make a quick change, or end up going down with a lot of other dot-coms. Fortunately, we found a revenue model that works better for us, and we’re moving in that direction.’

Under the new scenario, Kong, her partner Nicole Blades and author and consultant Denise Shortt will deliver customized market research to firms wishing to reach the audience profile provided by SheNetworks, with a particular emphasis on the target group’s technology purchase habits.

The site, meanwhile, will be relaunched early in the New Year in order to incorporate a wider variety of surveys and other research-gathering tools. The content itself, however, will still very much be geared to SheNetworks’ primary target audience.


Sunoco pumps up new loyalty program


September 11, 2000

SYNOPSIS: Recognizing that the depth of its knowledge about its customers is slight, Sunoco, a subsidiary of Calgary-based petroleum company Suncor Energy, launches a loyalty program targeted to the company’s natural gas customers as a retention device.

Offering customers discounts on car washes, snacks and gasoline at its retail locations, Sunoco believes its Affinity Card program will become an important cross-marketing tool within its overall mix.

At the same time, a Web-based component that allows customers to purchase gasoline online and enter their name into a draw for a new Porsche is worked into the program as a complementary element.

UPDATE: Steve Douglas, Sunoco’s director of marketing and stakeholder relations, says consumer ‘uptake’ on the Affinity program has met or exceeded all projections, a particularly pleasing fact, he says, since natural gas prices are at their highest point in more than a decade.

Douglas says Sunoco stuck with its corporate tradition and followed a cautious path in the planning and development of the Affinity initiative. ‘We had modest expectations, and started out relatively quietly, gradually increasing the volume as we moved forward,’ he says.

On the Web front, Douglas says Sunoco has gained such valuable marketing insights that he and his Affinity Web developers have been holding internal ‘road shows’ throughout the Sunoco organization, to share what they’ve learned and gather feedback. ‘It’s a dialogue,’ he explains. ‘We’re telling them what we’re seeing, but we’re also asking them how they think we should be going about things. That really gives rise to a lot of neat ideas.’

Douglas says the next step is to use the Web as a business-to-business tool to deepen the relationship with Sunoco’s suppliers and retailers. ‘There’s a lot of things we’d like to explore, and I can certainly see a full agenda going up over the next year,’ he says.

As for the Affinity program itself, Douglas says Sunoco is exploring ways that it can be expanded into other areas of its business. ‘Clearly,’ he says, ‘the power of this thing is to drive loyalty such that the customer becomes a total Sunoco customer and purchases all their energy needs from us.’