EC Gate cracks market with nutty campaign

It was understandable, really. Faced with competition from bigger, deeper-pocketed e-commerce application services providers, the folks at EC-Gate went a little nuts....

It was understandable, really. Faced with competition from bigger, deeper-pocketed e-commerce application services providers, the folks at EC-Gate went a little nuts.

First, they sent prospects a jewelry-sized box containing nothing but a walnut and a small card asking, ‘What does this have to do with your business? You’ll see very soon.’

A day or two later, they followed that up with a parcel containing a complex blueprint of an over-engineered nutcracking machine (‘The e-commerce solution you’re expected to pay for’), a personalized letter introducing the company and its services, and – underneath the lot – a plain-old, garden-variety nutcracker (‘The e-commerce solution by EC-Gate.’)

The goal, says Lynne Kilpatrick, vice-president of marketing and communications at EC-Gate, which is dually headquartered in Toronto and Amsterdam, was to dispel the fear felt by many mid-sized companies new to the e-commerce game with an execution that would break through the clutter.

‘The message is, ‘This is what the competition is trying to sell you,” says Kilpatrick. ‘We’re selling the affordable, practical solution.’

The campaign, launched in November by Toronto direct marketing agency Lowe RMP Direct, eschews the ‘baffling technical jargon’ common to marketing communications in the e-commerce sector, says Kilpatrick.

Instead, the copy frames the challenge – that of creating a business-to-business supply chain, or ‘online marketplace’ – in simple, direct language that reassures prospects they’ll only pay for the technology they need.

The decision to use direct mail, rather than mass media, was a practical one, she says. The big e-commerce solutions players, such as IBM, can afford to spend millions of dollars on advertising to define the category, she says, leaving a crowd of smaller providers – such as EC-Gate, Commerce One and Ariba – duking it out for the same territory.

‘As a small player, we can’t compete on a certain level. We’re not into television advertising, so we decided to be really targeted and go straight to the decision makers.’

Its first-ever DM effort, EC-Gate sent walnuts to some 2,000 American and Canadian executives in the hopes of cracking the market.

‘It’s a question of stopping them in their tracks,’ says Peter Coish, president of Lowe RMP Direct. ‘There is a dimensional quality here that online marketing doesn’t achieve.’

The prospects, executives with mid-sized food services companies, were targeted via an outside list supplied by Dun & Bradstreet. Most were American, with only 10% to 15% of the recipients in Canada.

Direct marketing is a departure for the company, says Kilpatrick, as EC-Gate has traditionally relied upon sales calls, and participation at trade shows, for the bulk of its business.

‘It’s about sales-lead generation,’ says Kilpatrick. ‘We thought the direct mail would be the best way to open the door for our sales staff.’

The walnut package will also roll out in Amsterdam and possibly the U.K. Kilpatrick says more direct marketing plans are in the works with Lowe RMP Direct, although she wouldn’t say what form they will take.

‘The next wave will be much more concerned with measurement,’ she says. ‘If we find we’re having success, we’ll probably have a call-to-action which will involve going to a certain part of our Web site, or calling for a demo.

‘We’ll see how that changes in the New Year.’