Sprint dials up e-biz market

In a bid to move beyond its role as a provider of residential and long distance phone services, Toronto-based Sprint Canada is aiming to position itself as a serious e-communications player in the Canadian small business market....

In a bid to move beyond its role as a provider of residential and long distance phone services, Toronto-based Sprint Canada is aiming to position itself as a serious e-communications player in the Canadian small business market.

To that end, the telco recently introduced unified messaging, a technology offering that allows business users to gain access to their messages (voice-mail, e-mail, faxes, even pager messages) using a range of communications devices, including computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and cellular phones.

Earlier this month, a major multi-media direct response campaign aimed at mobile business people – or ‘road warriors’ – likely to benefit from the service was rolled out in an effort to generate leads. The campaign, created by Toronto-based Vickers & Benson Direct + Interactive (VBDI), includes radio, newspaper, magazine and out-of-home advertising – in addition to direct mail – and will run through April 2001.

The headline – ‘Now access all your messages from one place’ – is being illustrated with an image of a steel message spike on which are impaled a fax machine, a laptop computer, a cell phone and a PDA.

The strategy was to communicate, simply and clearly, the product’s main benefit to a small business audience that’s starved for time and overloaded with messages, says Yasmin Ranade, director of communications at Toronto-based Sprint Canada.

Radio spots and print ads were designed to drive prospects to Sprint’s Web site or its call centre for further information and also to predispose them to the direct mail offer, says Deni Baschiera, VBDI vice-president and account director.

‘Because this is fundamentally a new category – unified communications is something consumers are just beginning to get wind of – there’s a lot of education that has to be done. This really is an assisted sale,’ he says.

As for the direct mail, roughly 300,000 pieces were mailed to small businesses across the country in 16 target groups, including lawyers, realtors, salespeople and health care professionals. The message was tweaked in each case, says Baschiera, in an effort to make it more pertinent to that particular group.

‘We’re testing verticals – we really want to know with whom this message is going to resonate the most. For example, we’ll be looking at the responses of realtors versus lawyers and health care professionals versus contractors. To what degree this resonates with them is to be determined through the direct mail,’ says Baschiera.

And unified messaging, adds Ranade, is just the beginning – there is a second element to the technology that will provide access to ‘groupware,’ including shared work areas, personal and group calendars and real-time conferencing.

‘With the introduction of unified messaging, we’re able to offer a product that bridges the gap between Internet wireless and wireline – it’s a critical step for us as an e-communications company because it shows that we excel at delivering e-business-enabling solutions to business customers,’ she says.

‘Right now, we’re just doing the messaging part of it, but there are other tools and other capabilities that we’ll be able to offer to our customers. This is just the first part of unified communications solutions.’

The response so far from the radio and print ads alone, she says, has been tremendous – adding that buyers are coming in from the segments being targeted but also from those that hadn’t been considered.

‘It’s still early days to see where the core is going to come from,’ she says. ‘But the initial response in just two weeks has been extremely encouraging. We’re on to a winner here.’