Conducting a Dialogue

As long-time readers of this column know, I regularly focus on what we Americans call a one-shot deal. A company has goods or services for sale; it sends out an offer, then tracks CTR and conversion rates. (You can see an example here.)

But often the goal of getting visitors to your Web site is not to have them visit the site once and purchase your product or service. Your company may have created a useful Web site, attractive to large numbers of visitors. You want to not only drive them there in the first place but also keep them coming back. One way to do so is to create an email dialogue.

And that’s the case with National Semiconductor, a major chip company that makes devices for markets such as wireless, displays, information infrastructure, and a broad range of portable applications. An active audience visits National’s Web site. Chip design engineers use the WEBENCH section to choose parts, create and analyze a design, and build system prototypes with a kit or board.

It’s critical National build relationships with these visitors. It doesn’t just want to get visitors to its site; it wants to turn those visitors into customers and those customers into repeat customers. Because of the way the industry works, National needs to build relationships and track interaction to better understand return on investment (ROI). For example, a British engineer may go to the U.S. site, build a prototype, and put the chip into a product manufactured in Hong Kong. The more information that customer shares with National, the easier the company can track ROI across borders and channels.

The company worked on a solution with Vignette. Vignette’s Dialog is a tool that automates a series of interactions with customers. In simple terms, it allows you to create a set of rules for customer interactions. If a user visits your site and downloads a software program, you might send a thank-you email a day later. If the visitor leaves without downloading the program, you might follow up a few days later asking whether the visitor has any questions you could answer. A sample dialogue is here. (Note: this is not the dialogue National Semiconductor uses; it’s merely for illustration.)

Here’s how it works in National’s case. An engineer visits WEBENCH and performs an activity, such as entering specifications and running a simulation. Depending on the activity, National sends the visitor a number of communications. Phil Gibson, National’s vice president of Web business, notes this “allows us to touch them and invite them back.”

National has run over two dozen campaigns. In March 2002, National chose a subsection of registered users broke them into three groups. Group A, with 21,000 people, had been to an offline conference. At one two-day conference in Kansas City, National publicized its brand-new simulation technology and invited attendees to check it out at WEBENCH. National emailed a message to Group B’s 4,400 active users who had, say, ordered a sample online or performed another online action. National asked them if they knew they could create and design circuits at WEBENCH. For the 4,800 individuals in Group C, all of whom had attended online seminars, National sent a message that essentially invited them to visit WEBENCH for some advanced personalization. Follow-up messages were also sent, based the recipients’ actions.

How well does all this talk translate into action? In the past, National tried to accomplish campaign goals using a series of tools, such as Lotus Notes. But conversations with engineers weren’t automatically triggered by events. Someone would have to look at the data and manually determine when to send messages to users. One day, the marketer might send the identical message to 3,000 individuals. Drawbacks were as numerous as they were obvious: the method could overload the server; messages wasn’t timely; and there was a greater chance recipients would perceive an email as spam.

National was pleased with the Vignette Dialog results. In Group A, about 3,000 individuals, or 15 percent, went to the Web site and performed some action. In Group B, about 70 percent returned to the site to create other simulations or perform other tasks. And in Group C, about 55 percent went to WEBENCH and interacted with National. Of almost 9,000 people, approximately half completed designs online and performed extensive simulations. An additional 2,000 people purchased kits that first month.

“Without this in place, we could never have been able to accelerate people along this path at this kind of rate,” Gibson notes. He adds National conducted this effort with little human investment. A developer worked for three months to get the system up and running.

These days, the system is run primarily by marketing folks. A half-time person works on ongoing marketing dialogues, and one-tenth of a single staffer’s time is dedicated to proofing content (subject line, offer, etc.). In this case, talk is cheap and leads to great results. Best of all, National can tie bottom-line revenues directly to WEBENCH. Gibson said the company sees $2 million per month in revenues that can be directly tied to use of WEBENCH.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

Heidi is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

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