2009 Gartner & 1to1 Customer Award Winners: New Media

Gold: Accenure | Silver: Barnes & Noble | Bronze: SmartyPig

Accenture Crosses Channels to Connect with Customers

A winner last year for its borderless workplace initiative, Accenture once again leads the new media optimization category, this time with a comprehensive digital marketing initiative launched to help create more meaningful customer relationships.

"The scale and scope of setting up a digital marketing group with subject matter expertise across everything from websites to email marketing to SEO to social media was challenging," says Molly Spatara, senior director of Internet marketing. "The largest thing was making sure we had the right technical infrastructure and staff to support that."

Accenture's Internet marketing team launched the initiative in 2007, starting with targeted client microsites to engage prospective clients and share knowledge with existing ones, and then developing a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy to raise awareness. The goal was to have 240 microsites running by 2010; by mid-2009 they'd already met that goal.

"I can't overstate the feedback from customers who use these sites and how they've said they feel we've tailored everything to their needs," Spatara says, adding that organizational goals called for positive results at each stage before turning attention to the next phase. So, after seeing the success of the initial program Accenture has worked to overhaul its online efforts over the past year, adding blogs, podcasts, and a video player that offer content on various topics of interest to clients.

Thanks to the increased number of touchpoints, marketing programs with an online component jumped 152 percent-resulting in a 23 percent year-over-year increase in the number of leads coming in to Accenture Direct. As a consequence, sales increased by $3.1 billion compared to the previous year. As with each stage of the rollout, Accenture saw positive outcomes and moved on to the next aspect of the implementation.

The accompanying SEO project was equally successful. Accenture was able to optimize 75 percent of its industry topics on Accenture.com, achieving a 1,000 percent increase in search term rankings overall for 10 topic areas as a result. "It's far exceeded our expectations, but we're not surprised since we did our research to develop an understanding of how search works," Spatara says.

Accenture's recent efforts were largely driven by cost, given the economic climate. "We wanted to make sure we were efficiently operating the digital media component," Spatara says, "and we put goals in place to ensure we were tracking ROI and awareness." The company measures that awareness through more than 20 paid research programs per year, 30 email campaigns a month, and customer satisfaction surveys that give the company a 4.2 out of 5 favorable rating so far this year.

"Overall we're trying to drive use of digital media in the whole enterprise's marketing mix and do it with greater sophistication," Spatara says. "We've thought about how it affects the full marketing lifecycle, including awareness, preference, and loyalty." By leveraging multiple aspects of new media, Accenture is creating a roadmap for navigating the digital landscape.

5 Must-Have Social Tools

Accenture's microsite initiative offered five social networking tools for engaging and connecting with customers:

1. Blogs, with commenting to encourage a two-way dialogue with customers

2. Individual profiles so posted content could be traced to a specific customer, and data could be better segmented

3. Instant messaging among users for live networking

4. RSS feeds and podcasts to update customers on the latest products and promotions.

5. Newsfeeds through bulletin boards so both customers and company representatives can collaborate on problem-solving.

Barnes & Noble Re-creates Its Bookstore Experience Online

Barnes & Noble stores are the quintessential hangout for book lovers, so to enhance its online presence the company asked, "How can we re-create our bookstore experience in cyberspace?" The answer? Studio, a multimedia hub where audio and video files, multimedia presentations, and blogs bring customers closer to their favorite authors and novels.

"We've had multimedia features for years, but when we launched the Studiowe wanted to create a must-see destination for book video," says Mike Skagerlind, head of digital content and community. Barnes & Noble Studio includes author interviews and employee recommendations, as well as more than 3,500 video and audio files featuring favorite book lists, excerpted readings, and information on book clubs.

Studio uses technology from FeedRoom to organize the videos. Customers can search by author, genre, or recommended videos. Barnes & Noble produces many of its own videos; others are submitted by publishing partners to promote authors and upcoming books and events. "We strive for every video to be compelling and interesting," Skagerlind says. "We didn't want to create any productions that felt like advertisements."

Of course, the purpose of the site is also to sell books, so many of the videos contain links to Barnes & Noble product pages. Internal metrics show that customers who view videos on the Studio site spend more than customers who visit the B&N site and don't view any videos. On average, B&N users spend about five minutes watching videos or listening to podcasts, which is approximately twice the average for the entire Internet. Also, when compared to the two months prior to Studio's launch, the two months after saw a 150 percent increase in video and audio views.

In addition to the Studio site, Barnes & Noble also uses Twitter and Facebook to promote content updates, announce newly released books, and engage customers. "We're really about celebrating books, not just selling them," Skagerlind says. "Our customers love books and our employees love books. Hopefully we've created a must-see destination for all readers."

SmartyPig Takes Financial Services to 2.0

SmartyPig helps customers save and spend their money. A customer might be saving for a digital camera, for example, and earning interest on that savings in his SmartyPig account. Additionally, SmartyPig will give the customer a bonus if, once he's saved enough, he buys the item through partners like Amazon, Best Buy, and Royal Caribbean.

This unique approach requires constant customer engagement. So, SmartyPig uses social media to encourage continuous customer interactions. It uses Twitter to run contests, announce new offerings, and solve customer issues; has a blog that offers money-saving tips and answers personal finance questions; has a Facebook fan page; and monitors GetSatisfaction! to gauge customer sentiment. "We use Google Analytics for our site, blog, and mobile apps, but since we're in the social space we also monitor chatter and track our Twitter exposure," says cofounder Michael Ferrari.

Ferrari is particularly fond of GetSatisfaction! because it's a public way to acknowledge and solve customer problems. "Not every company is perfect, and the site gives us an opportunity to respond openly," Ferrari says. "A lot of times companies shy away from public issues, but we like to be transparent."

Many of SmartyPig's most loyal customers are its most vocal online, offering suggestions on how to make the site better, like adding IRAs and longer-term funds. The company is currently considering that and many other ideas, and recently implemented a mobile version of its product based on customer feedback. "We'll continue experimenting with social tools, which constantly change and evolve," Ferrari says. "We'll keep engaging customers in ways that traditional financial services companies just aren't."

Thanks to its use of social media technology, SmartyPig expects to have 100,000 users by the end of this year (60 percent of whom are between 18 and 35 years old) with nearly $500 million in deposits.