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Case Study: Chamber of Commerce looks to its membership to solve marketing woes

Jen Hubley, Assistant Site Editor

In a time when just about every member of an organization receives hundreds of e-mails a day, a crowded in-box can be a marketer's worst enemy. How do you get people to read your important message when it's obscured by so much other stuff?

That was the problem facing the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, which serves 3,500 corporate members and offers programs, advocacy and discounts, as well as a sense of community and an opportunity to connect with other businesses in the region. The Chamber needed a way to communicate to its members information about ongoing Chamber business and notify them of any changes in its calendar of committee meetings. To find the solution, the Chamber needed to look no further than its own membership.

Chamber of Commerce corporate member Egoware Inc., also based in Dayton, Ohio, offers interactive e-marketing software that bypasses the traditional problem of in-box crowding by bringing the message out of the e-mail system entirely. Its Member Connect product sits directly on the user's desktop and bears a branded icon that changes when the user has a new message. Organizations just have to distribute CDs for members to install in order for the messages to be separated.

"[Traditional] CRM technologies are reactive technologies," explains Egoware founder and CEO Ralph Conley. "A customer has to come to you, and then they have to come back to you." What's different about Egoware's tool is that it alerts users when a message

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arrives and lets them look at it at their own convenience off line. They can then view the information, and once online, click and navigate to where you've directed them, Conley adds.

A cheaper alternative

Prior to adopting the Member Connect product, the Chamber had communicated with its members via standard mail and broadcast faxes. The problems associated with these methods of communication included the expense of sending printed messaging and the amount of time involved in sending messages and receiving replies.

Member Connect offered solutions to both those problems.

"It costs companies 40 cents -- 34 cent [stamps] plus paper -- to send out [printed messaging]," says Conley. "Our technology costs them less than a quarter of a cent [per message] to send that message right to the desktop."

Initial costs for Member Connect include a one-time set-up fee of $2,500 and a monthly licensing fee per user. On average, the licensing fee is about $1 per month per user.

Member Connect also offers live statistics on which messages are reaching which users and what their response has been. "You can see every hour of every day what's working and what's not," Conley says.

Timeliness is key

"The members really enjoy the product," says Lynda Ashworth, Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Operations. "We've had a lot of positive feedback about the timeliness of the information, which was something that our printed pieces sometimes fell short of doing."

From selection to installation, Member Connect required a time investment of only a few weeks.

Also significant, says Ashworth, is the fact that the Chamber did not need to make any investment in technology to use the software. Egoware produced the Member Connect CDs -- branded "Chamber Connect" -- for members to install in order to get started. Sending messages only requires Internet access.

The Chamber mailed 3,300 CDs to its members in March of 2001. By the end of the year, 690 members had installed them and were using the system, most on a weekly basis at minimum.

"We've had a 10% to 15% increase in Web traffic coming through the Chamber Connect product," says Ashworth.

Sue Hardin, committee chair of the Chamber's Internet task force, adds that she uses Member Connect every time her icon flashes. "I use it a lot as a reference tool," she says. "The Chamber is a real volunteer love for me, and I want to stay focused on what the Chamber's doing, but I'm also very busy at my own job. I have to make sure that I prioritize my volunteer work. What's great about Egoware is that it puts all of my Chamber information in that one spot on my computer that I can quickly go to when I have the time."

Hardin stresses that the Chamber is adapting the product to its changing needs on an ongoing basis. In the future, she says, she would like to see the Chamber use Egoware's filtering capability to "do even more direct messaging to me through the product."

Egoware is currently targeting its products, including Member Connect, to Chambers of Commerce, the automotive industry, the healthcare sector and the retail market. Other current customers include Bank One, eOutfitters and Thrifty Car Rental.

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