NEW YORK The buzz around social media is usually reserved for hot consumer brands, yet IBM has seized an opportunity to use such marketing tools to tout a "dry" technology product to IT professionals.
The tech giant recently launched the second phase of a social marketing push to build awareness and sales among software developers. Unlike the recent social media rage around Skittles, IBM needs to reach just a few hundred thousand potential customers and teach them about a complex product that aids developer collaboration.
To do so, IBM shop Ogilvy & Mather in New York has devised a character called Mr. Fong, a software developer who is lost in space and uses all means available to reconnect with his team. The campaign follows his efforts via YouTube videos, video e-mail messages, Facebook and MySpace profiles and a Twitter account. The centerpiece of the campaign is www.connectmrfong.com.
In the latest phase of the campaign, Mr. Fong has reconnected with members of his team: Mr. Long, Ms. Song and Mr. Zong, who try to facilitate his return by using IBM's Rational Quality Manager product. (The same actor plays all the characters.) The site asks visitors to help by taking a "Mr. Fong's Space Quiz." Users choose which of the three characters has the correct answer, which includes a plug for the IBM product. Ogilvy plans a new phase in six months.
"It's a tongue-in-cheek approach to reach software developers on a dry, esoteric topic," said Chris Lindau, creative director at Ogilvy. "We saw social media as an opportunity that was germane to the topic itself: keeping people connected is what the software is all about."
Two years ago, Ogilvy would be more likely to promote a product like this, which can run up to $1 million, through direct mail, he said. Even a year ago, a regular e-mail campaign would have done the trick. Now it hopes to tap into cubicle culture and the popularity of passing along funny, offbeat sites and videos among colleagues, he said.
One of the most successful tactics so far has been the video e-mail introduction to the campaign. Ogilvy has seen 20 percent open rates and 3.4 percent click-through rates over the past 11 weeks. The social media numbers are small, though Lindau points out that is to be expected for such a focused campaign: Mr. Fong has 208 Facebook fans, 49 Twitter followers and 9,000 video views on YouTube.