Procter & Gamble Co. is committed to developing close relationships with its consumers -- and is using the Internet in resourceful ways to do this.
Online sampling, e-newsletters, multibrand Web initiatives, and enhancements to its corporate Web site are included in the company's e-marketing efforts to communicate better and more frequently with consumers about Pampers, Tide, Crest, Ivory, Olay, CoverGirl and dozens of its other popular brands.
The Internet is a powerful marketing tool for the Cincinnati-based consumer packaged goods giant because it lets P&G begin and continue a dialogue with consumers, said Danny Kirkland, interactive marketing specialist, www.pg.com, P&G's corporate Web site.
"The Internet makes it easier to communicate with consumers, understand what they're looking for, and provide those products and services to them," he said.
Though promotions vary by brand and are often featured online at P&G's numerous brand-specific Web sites, P&G wants pg.com to be the place that consumers can go to find out everything that P&G is doing. To do so, it's creating a network that ties all its brand initiatives together.
"The consumer is boss. We want to make things easy for them through a network," said Kirkland.
As part of this effort, the company is changing parts of pg.com. While much of the work that's taking place is on the back end, Kirkland is part of a five-member corporate, digital brand team that's redesigning portions of the site. Members of the team are Gay Piller, digital brand manager; Jeff Sluder, technology manager; Janet Smith, corporate branding specialist; and Petra Ahrens, partners network manager.
One improvement is the addition of Product Cards: one-page fact sheets about P&G brands. The section will start off featuring the Top 20 U.S. brands, and then branch out to the Top 100 by the end of the fiscal year.
Along with product descriptions, Product Cards will include frequently asked questions, identifiable product imagery, the latest news, offers and sweepstakes. P&G hoped to have the section ready by last month.
"[Product Cards] provide consumers easy, one-stop access to our brands," said Kirkland.
Kirkland describes the section as the company's online customer service agent.
"We want our consumers to be able to find information right away and on their own time -- not ours," he said, noting that consumers will still have access to customer service via e-mail or a 1-800 number if they prefer.
P&G is also redesigning the three main sections of the site: Household Care, Family Care and Personal Care. Among other changes, it will refresh the content.
The main goal of all the improvements is to make it easier for the consumer to find out all that P&G has to offer.
"What we've tried to do with pg.com is tie in what all our brands are doing under one umbrella site," said Kirkland.
Along the same lines, it may launch a corporate, multibrand e-newsletter by the end of the company's fiscal year. If the newsletter is launched, it would join several brand-specific e-mails, including those for Tide and Cheer.
"We're trying to determine if a consumer who is loyal to one P&G brand will at least try other P&G brands," Kirkland noted.
In general, e-mail is an integral part of P&G's e-marketing initiative, said Kirkland.
"E-mail communication is a good way of developing a dialogue with consumers," said Kirkland. "It keeps communication going back and forth, rather than just one way."
If a corporate e-newsletter is offered, it could be combined with S-Magazine, a newsletter designed to simplify everyday living. Along with articles on food, family and home, it offers free samples and other offers. Last month's issue, for instance, offered a free sample of Bounty Quilted Napkins. Noncompeting brands from other companies are also featured. Magazine recipients who enter their profile receive issues that are personalized to meet their needs.
"We want to understand our consumers and provide the best products and services that meet their needs," said Kirkland.
P&G is using S-Magazine to target certain consumers. It planned to e-mail the newsletter to a large number of an unidentified retailer's loyalty club members. The test was originally slated to run in February, but has since been pushed back to either this month, April or May. It is hoping to conduct similar efforts with other retailers this year.
If the corporate e-newsletter is kept on its own, P&G will structure it so that it doesn't duplicate S-Magazine.
"Ideally, we'd like to leverage existing resources to complete one all-encompassing consumer experience. Our first choice, one on which we are working diligently, is to partner with S-Magazine -- but the details take time to get correct," Kirkland noted.
Along with S-Magazine, P&G publishes Home Made Simple, an e-newsletter that focuses on P&G's home care brands, including Cascade, Dawn and Mr. Clean. It includes promotions, free offers and sweepstakes -- along with news. In last month's issue, consumers could enter to win a year's supply of Cascade Power Tabs and even maid service for a year. In the sweepstakes section, visitors who supplied their name and address and the number of people in their household could enter to receive a Maytag Gemini Range and a tub of antibacterial Mr. Clean Wipe-Ups.
P&G is interacting with its consumers in other ways. Take "Help Us Create." This is an area of pg.com where consumers can sign up to be a P&G "adviser," a forum created for anyone interested in improving the products P&G makes or in telling P&G what product information is most valuable.
"We can turn those ideas into products and services that can better meet consumers' needs," said Kirkland.
To date, P&G is analyzing the input it's received from its advisers.
To heighten awareness about all that pg.com has to offer, P&G may promote the site through various direct-marketing efforts, including mailers and print ads in relevant consumer magazines.
"We're experimenting with our marketing mix to find out what works best to draw in our target consumers," said Kirkland.
While banner ads are still used at the company, they're not a major part of its marketing effort because "they don't always work," said Kirkland.
"Banner ads may be good for awareness, but not for creating a dialogue with consumers," he said.
Also, pg.com may test an advertising program with The Gator Corp., an online advertising company that offers consumers free "digital wallet" software, which automatically saves passwords and log-in IDs, and fills in online forms on the Web. In exchange for using the wallet, users agree to let Gator travel the Web with them and deliver targeted advertising and information.
"We're looking to do a creative program with Gator to see how it works," Kirkland said. As for e-commerce, P&G has dabbled in it through initiatives such as www.morethanacard.com, a gift-bundling Web site that ceased operations in December 2001. P&G doesn't plan to do much more than that.
"We don't want to get into conflict with our big [retail] customers," said Kirkland.
ONLINE COUPONING VS. ONLINE SAMPLING
When it comes to online promotions, most P&G brands choose sampling over couponing.
Generally, brands opt not to coupon online because there are problems with coupon fraud that have yet to be resolved, said Danny Kirkland, interactive marketing specialist, pg.com.
"By opting not to coupon, our brands can focus on pricing strategies that could result in retailers passing on lower prices to the consumer," said Kirkland. "Ultimately, we want consumers to try our products because we think they'll be delighted with their experience."
P&G actively samples online on its corporate and brand-specific sites. It conducts such efforts on its own and also with the help of outside companies that specialize in online promotions.
"In general, we partner with third parties when they can provide a product or service with greater capability or at a lower cost than what our internal resources can provide," said Kirkland.
"Or, we will partner with a third party when they provide a product or service that is not in our set of core capabilities."
The main goal of the improvements P&G is making to its corporate Web site, pg.com, is to provide the consumer with easy access to all that P&G has to offer.
Ideally, it wants pg.com to be a completed network that ties all its brand initiatives together.
Consumers already appear to be responding. The site had a 52% increase in site traffic in fiscal year 2000/2001 compared to 1999/2000. P&G says it's on track to increase site visitors by another 37% this fiscal year, despite the slowdown in Internet penetration in households.
Following are some other usage trends:
About 60% of visitors to pg.com want consumer information.
Approximately 10% to 15% of visitors go to "Try and Buy," a section that lets consumers order free sample-sizes of products currently on the market, or purchase full-size products that have yet to hit retail shelves. Most visitors to this section are interested in getting free samples rather than buying a product.
"We've found that consumers are willing to come back again and again to try our products," said Danny Kirkland, interactive marketing specialist, pg.com.
The sweepstakes section gets about 5% of site traffic.
About 7% to 10% of monthly site traffic actively participates in the "advisers" community, an area created for anyone interested in improving the products P&G makes, or in telling the company what product information is most valuable.