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Case Study: How HP Boosted Product Sales 84% by Letting the Blogosphere Run Its Online Marketing Promotion

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Company: Hewlett-Packard
Contact: Scott Ballantyne, VP & General Manager for Hewlett-Packard's Personal Systems Group
Location: Palo Alto, CA
Industry: Information Technology, B2C
Annual revenue: $104,286,000,000
Number of employees: 172000

Quick Read:

Hewlett-Packard Personal Systems Group VP and General Manager Scott Ballantyne simply handed over a $5,000+ computer prize package to each of 31 bloggers, asking them to give away the prizes to their readers in any way they saw fit. He trusted their influence over the market he was hoping to reach.

It was a promotion designed to increase sales for the company's HDX Dragon Entertainment Notebook, and it involved zero advertising and not a single new marketing message from HP. With the exception of a couple of minor stipulations, each aspect of the giveaway was designed by the blogging community for its readers—a risk that paid off in spades.

More than 50 million impressions were registered during the 31-day promotion, leading to an 84% increase in HDX Dragon sales, a 10% increase in overall consumer PC sales, and a 14% jump in Web traffic (comparing the five-week period before the contest to the five-week period after it).


"The results were stellar," Ballantyne said. "Sales went through the roof."

Challenge:

In mid-2007, Hewlett-Packard introduced its Pavilion HDX Entertainment Notebook PC. Nicknamed the "Dragon," the system—which boasts HP's first 20.1-inch widescreen display, an HDTV tuner, a subwoofer and four Altec Lansing speakers, a low-light Web camera, a dedicated ATI HD2600 XT graphics card, and fingerprint reader technology—is one monster of a machine and, not surprisingly, carries a hefty price tag, starting at $3,000. Accordingly, it attracts a fairly niche target market: 25-34-year-olds with plenty of disposable income.

Considering its specs, the Dragon was well received by the tech community when it first came out, but sales didn't measure up. The pressure was on Scott Ballantyne, VP & General Manager for HP's Personal Systems Group, to effectively reach this target market and turn sales around.

Campaign:

Ballantyne saw his answer in the blogosphere and together with Austin, Texas-based Buzz Corps, a social-media and word-of-mouth marketing firm, created the "31 Days of the Dragon" promotion to play out within selected blogging communities.

Identified for their influence within the HDX Dragon's target market, 31 bloggers were summoned to develop their own contests for giving away an HDX prize package valued at over $5,000 (including software and movies). A new contest was launched every day between May 2 and June 1, 2008 on one of the designated blogs, which were responsible for creating all of the rules, messaging, and Web 2.0 tools for the giveaways.

HP's only stipulations were that (1) the prizes had to be awarded to readers and (2) the bloggers had to regularly promote the giveaway throughout the 31 days with posts about the other sites' competitions as well as their own.

Several of the contests, including those from AbsoluteVista and HardwareGeeks, resulted in blog postings and videos on sites such as YouTube and Blip.tv, submitted by contestants who explained how the Dragon notebook would benefit them, such as improve their productivity and mobile gaming. HardwareGeeks offered extra points for producing a commercial-like video promoting the HDX system.

Others instituted innovative ideas for increasing traffic to their blogs, such as the following:

  • DigitalMediaPhile designed a treasure hunt. Users had to search through the blog's posts to find an image of the HDX Dragon, specs for its Intel processor, and other information, such as the first HP Pavilion Entertainment PC ever referenced in the blog.
  • GearLive monitored the activity of its members during its week-long competition and awarded the prize to the user who collected the most points, which were granted for various site interactions, such as posting (non-spam) blog comments and participating in forums.
  • Notebooks.com readers had to (1) submit a post to the site's forum explaining why they need and deserve the HDX Dragon, (2) get at least five friends to comment on those entries, (3) start at least five non-contest-related forum threads, and (4) write substantial comments on at least 10 other forum threads.
  • LockerGnome picked a blog post at random and chose the winner from the reader comments left to that post; that approach goaded users to comment on all of the blog's posts.
  • TheDigitalLifestyle made its readers search through the site's forums to find the details on its competition.

Others used the promotion as a means for learning more about reader preferences. For example, Jake Ludington's MediaBlab asked readers to share their opinions on the best freeware available in 22 categories, and TheGreenButton requested suggestions for improving its blog.

All the bloggers carried out their own marketing, cross-referenced each other, and together, without any persuasion from HP, built a communal Web site promoting the giveaway with links to every participating site.

All in all, the campaign cost HP and its partners $250,000 in prizes and payments to offset taxes for US winners. No money was spent on advertising or media buys, and no new marketing materials or tools were created by HP for the promotion.

Results:

According to Alexa data, the "31 Days of the Dragon" promotion registered more than 50 million impressions. It was translated into 40+ languages and reached 123 countries. A Google search garners over 380,000 links to discussions of the giveaway, and the more than 10,000 videos posted on sites such as YouTube.com and Blip.tv by participating contestants have received over 5 million combined views.

HP and Buzz Corp say that there are "virtually no negative comments about HP or the promotion that can be found" and that readers "overwhelmingly came out to praise HP, their products and the company as a whole."

Throughout the 31 days, more than 25,000 entries were received by the 31 participating blogs, which averaged a 150% increase in traffic during the campaign (some had as much as 5,000% more traffic during this time). Months later, these sites continue to report a 50% increase in monthly traffic compared with pre-campaign levels.

And their sites weren't the only ones to benefit. HP.com's traffic increased 14% due to this promotion.

More importantly, HDX Dragon system sales increased 84%. Overall consumer PC sales also increased 10%, and sales gains have reportedly been sustained in the months since the giveaway.

Lessons Learned:

The "31 Days of the Dragon" campaign illustrates the power of marketing for the community by the community. By surrendering control and allowing the participating blogs to independently create all of the contest specifics, marketing messages, and tools, HP was able to achieve third-party credibility which led to greater results, both in campaign reach and in overall product sales.

Another key benefit was the reduction in campaign cost as well as legal risk, since the bloggers were ultimately responsible for the contests and invested their own time and resources into launching and running those events. HP also limited many of the usual legal and internal approval requirements by giving the prize packages to these blogs with very few strings attached.

But as "hands off" as this campaign may have been, it was not something that came together overnight. "This is not adjunct PR or afterthought PR," said Ballantyne, adding that if you treat this type of campaign solely as a go-to-market strategy, "you will be seen through at some point."

"The blog community does this because they think and know in their hearts that it's real," he pointed out. "You have to have a trusted advisory/listening relationship with the community from day one. If you go in as a salesperson or just try to drop in, it won't work."

HP was able to build that trust by taking the time—well before the launch of this campaign—to forge long-term, open relationships with the blogging community. This included regularly reading their blogs and talking with them, organizing dinners for them, introducing them to the company's VPs and CIO, and giving them a tour the HP "Garage"—a treat usually reserved for the company's most serious customers. Moreover, it was about really listening to these folks as peers and taking action when their feedback was less than positive.

"It's different from the traditional PR/marcom environment. You have to be responsive, open, and speak in their language," Ballantyne said. "Like a marriage, every day you have to wake up and try at it."

Ballantyne offered additional tips for developing a successful campaign of this nature:

  • Creating synergy through partnership and community: Both HP and the individual blogs benefited from the cooperative efforts of the bloggers. Since each blog actively promoted the giveaway and upcoming competitions on the other sites, even after their own piece may have already concluded, the "31 Days of the Dragon" program achieved greater exposure and all of the participating blogs received significantly higher volumes of traffic, a decent percentage of which has endured post-promotion.
  • Taking a holistic approach: It's about getting the right message to the right people in the right context, which also means ensuring that both your product and company effectively support those messages at every point along the way. If you don't have a quality product and a solid infrastructure in place, the viral engine can quickly turn against you.
  • Understanding the inherent risks: To generate independent buzz and reviews, you ultimately have to be prepared to "take a black eye," said Ballantyne. "You can't control these communities; if someone writes something bad, you can't shut [the blog] down." Instead, he says, it's important to be true to yourself, your brand, and your product—and figure out what you can improve to change that perception.

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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via kims@marketingprofs.com.

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