ExactTarget and HyperDrive Help Firms Stay in Tune with Customers

LaRosa’s Pizzeria sent me an email last week offering $5 off my next $25 food purchase.

Its title: Can you believe it’s been three months since you last visited?

I had no clue.

But I might just use that coupon.

LaRosa’s web and email marketing strategy comes from an eight-year-old relationship with HyperDrive Interactive, a small agency that operates out of a house in Loveland.

Small in number, perhaps, but the workers at the firm hold databases full of consumer insights. And they’ve spent years tailoring their findings to local brands like LaRosa’s and Montgomery Inn and national brands like Dreamfields Healthy Pasta and Udi’s gluten-free bread. Its newest clients are Gold Star Chili and Graeter’s, Crystal natural deodorants and La Cense Grass Fed Beef.

HyperDrive founder and CEO Dan Heimbrock recently gave me a behind-the-scenes look at how his 18-person team builds loyal and engaged customers for these brands, and how that often translates to higher sales.

Heimbrock was an early pioneer of Internet marketing, starting his agency the first day of 2001 to symbolize his 21st century focus. After more than two decades at traditional agencies, he saw the movement toward one-to-one marketing, targeting a specific customer with a specific message. He knew that could happen with advances being made online.

Heimbrock’s business took off in 2003 and 2004 with LaRosa’s and Dreamfields, a Minneapolis-based maker of low-carbohydrate pasta. By asking customers to share their email addresses, HyperDrive began accumulating data about brand loyalty and developing a fanbase.

“We have to help the right people discover the brand,” Heimbrock says. Using software called ExactTarget, HyperDrive ranks customers based on their level of engagement with a brand, and then tailors future communication. For Dreamfields, HyperDrive set up 65 different web pages linked from individual email messages. Some of those pages would offer specific promotions based on a person’s buying habits. Others would feature new recipes.

Gradually, brand fans would become stronger advocates, interacting with Dreamfields through Facebook and Twitter and recommending the product to friends.

“Certain brand fans not only have value because of their own transactions, but have potential to share, refer, recommend,” Heimbrock says. Dreamfields now has 40,000 of these advocates.

HyperDrive typically becomes an extension of a brand’s marketing department. Its team handles web site design and develops online strategy. It also responds on behalf of clients to questions and comments posed through social media. In the case of Dreamfields, HyperDrive also sent sample kits to dieticians, to seek endorsements for the product. It also planned and implemented physical events for customers to try the product. The company now participates in 1,500 health events a year.

According to Heimbrock, Dreamfields’ market share in the pasta category is up 26 percent. Dreamfields customers say they buy four times the average household consumption of pasta.

“It’s become a staple in these people’s diets, and if you make it easy for people, many will share about it,” Heimbrock says.

Work began with Graeter’s late in 2009 when the ice cream maker was strategizing national distribution of pints in grocery stores. Graeter’s had collected 59,000 email addresses from customers over the years, but had never sent a message.

“Rich Graeter was concerned about email, but we know that customers want to hear from brands they care about,” Heimbrock says. An initial message prompted 43,000 responses. HyperDrive collected those names, birth dates, gender, favorite flavors and preferred buying methods (ice cream shops, online or at grocery stores) and then tailored a welcome message based on those personalized responses.

“The secret is to mirror data with communication,” says Bernie Joyce, HyperDrive’s president.

Its first major online campaign, called “Share the Love,” happened before Valentine’s Day of 2010. By incorporating, email, Facebook and Twitter, Graeter’s boosted its online sales by 300 percent over 2009.

Today, the company has nearly 120,000 Facebook fans. A visit to the page yields dozens of comments from customers across the nation, followed by prompt responses from the company. In recent days, customers have applauded Graeter’s distribution agreements in Kroger and Fresh Market stores across the nation.

Heimbrock’s team is paid a monthly retainer to do this work for its clients. He figures he’ll add two or three new clients a year by adding a few additional staff. He hopes to soon double the firm’s annual revenue to $5 million.

“It’s no longer a game of deeper pockets, but who’s in tune with their customers,” Heimbrock says.