E-retailers must focus on their specific goals and examine a vendor’s reputation and market expertise, not referrals.
Sony’s sponsorship of online classes on iVillage and on its own site capture purchases from some 25% of course participants. Course sponsors also benefit long-term from the gratitude effect, says course developer Powered Inc.
Building customer loyalty was one of the main reasons that Sony Corp. has been sponsoring online educational courses for consumers, and results show it’s paying off for the consumer electronics manufacturer. After sponsoring a series of educational courses for women on iVillage, exit surveys on course completion showed that one third of those surveyed increased their purchase consideration of Sony products, according to Powered Inc., which provided the software platform, course content and results analysis for the courses under Sony’s sponsorship. Sony is No. 9 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.
Powered, which has produced about a half-dozen courses for Sony on iVillage, also produces courses for Sony that are offered directly on Sony.com, as well as courses for other clients including HP and Motorola. More than 25% of those who take the courses actually buy a product related to the course content from the course sponsor subsequently, either online or offline, says Dave Ellett, Powered’s CEO. That number is based on click-throughs from the courses and modeling formulas developed by the individual sponsors.
Beyond hard metrics such as sales that can be tied directly to the courses, evidence that courses build customer loyalty for course sponsors is to be found in the frequency with which customers return to sponsor sites and the time they spend there, Ellett says. The average consumer who takes a course takes more than one, as the courses are refreshed by new content almost monthly. “The courses become a regular content source as they are refreshed and people come back,” he said. With active discussion forums connected to the online courses on the sponsoring sites, the course-takers typically spend 30 or more minutes on the site at a time, he says.
Ellett says one of the bigger loyalty-building benefits to course sponsors such as Sony is in what he calls the “gratitude effect. In the course, we separate content from product, with ads for the sponsor’s products appearing in the course only where contextually relevant,” he says. “What works is that people are grateful that the sponsor provided the education, and didn’t shove products down their throat.”
Ellett adds that course content isn’t product-centered. For example, the iVillage courses Sony sponsored included one on scrapbooking, with Sony digital cameras advertised only where relevant to the course material. Elliott notes that in the post-course exit surveys, 65% of those polled said the course had caused them to have a more favorable overall impression of course sponsor Sony.