Craig Conard's dog, Bella, trotted around a conference room at Sudden Impact Marketing recently and put her head on a table. But as unusual as it might be to have the company owner's pet at work, she's hardly the most-unusual nonhuman on hand at the Westerville-based marketing firm.
Craig Conard's dog, Bella, trotted around a conference room at Sudden Impact Marketing recently and put her head on a table.
But as unusual as it might be to have the company owner's pet at work, she's hardly the most-unusual nonhuman on hand at the Westerville-based marketing firm.
It's likely that Johnny Logic might take those honors.
The story behind the James Bond-like action hero goes to the heart of the marketing company's calling - to help its information-technology clients gain business and serve their customers - and do it with humor and style.
Officially, Sudden Impact is a 15-year-old firm that grew from a one-man operation into a staff of 21 serving clients including Verizon, Logicalis, Intel, Cisco Systems and Emerson Network Power.
Through the years, it has experienced ups and downs right along with its tech-sector clients.
"Our big break was Logicalis," Conard said.
That break wasn't just in gaining business but in the way Sudden Impact was able to work with the IT provider. What emerged from the relationship was something more than plain-vanilla marketing.
Brainstorming with Logicalis management, Sudden Impact's client-services manager, Amee BellWanzo, dreamed up a spy-themed campaign involving a character named Johnny Logic, who defeats data-center villains by using Logicalis services.
In the script for the Johnny Logic video, our hero is told that companies worldwide are suffering at the hands of a villain known only as "80/20" because he makes companies give 80 percent of their IT resources to maintenance while leaving only 20 percent for business initiatives.
Johnny's boss tells him, "Your weapon is the ShrinkBerry. Disguised as an ordinary BlackBerry, it will emit a powerful consolidation ray and help you shrink data centers back to a manageable size."
The 80/20 villain turns out to be the beautiful but deadly Lady 80/20, who purrs to Johnny, " What do you say we propagate some servers together?"
Johnny retorts, "It's a date. Let me just make an appointment in my BlackBerry."
Thus is Lady 80/20 beaten, and truth, justice and proper computer-server utilization triumph again.
"Amee is the 'Account Manager Gone Wild' - and they love it," Conard said. "She even created the Johnny Logic Action Figure and play set for them."
"Executives are people, too," BellWanzo said, chuckling.
"Our target audience is IT leaders," said Lisa Dreher of Logicalis. "They have kind of a thankless job, in that people don't call unless something isn't working. So, inserting humor into their day is met with a lot of thankfulness."
The campaign wasn't just amusing, Dreher said. "There was useful, educational information. It provided real information."
Clever is fine, but results matter in marketing - and this program was a success, Dreher said. It produced sales revenue for Logicalis of $350,000 and a response rate of 7.5 percent, a big improvement over typical campaign response rates of about 3 percent, she said.
The humorous approach is helping Sudden Impact differentiate itself - and its clients - from competitors, said Deborah Mitchell, a professor of marketing at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business.
"Business-to-business marketing is usually pretty staid, so humor there is going to be even more startling," Mitchell said. "Even if it falls somewhat flat, it will get attention because they had the chutzpah to do it."
But, because the humor works, "we'll see many knockoffs that will mainly be not very good," Mitchell said. "Marketing is like an arms race. If you're first, it's good."
At Sudden Impact, it isn't only about the funny. It's about helping clients serve their customers. To do so, from the start, the agency has employed a phone team of about two dozen people, based everywhere from Hawaii to Boston.
"It's a big part of our success," said agency partner J.D. Biros.
The phone team calls IT professionals on behalf of clients such as Emerson, engaging in informal conversations and finding out if there are problems, questions or complaints with Emerson's services.
"They are not telemarketers," Conard said emphatically. "Our people go on the phone on behalf of major clients and make it clear they're not selling anything."
"It's a lot more like customer service and less like a sales call," Biros said.
"We might ask if they're having a problem with heating and cooling," Conard said. "Sometimes those questions lead to something different."
Instead of a heating or cooling issues, in fact, Sudden Impact's phone group found that Emerson's clients were actually having power problems.
Uncovering such important information quickly helps clients make immediate and important changes, a huge consideration for businesses such as Emerson.
"That (quick benefit) was always part of the business plan - hence the 'sudden impact' of the name," Conard said.
Growth - the slow and steady kind - is part of Sudden Impact's own plans, and its latest effort plays on its success in the use of humor. It has put together a music video aimed at drumming up new clients - all to the tune of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.
"We've been really stable in our clients and employees," Conard said. "We want to be great, not huge. We've all been at places that went through explosive growth, and the culture changed."
A drastic change in culture is hardly likely, however, considering Conard's vision of what he will do when Sudden Impact does outgrow its current offices.
As he stood in the back end of the building with Bella padding around quietly, Conard looked at the indoor basketball half-court that is set up for the staff to let off steam.
"The next place, we'll have a regulation-size full court with hardwood floors," he said, smiling.