HBJ Feature Article - Computer Presentations

Computer-based pitches can be cheaper way to market products.
by Vic Cherubini
Houston Business Journal - Office Technology Supplement

November 19, 1995 - Houston, Texas - With over 100 million computers populating the desktops in homes and offices, savvy marketers are experimenting with a new way to reach sophisticated customers: innovative computer-based presentations.

Almost half of the white-collar workforce in the United States uses desk-top personal computers. The PC offers rare opportunities for marketing professional to dazzle their audiences while conveying important information. For those companies with a technical message or one that involves calculations, there is no substitute for a sophisticated computer-generated presentation.

Since using the power of the PC helps to demonstrate products and services in ways not possible with traditional media, everything from consumer goods to highly specialized industrial products is finding its way onto floppy disk, CD-ROMs and the Internet.

For example, perhaps you are thinking about buying a new car. Typically, you would go to the showrooms of several dealers to collect the usual sales literature. In addition to some glossy brochures, suppose one dealer also gave you a floppy disk and asked you to view it before you made your decision. You would undoubtedly pop the disk into your computer, just out of curiosity if nothing else.

Here's what would happen once you put the disk into your PC. By typing the name of the company, you would immediately be presented with a menu of choices. You could view any of the cars offered by the dealer, and even take one for a test drive on a computer-simulated race track.

Both small and large businesses can benefit greatly from computer-based presentations. With the average sales call costing about $250 and an average floppy disk presentation costing about $5, it's easy to see why businesses are turning to these sales aids to save money, yet still produce high quality, sophisticated marketing programs.

Imagine a manufacturing company which wants to demonstrate their product (a complex piece of oil field equipment) to a potential customer. Having a computer-based presentation custom made to illustrate its product is an excellent way to inform, motivate and demonstrate the product in a new and exciting way.

On the screen, the user is greeted with a cut away view of a large piece of equipment. As the user views the product, they may wish to learn more about the intake valve. While viewing an overview graphic of the tank, the user can click on the valve and actually see how it works.

As the valve opens, the fluid in the valve begins to flow. The sound of the fluid flowing heightens the sensation. The computer may then ask the user several questions about the valve's applications and make a recommendation about which size valve to specify. The latest data sheet on the recommended valve can be printed.

To zoom in on a specific item, say a valve, the user clicks on it and is presented with an animated graphic and description of how the valve works.

Computer-based presentations are useful in several other areas. Companies that use printed catalogs to sell products usually face high costs for printing and distributing this sales literature.

It is not uncommon for an industrial catalog filled with technical data sheets to cost over $50 per copy to produce and distribute. Printed catalogs can now be produced electronically.

Just what is an "intelligent electronic catalog" on a floppy disk? An example: One sales manager faced with producing a new industrial catalog transferred all the technical data sheets on his company's 19 products onto a single floppy disk. This disk was combined with a product selection program.

When a customer (in this case an engineer) inserts the disk into his PC, the program asks him to respond to a series of questions on his design criteria. After answering the questions, the intelligent electronic catalog can recommend the product best suited for his application. With one keystroke, the engineer can print out the latest product data sheet.

Another advantage of an electronic catalog is that the data is always current. By updating the information on the master disk, all disks produced from that point on contain the latest information.

Rather than discarding outdated printed data sheets, you can now write over the old information on the disk. One 3-1/2 inch disk can readily hold 300 pages of printed text, so even the environment will benefit because paper will be conserved.

Why is electronic sales information so popular with those who use it? For the consumer, two reasons are most often cited: interaction and information.

Most programs require interaction on the part of the user. This leads to greater understanding of the product illustrated. Not only do people have a clearer picture of the product, but retention greatly increases with interaction.

Much like video games, a PC-based presentation can be fun and entertaining. Sound and high-quality graphics further improve the experience of viewing the program. Some interactive programs have even been described as addictive.

There is also a certain excitement in getting a disk in the mail. While most junk mail will be quickly skimmed and placed in the trash can, a disk will almost always be kept.

Sales and marketing mangers who distribute computer-powered presentations and electronic catalogs report that their customers perceive their company as innovative. Creating and maintaining an upscale image in the market can translate into increased sales and profits.