On June 29, 2000, a new company was born out of a merger between Atlas Technologies and Frontier Systems, Inc. The company, which we named Optiron, develops customer relationship management (CRM) software for the deregulating energy industry. We worked from a blank sheet of paper, assessing the brand attributes of the new entity, defining the brand’s essence, naming the new company, and creating a launch program designed to capture the imagination and win the trust of utilities facing daunting pressure to build more profitable customer relationships.
It had become clear that the software Frontier was developing for Atlas Technologies held potential beyond its market of deregulated gas utilities. The decision to merge the two companies was based on industry predictions that, within two years, 55% of all energy companies will install a new CRM solution to support deregulation. This represents a $5.6 billion market.
The new company had a 6-9-month lead in the development of an affordable, fully functioning, comprehensive, multiple commodity billing and customer care solution developed specifically for the energy industry. The CRM marketspace, however, is already overcrowded and many of the major players are world-class category leaders with the resources to out-advertise and out-sell smaller competitors. Buying the safety of a well-known brand such as PeopleSoft or Siebel could override all other advantages in the conservative energy industry. The challenge for the new company was to build high levels of visibility and credibility early on, which might be the only open window.
We began by conducting a comparative review of key competitors’ communications messages and what the market is saying about them in an effort to identify points of distinction for the new company. We scanned four target influencer groups: industry analysts and other industry insiders such as Meta Group and AMR Research; IT trade media and associations; utility trade media and associations; and financial and business media.
Our research revealed that there was an opportunity to break away from the pack of mega-CRM companies who specialize in being everything to everyone. Rather than selling CRM for sneakers or cars one month and utilities the next, the new company had a customer-centric model specifically for the utility industry, which addressed its unique problems and opportunities without having to force-fit. It could also offer lower costs and a rapid implementation cycle that larger competitors could not match. Finally, the new company had already licensed its system to two prominent utilities, First Energy and CNG Retail Services, who were proof that the functionality was as robust and flexible as its claims.
We needed to develop the new brand, new name, and positioning, to be followed by the announcement of the merger and name change. We scheduled a press conference at company headquarters in Pittsburgh for June 29, 2000. (As luck would have it, a totally separate but similarly named company, Atlas Software Technologies, subsequently scheduled the opening of its new offices for the same day!) We planned to place trade media advertising in the 3rd quarter of 2000, and to develop a high-impact direct marketing campaign to begin in the 4th quarter. All activity related to the announcement was to be conducted within a $300,000 budget.
The objectives of the publicity efforts were to secure media coverage and attendance of at least 50 people at the press event. Given the short time frame and the conflicting announcement by the other Atlas Software, we agreed that coverage in the two major local papers and by local radio would be a mark of success. It was also important to seek buy-in from the local technology community and Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy. As a result of our advertising and direct marketing components, we set a goal of producing 20 sales leads (about 10% of U.S. utilities).
To succeed, the new company needed to have a clearly defined, well-differentiated, and highly relevant idea, an idea that captures the very essence of the brand. We used a client-collaborative process to help them articulate their Vision, Mission, and Values, then explored four areas of brand assets: functionality (what does the brand do); differentiation; source of authority (why should people believe us); and image/personality.
In a few well-chosen words, we articulated the brand essence, defining what the brand is and will be for the long term. Then we defined the brand positioning with its target market. The resulting brand management matrix served as a roadmap for all future work, including the naming of the new company. Through a series of facilitated brainstorms, we recommended the name “Optiron”, for which we obtained a trademark and a URL.
The brand essence was brought to life by the line “Opportunities made real.” This theme was chosen to play up the “opportunity” piece of the Optiron customer proposition as well as to dramatize the fact that it is real, in-use software, not vaporware. For the new logo, we were asked to consider some kind of graphic link to the old Atlas logo, which we accomplished by using the red globe as the dot of the “i”. The launch ad features a captivating visual to dramatize the “bundled” services that Optiron delivers. We also devised the first customer care and billing challenge to the energy industry, a bombastic contest announced via direct mail, e-mail, and at the DistribuTech trade show in February 2001. The winner (the utility with the most confounding CRM issues) receives a free Optiron installation, which will give us yet another utility endorsement.
Despite the short notice, the launch event was attended by 85 guests. We were able to entice the mayor as well as the president of the Pittsburgh Technology Council to speak at the event. Representatives from three local radio stations and reporters from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review and the Pittsburgh Courier attended, resulting in coverage. Additionally, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Business Times, Small Business News, and KQV Radio’s Pittsburgh Profiles did features on Optiron. Editorial meetings conducted in the 4th quarter of 2000 with Electrical World, Hart’s Energy Markets, Electrical World, and Transmission & Distribution World are expected to yield coverage in 2001.
Optiron has more than 20 leads in its pipeline as a result of our marketing efforts, and several utilities have accepted “The Optiron Challenge,” which was announced just days ago.