A Sweet Ride
Thomas Publishing Co. is no stranger to innovation. During its 108-year history, this privately owned business that connects industrial buyers with suppliers consistently has made decisions (such as employing one of the first independent contractor sales forces) that proved well ahead of their time. The company’s move to create a fully Web-based industrial directory in 2004 was no exception. After celebrating the 100th anniversary of its traditional “green books”—the Thomas Register print directory of industrial sellers—executives ceased the print publication and went to the Internet. There was just one “small” challenge: It needed to bring its users along.
Historically understated in its marketing, Thomas felt the significant changes in its business model warranted a bold launch of the new online entity, ThomasNet.com. It wanted something that would turn heads and capture the hearts of an audience comprised of engineers, purchasing managers and other industrial professionals. Something powerful—like a bright green T-Rex Soft Tail Chopper featuring a highly modified, 131-cubic-inch Gladiator Super Comp Motor, with a gooseneck frame and chrome-plated wheels.
While brainstorming for the launch of ThomasNet.com, the Thomas marketing team found inspiration on “American Chopper,” a popular reality TV show that airs on Discovery Channel. “We thought the chopper was an excellent icon for ThomasNet,” explains Donna Higgins, director of marketing, audience development at ThomasNet.com. “All of the chopper parts could have been sourced on ThomasNet. The bike itself was analogous to the new site. It had power, speed and precision, which was what ThomasNet.com promised to be.”
The company also saw an opportunity to leverage the “American Chopper” show’s widespread appeal within its target audience. “The show was the Discovery Channel’s No. 1 program, and its demographics were a good match for us,” adds Virginia Posner, ThomasNet.com’s executive director, audience development.
So, the company commissioned Orange County Choppers, the featured custom-motorcycle manufacturer on “American Chopper,” to build ThomasNet.com a bike. It gave away the chopper by random drawing in a contest celebrating ThomasNet.com’s launch. From the time the site was unveiled in August 2004 until the end of the contest eight months later, the chopper served as the focal point of a sophisticated multichannel marketing campaign designed to drive traffic to ThomasNet.com, encourage users to register for a “My Thomas” account and change industry perceptions of the Thomas brand.