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Marketer adopts innovative tactics

By Danek S. Kaus

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times when Patrick Di Chiro opened the Thunder Factory in San Mateo. It was October of 2000, right in the middle of the dot-com meltdown.

“I felt the need for a different kind of marketing firm, one that focuses on building the client’s business as opposed to creating awareness and branding,” Mr. Di Chiro says. “I take a much more business approach than many marketing companies. That’s the biggest reason for our fast success.”

Because so many people had lost their jobs when Thunder Factory was starting, Mr. Di Chiro was able to hire skilled writers, artists and marketers on a freelance basis. “It was great in the beginning when we didn’t have predictable revenues,” he adds. “But as I competed for customers, they wanted to be sure we had a full-time staff, that it was a real firm with a culture, so we hired full-time people.”

However, the company continues to outsource some specialized functions, such as coding for client Web sites, he says.

As the survivors of the dot-com bust tightened their belts, they wanted to ensure that their marketing programs would deliver.

Mr. Di Chiro says Thunder Factory answered that need with what he calls integrated marketing. “In our view, it is all about building the strategy first, based on a big idea - that is something that is greatly needed in marketing - and then developing the tactical execution around that,” he explains.

He adds that his approach differs significantly from that taken by most marketing firms, which he says are too focused on tactics.

“We are what we call tactically agnostic and media agnostic,” Mr. Di Chiro says. “We don’t put preference on any kind of marketing tactic or media type. Today, in the global network and technology-driven world, you need that kind of approach to succeed.”

That tactic has proved successful, for Thunder Factory as well as for its clients.

In 2003, the company earned $1.4 million, a nearly 200 percent increase from the $479,600 in revenues it earned in 2001. In 2004, it is on track to generate revenues of $3.5 million and plans to expand its 18-member staff.

Thunder Factory was able to help one of its first clients, ZANTAZ, in Pleasanton, achieve a 300 percent increase in revenues in one year. “We helped them focus their brand positioning so it was very compelling for customers,” Mr. Di Chiro explains. “We also helped them clarify their value proposition and focus on the right customers.”

The digital and compliance archiving and electronic discovery company recently received $20 million from General Atlantic Partners, one of the country’s leading VC firms, Mr. Di Chiro, says.

“They are poised to do major things,” he adds, “They have grown substantially and they just acquired another company called SteelPoint, in Boston. That company was the leader in electronic discovery and litigation management space. So now they have essentially doubled the size of the company and will continue growing.”

The firm also helped AT&T Wireless develop an e-commerce strategy.

“This was a behavioral change,” Mr. Di Chiro says. “Very few customers (buy online) in the wireless industry. They typically buy from company-owned or independent retailers. What AT&T succeeded in doing was to ‘Amazon’ the wireless industry. The margins are much better for them.”

To ensure the program’s success, Thunder Factory learned customers’ buying habits and created reasons for them to change their buying habits. “We did our research and found ways to overcome objections,” Mr. Di Chiro says.

For example, with Thunder Factory’s help, AT&T capitalized on consumers’ desire for instant gratification by offering free overnight delivery.

People also feel that they can haggle and get a better price when dealing with a real person face-to-face. To overcome this challenge, AT&T offered specials that were only available online.

“AT&T set a high objective level in terms of number of sales from the site. They blew through that in the first six months,” Mr. Di Chiro says.