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A Web 2.0 site for B2B Customers
Sanda worked with Trimble to develop a Web site to build its outdoor rugged brand and improve customer relations. This story shows how you can use social media to engage customers, partners and dealers with videos, blogs, forums, photos and chat functionality. We even used the new Web 2.0 site to launch Trimble's latest rugged handheld computer. (See one of the launch videos by clicking play on the window to the right.) The launch was a hit with our client and the industry. Read some reviews in the right-hand column below.



Additional Information

Tripod Data Systems (TDS) started out in 1987 making software for surveyors, and it has since expanded into making rugged handheld computers for outdoor applications. Trimble Navigation (Trimble) bought TDS in 2000, and depending on the market, its products are sold under both the TDS and Trimble brands. Sanda Communications (Sanda) has worked with TDS for over a decade. We provide integrated marketing, advertising and PR services for TDS/Trimble, using both traditional and online media.

Over the last six months we’ve helped TDS/Trimble build a blog site for its rugged handheld computers. We started on Blogger, but later moved it to Ning, a new Web 2.0 social networking platform.

We moved to Ning to get an affordable platform that could support advanced video handling, forums, blogging, photos and other cool communications capabilities. Our idea was to exploit the advanced, easy-to-use capabilities of Ning to develop an online venue where TDS product managers and engineers could have ongoing conversations with customers and partners. And in the process, we’d build a professional network of rugged handheld computer users who could share stories, ideas and tips with each other.

Ning SiteWe have been delighted with what Ning has to offer, as they compete with the other major social network platforms like MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and others. We wanted to exploit the killer capabilities those sites had developed for kids to talk about music, politics, dating and endlessly about themselves. But in our case, we wanted to entice field professionals to talk about using rugged handheld computers in military, construction, public safety, utility and other rigorous applications in outdoor and harsh applications.

We spent most of the first six months in site design and content creation. We helped create blogs, videos and forum discussions by working with TDS staff under the parent company Trimble’s watchful eye. Trimble naturally had legal and other concerns about building an open network for discussions using the TDS and Trimble brands outside the company firewall and without full corporate control.
Sanda and TDS’ in-house champions kept working on building the site, and as we progressed, Trimble exercised its oversight with a light touch. For the first six months, most of the members came from the Sanda/TDS/Trimble team involved with building the site. By June 2007, we had enough content ready to begin outreach, inviting customers, VARs, OEMs, dealers and other channel partners to join us on the site, We used banner ads, e-mail campaigns and some limited online PR to promote the site. By this time, we believed we had enough interesting and relevant content to attract the serious professional who wanted to learn more about outdoor rugged computing.

We had good reason to take it slow at first. We didn’t want to hype expectations until we had a solid, functioning site with excellent content. If you’re going to throw a party or build an online conference and invite business associates over, you’ve got to deliver content that’s worth their time to view.

Of course, the real test of a true Web 2.0 site will be user-generated content. We hope that by year’s end, we will be able to push much less of content through TDS/Trimble and start having customers and members posting their own stories and videos about how they use outdoor rugged computers on the job. Oh, happy days!
Sometimes a great notion

We decided to promote membership on the site by offering Trimble-branded hats and jackets for the best comments and posts. We shot a funny video of Dale Kyle, the rugged handheld product manager, who has been the main video host for the site. In Dale’s videos, we have a running gag of throwing or dropping things on him to highlight the ruggedness of TDS/Trimble handhelds. For the video promoting the hat giveaway to new members, we dumped sand, ice cubes and cold water all over Dale and his Trimble hat to promote the kind of torture tests TDS/Trimble puts its rugged handhelds through. The video was our first hit, generating hundreds of views in the first weeks. We also had a surge in new members, and it looked like the damn thing might just take off.

We then had an original notion. TDS had been developing a new rugged handheld—to be called the Nomad—over the last 12 months or so, and we were getting ready to do a traditional PR and advertising launch on July 17. The ads were designed and placed, the PR copy was ready to be sent to our large list of online and print media contacts, and first reviews were arranged with important trade magazines. And then we thought, “why not do a live introduction of the new Nomad rugged handheld computer on the OutdoorRugged site?”

This idea was actually based on some previous experience. Back in November 2006, Sanda had run an experiment at the Software Association of Oregon’s Software Showcase Conference, held at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland. We shot videos of a number of demonstrations at the event, edited, processed and posted the videos in almost real-time on our Blogger site, then used our projector to show a 20’ image of the just-shot demos on the OMSI wall. People love seeing themselves on TV. And all this was done using a simple camcorder, our laptops and a WiFi connection to the Internet. It was pretty cool.

What we proposed to TDS/Trimble was a similar process for an online launch of the Nomad, only on a slightly grander scale. Why not invite a number of important media, customers and partners to join us at TDS headquarters on July 17—in person or by phone—then videotape their comments, questions and responses to the live introduction and hands-on demonstration of the new Nomad. We’d post the videos on, giving visitors to the site an almost real-time introduction to the Nomad, Trimble’s most powerful and versatile rugged handheld computer to date.
Now for the riskier parts

We knew going in there would be several challenges. The first would be getting people to come. As nice as Corvallis, Oregon is in July (usually), it’s a bit off the high-tech media circuit. Even getting local business and high-tech editors from Portland, an easy 90 minutes away, would be tough. Still, we managed to get 13 publishers, editors, reporters, bloggers and partners from around the world to call in for the Nomad launch at 1 p.m. PDT on July 17. And we got a handful of people to come to TDS for the event.

Another problem was timing. Who releases a major new product in the middle of summer? People are on vacation, news is slow, etc., etc. Maybe the engineers had finished this kick-butt new product early and couldn’t wait till September to release it. Or maybe it was ready a little later than they had planned. That sometimes happens, too. So we didn’t have much control over the timing of the product launch. But the nice thing is any time is the right time on the Internet. You don’t have to wait for a major trade show or in-person event to launch a new product. Fire when ready, Gridley!
Only problem was, we didn’t have much time to get ready. As good and exciting as the idea was, the Nomad Launch Show, as it became known, was formally proposed to TDS/Trimble on June 25—a little more than three weeks before the product launch date!

Plus, the exuberant people who run the Ning platform are continually updating, improving and changing it. Features that were there one day would morph or disappear entirely the next. Most of the changes were for the better. But they added to our uncertainty.

Then, there was the challenge of building an audience for this online event. For one thing, our audience—field professionals—tend to be older and less chatty online than most of the kids using social networks. But to make this online event work, we needed to have people online on the launch data asking questions and making comments. So we sent out an e-mail to all the members of, as well as to subscribers of Trimble’s Rugged Road newsletter, to join us for the launch of an exciting new product on July 17.

Finally, we had no previous experience to go on. No one—to our knowledge—had ever heard of such an online, near real-time event to launch a new product. We would have very little time to explain and promote this integrated, online, live and teleconferencing event. Could we pull it off, without embarrassing ourselves and the client or stepping on corporate toes because of the need for speed?
With all of these challenges in mind, we told the client “let’s keep it simple.” When you have less time, stick with the essentials. This helps everybody focus, and it prevents project creep.

We also decided to reduce risks where we could. Rather than rely solely on videos shot, edited and posted during the launch event, we pre-recorded three key videos the week before the event so they would be ready to go for sure on July 17.
So, on July 11, we shot a video with Dale to introduce the Nomad, then we shot two more videos with two of the project’s lead engineers explaining how they developed the Nomad’s hardware and software. We had those videos edited, posted and ready to run at 12:45 p.m. on the big day. We also e-mailed instructions to the callers and online members, asking them to watch the three prerecorded videos first before calling in or logging in to the launch event on the OutdoorRugged Web site.
We also told them we would be batching and posting short video segments from the live event every fifteen minutes or so. That way, viewers would have an experience close to being there with the ability to call or post comments in real time—true Web 2.0 interactivity—using all the technology available without getting in the way of the real event and the true news—Trimble’s new Nomad.

Sounded like a grand plan, with the gut-churning edge of flying by the seat of your pants like the early days of live TV. Playhouse 90, Rod Serling, are you watching?

What went right
We had an excellent turnout of in-house guests, with a good mix of media, partners and educators:

We were afraid that having thirteen call-in attendees would be too many people. But Julia Oliver, our media relations person, did a great job keeping the callers happy and in line while waiting to call in. Julia, a long-time Sanda staffer, still works for us even though she moved with her Air Force family to Guam. The telecom equipment also worked well at TDS, even though some of the questions were hard to hear.

Press eventThe presentations that the TDS crew put on were superb. Dale did a great job as host and lead responder; the engineers and product managers were knowledgeable and articulate; and Amy Urban, TDS’ marketing communications manager, did a splendid job managing the event and coordinating the Q&A from callers and members. The Sanda team also did a good job capturing the event with our two cameras without getting in the way of the event.

Best of all, we got good coverage by the online media with articles and requests for demo units. As of July 26, 2007, we found 22 online articles about the Nomad, including Smartphone & PocketPC, enGadget, CBS Marketwatch and Yahoo! Finance. One of the attendees who called in, Kevin C. Tofel from the blog jkOnTheRun, had his blog notes posted before we left the meeting room.

Press eventOne thing to keep in mind is that is not a mass-market site. It’s designed for a select group of mobile professionals who use handheld computers in the outdoors and other harsh environments. That makes it a very narrow market niche with a very limited number of likely participants. Outdoor Rugged appears far down the long tail of vertical market segments. But it is a tasty morsel worth digging for; sales in this market niche are estimated to reach more than a billion dollars this year, and that figure is likely to double by 2010. So we won’t draw the traffic of a social or celebrity site like Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die. But if we can establish a critical mass of customer’s conversations, we’ll have accomplished our mission.

Screen Grab

We had 42 people sign-up as members of the Nomad Launch Group on the site, even though only a handful actually asked questions or made comments during the Nomad Launch Show. We increased the number of members on the site from around 40 to over 160 as a result of the event. And as we had hoped, most of the people who have signed up on the site are people who actually use rugged handheld computers in outdoor applications.


One of the unexpected benefits of recording the event was that the day after the official launch, a large number of TDS people heard the in-house buzz about the event, and many of them went to the OutdoorRugged site to watch the videos. Not only did we inform media people and partners around the world about the Nomad, we informed and excited TDS people in the next cube! We had others tune into the event from outside the industry. However, if you’re not interested in handheld computers it’s pretty dry stuff, and as well as the managers and engineers did, they are not Will Ferrell and Pearl.

The traditional PR and media relations push for the Nomad is going very well. No surprise here; each quarter we fill a couple of big notebooks with the press clipping we get for TDS/Trimble products. This online event will add to that and add zip and synergy to the effective print campaign.

Because Ning has a basic way of statistically tracking site and member activity, we could track exactly how many people were watching what videos on what days. We also gained useful information about our members who volunteered what they wanted from the site.

Site traffic

What went wrong
We did a good job on the three pre-recorded videos and had them posted in time for the call-in guests to see. And we were able to shoot, edit and post the first segment with the introductions of the in-house guests.

Then our video plans went askew. The interaction and questions by the in-house guests transitioned too quickly into the questions from guests calling in. Josh Hammer, our lead cameraman, didn’t think there was a good place to stop shooting and hand-off his tape for posting, so he changed plans and kept shooting.
I was the second cameraman, and I was supposed to shoot side shots and close-ups to be edited in later with Josh’s videos. I didn’t want to give up my tape because my footage was really a supplement to the main video that Josh was shooting; it wasn’t meant to stand on its own. Consequently, we did not upload any more fresh videos during the event as promised. Right after the event, we did upload a couple of segments, and later that night we uploaded another major segment. But that couldn’t be called near real-time.

The results
Since we started tracking traffic to the OutdoorRugged site at the end of May, we’ve seen hits grow steadily, with large increases after we’ve sent out e-mails promoting the site:


We also saw a huge spike in daily page views immediate before and after the Nomad Launch Show:

Daily views

Membership at OutdoorRugged also spiked at the time of the Nomad launch:

Daily membership increase

What we learned
In this case, both Sanda and our client felt it was well worth the risk and scrambling to take on this challenge. We were glad it worked well, and we returned our barf bags to our desk drawers. We were very grateful for the TDS and Trimble managers who were willing to give us a shot at making this innovative launch work. Next time we do a Big Event, we’ve promised ourselves to take more time to do it better.

I’m glad we didn’t over promise how many people would call, comment or attend. Overall, we were gratified with the anecdotal and statistical results. Time will tell if partners and customers will use the OutdoorRugged site to help promote TDS/Trimble products and how many new Nomads we can help sell with the site. Although the principle objective of the site is to encourage open conversations with customers and partners, the reason we want to do that is ultimately to sell more stuff. Compared to the conventional Trimble and TDS Web sites, there is much less “corporate-speak” and direct sales pitches on OutdoorRugged, but the objective remains to build better, more profitable relations with our customers. It is, after all, still marketing, albeit marketing 201.

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Kudos from the marketing community
The story of Sanda's creation of social networking sites for business has been chosen as the winning “Do it Wrong Quickly” case study by Web marketing expert Mike Moran. A version of the story appears on Moran's Web site.

"Sanda's innovative use of a Web 2.0 social network platform for business clients is a great example of where marketing is heading."

—Mike Moran
IBM distinguished engineer, product manager of IBM's OmniFind search software, and author of Search Engine Marketing Inc. and Do It Wrong Quickly


Industry praise
"The Nomad's interactive product launch was just too cool. The company had created a special Web 2.0-style website, with video, community building, blogs and all. Very clever, and the folks at Sanda Communications who put it all together deserve a giant 2.0 pat on the back! "

—Conrad Blickenstorfer
Publisher, Pen Computing, and blogger extraordinaire