Greg Gore is Vice President of Praxis International, Inc.
Technical Training, Consulting, and Publishing since 1988

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A Fast Start -The MaraStar Story Continues
by
Greg Gore

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In the February 28th column, Ray Hansell and Marysue Lucci, founders of RHM Teleservices, shared some valuable success lessons for high-tech entrepreneurs. At that time, they were about to begin marketing innovative animated training and communications programs developed by MaraStar Communications, the new company they launched in 1999 from their Paoli offices. We promised to follow their progress as they applied their success principles to their new venture.

Two of Ray and Marysue's success principles are that "your idea must have intrinsic worth and provide value added services" and "establish the need for your product." The idea on which MaraStar is built is to give companies and organizations the content and the means to send 30 second animated training and motivation e-mail messages to employees to enhance their job skills, boost morale and provide job recognition tools.

"E-mail is the fastest growing communication media in history, yet market offerings for employee communications and training that take advantage of this delivery mechanism are underdeveloped," say Marysue and Ray. "On the one hand, e-learning alternatives severely underutilize the visual and audio potential of electronic media and thus limit the effectiveness of their training tools. On the other hand, traditional employee communications companies continue to offer their products through the same distribution channels they have used for more than fifty years. We felt there was a major opportunity to provide value added services in the e-learning area by developing products that would fill an unmet need." Research by W. R. Hambrecht, a leading investment advisor in e-learning, supports this view. Hambrecht estimates the market size for e-learning in 2000 was about $1 billion and will grow to $11.4 billion by 2004.

 A third success principle is "conduct market research and act accordingly." Ray and Marysue developed their flagship products, ToonUps and StarGrams , based on extensive market research results. "Our market research, which included focus groups and in-depth interviews targeted to corporate users, told us these are the tools managers have been looking for to improve employee performance," says Ray.

"Managers in the focus groups and interviews said ToonUps and StarGrams are more effective than traditional training and motivation products such as videos, pamphlets and posters because they are delivered directly to the employee's desktop, are entertaining and humorous, and they are quick," emphasizes Marysue. 

ToonUps are skill-based animated e-mail training messages designed to improve job performance and quality and reduce turnover. Some of the topics covered by ToonUps include communications skills, telephone skills, quality control, selling skills, customer care, and work habits. Beyond sending ToonUps as e-mail messages, employers can use them to support training programs and they can enlarge and print them for use as display posters, thereby providing continuity and reinforcement. The result is increased effectiveness of the training.

StarGrams are motivation-based e-mail messages. StarGrams can be used to welcome new employees, to recognize achievement, to celebrate birthdays and other occasions, to encourage, and to announce special events. Like ToonUps , StarGrams can be printed and the message can also be easily customized. Both products are so innovative that patents are pending.

The ToonUps and StarGrams CD includes a comprehensive Users' Guide containing ideas on how best to use ToonUps and StarGrams to improve results. Also included are five Course Guides that provide recommended training implementation structures for a series of ToonUp training modules. The Users' Guide and the Course Guides can be combined and printed to make a complete Leaders' Guide for training seminar purposes.

Another success principle Marysue and Ray shared is that "the sales and marketing functions, which have existed for years in many industries, add value." Unlike companies that conduct their entire business on the Internet, Ray and Marysue also use a variety of direct mail and telemarketing processes in their sales and marketing efforts. This approach enables them to stay in close touch with their client base.

As the first step in the sales and marketing process, MaraStar mails postcards to business executives inviting them to download a free demo at http://www.marastar.com or to call 1-866-TOONUPS toll free to request a free demo CD. MaraStar communications consultants follow-up by telephone with the business executives who have downloaded or requested the free CD. As part of the marketing strategy, the communications consultant suggests that the executive log on to the website during the phone call. This innovative approach of combining the power of the Internet with the personal sales approach adds value for the customer. The strategy has proven itself to be very effective. MaraStar keeps detailed performance statistics showing number of calls made, number of repeat visitors to the website, and number of times a sale is made.

In the short time since its official product launch in March, MaraStar has already landed such major corporate clients as Kimberly Clark and Brother International Corporation. Marysue Lucci and Ray Hansell have indeed applied success principles they used to build one business to launch a new, successful business in the high-tech world of the 21st Century.

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The Greg Gore Web Site on Computers and the Internet (www.GregGore.com)

This column was published in the Daily Local News, West Chester, PA on May 23, 2001. Greg Gore can be reached at gg@GregGore.com.

2009 by Greg Gore. All rights reserved.