A picture's worth a thousand words

In 1998, the acquisition of Voice-Tel Enterprises booted Nadia Clifford out of the director’s chair and into the unemployment line.

With no strong desire to jump back into the corporate lifestyle, she began researching new technology for business opportunities.

“At that time, dot-coms were a dime a dozen, but I did feel there was some great potential in Internet-based technology,” Clifford says.

Turns out she was right.

Clifford’s research led her to iPIX Picture Corp., a Tennessee-based panoramic imaging company. The panoramic technology allows researchers to see a 360-degree view of everything from a city street to the interior of a restaurant.

She decided the best potential for iPIX was in the university and hospitality industries. The idea was that incoming freshmen want to see the college they’re considering without an expensive trip to the campus. In the same vein, travelers appreciate seeing accommodations before making reservations.

With iPIX technology, the customer can create a bird’s eye view effect that can be used on the Web or produced for CD-ROM and print brochures.

“You get three different versions in terms of an internal sales tool,” explains Clifford.

But navigating the bureaucratic infrastructure of higher education proved difficult.

“Departments are very autonomous and to have a consensus of opinion from a university is sometimes very challenging,” Clifford says.

Eventually, Oberlin College and Western Reserve Academy added panoramic imagery to their Web sites, but focusing on the slow-to-react educational world could have meant the end of the 2-year-old company.

Stepping back and looking at the market from a different angle, Clifford tried envisioning where the technology could be used. Her conclusion: She needed to open up her marketing efforts to cities and marketing firms.

For Ron White, executive director of the Beachwood Chamber of Commerce, attracting new businesses is important. With 4 million square feet of office space and approximately 2 million square feet of retail, White believes iPIX offers a great way to present his city to the outside business community.

“My goal is to get their (relocators) attention … entice and not give away the show,” White says.

Beachwood’s Web site offers maps and text, but White believes the upcoming addition of virtual tours will attract people looking to relocate businesses, promote commercial real estate and showcase the residential community.

Clifford ran with the idea, and soon, the Greater Cleveland Media Development Corp. will integrate virtual tours into its Web site.

“It makes sense to use that type of technology … to entice producers to come into Cleveland,” says Clifford.

Recently, she was joined by her husband, Jim, who studied photography at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and Bridalview.com was born.

The offshoot targets the computer savvy bride-to-be, typically a master researcher of information on everything from banquet halls to travel and formal attire. Wedding-related vendors advertise services, and banquet halls give a full room view of a hall decorated for the occasion.

Clifford says the iPIX technology does not sell itself. The biggest challenge doesn’t come from competition but from finding a way to help clients understand the value of the technology.

“It’s a learning curve for everyone, but fortunately, our clients’ clients are computer savvy, so they have to work very hard to keep up with their demands,” says Clifford. How to reach: Clifford Digital Studios Inc., (330) 656-0025 or [email protected]; Beachwood Chamber of Commerce, (216) 831-0003, www.beachwood.org or [email protected]; Liggett-Stashower Inc., www.liggett.com

Deborah Garofalo ([email protected]) is associate editor of SBN Magazine