Email marketing is the fastest growing and most effective of all direct marketing media. Spam also is exploding exponentially, as new technologies arise to stop it.
Both above statements are true. So, considering Congressional hearings in the past year on unsolicited emails and expanded privacy rules (see EXTRA), is this an approaching technology train wreck, or what?
With 75 percent of Internet households now using email, according to a recent study by Nielsen/NetRatings, this most popular of all web-based applications is of increasing interest to marketers. Another study shows 32 percent of businesses use email and rank it as their “No. 1 most effective marketing vehicle.” There’s also evidence that email marketing is taking budget away from traditional direct mail (which just experienced another rate hike) with 55 percent of survey respondents reporting they’ve increased the percentage of spending on email while 33 percent have decreased spending on direct mail.
Fearing the ‘spam’
What’s kept you from testing email as a marketing tool? Fear of “spamming” keeps many businesses on the sidelines. That translates into mistrust of purchased email lists, often with good reason. Many off-the-shelf lists fail to give you “permission protection” against your messages being perceived by receivers as spam. Instead, you should build a “permission based” email list from past and present customers as well as leads you capture at home shows and fairs. With a “home-grown” list, you’ll be much less likely to offend, and much more likely to do business.
Let’s face it, typical non-HTML email messages are boring in their all-type format. Even most HTML messages have little or no visual interest. That’s another reason you may have avoided using email marketing. Like other small businesses, you’ve lacked the technological know-how to make it interesting, without resorting to expensive outsourcing to create animated messages. Now, we’re entering a new era where colorful, animated email ads can be created from inexpensive electronic templates, driven by “flash” technology from Macromedia. What’s more, over 436 million global Internet users have easy access to flash-animated messages through Macromedia’s popular Flash Player application that opens up a whole new world of colorful, moving email messages and banners.
Macromedia Flash MX is widely recognized as the fastest way for skilled professional web designers to create “rich” Internet content for online advertising. The technology has, until recently, been out of reach for email marketers on small budgets.
Affordable turnkey email
At least two companies -- Great Big Noise, of Venice, Calif., and eWorld Media, of Newport Beach, Calif. -- have assembled an integrated turnkey email commercial service for small businesses as well as large ones. Both utilize flash technology to create lively template commercials for “an impressive web presence” at a very low cost. What’s more, they bundle their commercial creation/production services with list management, emailing and tracking programs that let you measure the results.
Great Big Noise (founded earlier this year) claims to offer the world’s first email marketing solution that allows self-service creation and sending of Macromedia Flash multimedia email campaigns.
“Until now, only large, well-funded marketing organizations could utilize flash-based email marketing due to the high cost and complexity of sending out such campaigns,” said Ron Evans, Great Big Noise president. “We allow companies of all sizes to achieve the high response rates of flash-based email. The service is cost effective and meets the needs of both large and small organizations.”
Customizing to taste
Great Big Noise provides custom templates to clients so a single promotional effort can feature many different messages. For example, a monthly promotion can be developed that spotlights a different product for each mailing. Another example includes seasonal promotions that can be customized to target both current customers and prospects so each receives different communication.
Great Big Noise offers a completely self-service solution for email promotions that create and send flash-based messages. Some of its offerings include:
* A selection of already-created ad templates that let advertisers create a professional-looking ad quickly and at low cost -- $19.95 per use in any-size single mailing.
* Insert your company logo and messaging to build your brand identity and increase sales. Printable electronic coupons are another feature, says Evans.
* Import and export your customer and prospect opt-in email list using common file formats such as Microsoft Outlook.
* Keep your list private. Password protection, and other security features like high-encryption, ensures that only you can see or alter your email marketing list.
* Add and remove your own email addresses using a web browser. No other software is necessary.
* Send your email promotions to your selected lists quickly and easily.
* Automatically handle returned mail and removal requests. You don’t need to do anything with bounce-backs and removal requests because it will be handled for you, says Evans.
* Track the progress and measure the results of your email marketing campaigns using the company’s detailed reporting system. It’s available at no extra cost, says Evans.
Here’s how the last feature works. According to the company, you’re only charged when you send out an email promotion. The price you pay is based on how many emails are sent plus a small fee to use the email templates. The price breakdown is shown in Table 1.
There’s no charge to upload and maintain your customer and prospect email list using the easy-to-use web interface. When a customer is ready to send out a mailing, the company charges for a minimum of 500 names. That’s $5.00 plus the $19.95 template use charge. The company claims there are no hidden charges or additional fees.
Service in a flash
This self-guided flash technology-driven subscription service claims to deliver “targeted TV-like commercials on the net” for small businesses. According to the company, commercials are delivered as standard email messages “with no attachments, so there are no concerns regarding viruses, downloads or bandwidth.” They also open and run immediately, even on slow modems.
The company says, “When your customer or prospect clicks on your email message, their computer screen immediately comes alive with sound, music, photographs, streaming video, animation and graphics. You can even include your own recorded voice message, if you choose.”
Run your own campaign
eWorldMedia’s Business Control Center claims to provide all the tools you need to create, send, track and monitor your entire campaign. According to its online commercial editor, it’s “so easy to manage that even a child can use it; you just point, click, type and press send; and the technology does the rest in a matter of seconds!”
Your commercials can be simple and straight-forward, or made fully interactive to include your choice of multiple links, printable coupons, information capture forms, embedded documents or presentations, even your own audio or video messages.”
The control center also includes an easy-to-use contact manager where you can manage your own customer and prospect lists with simple point-and-click operation. The company will help clients develop their own lists as well.
Some features include:
* Once your messages have been sent, the control center automatically tracks each commercial so you know exactly how many people open, watch, click-through and respond to each message.
* Targeted email advertisements are usually 20-60 seconds in length, combining point-and-click operation using animation, video, photographs, music and copy. They’re then automatically edited and converted into compressed files, allowing them to be streamlined quickly and smoothly to your targeted audience.
* Email commercials can contain sound, animation, voice, links and printable coupons for special offers.
* Customers receive email messages with no attachments, virus concerns, dial-up delays, or loss of connection speed.
* Subscription can include access to email addresses from the company’s database, targeted by zip code, age, gender, income and interest area.
* You can also provide your own list (as the company recommends).
* Allows small businesses to send customized “TV-like” commercials over the Internet for as little as 2.5 cents per spot.
* Online tracking system allows you to track the results of your campaign on a commercial-by-commercial basis.
Like many things in life, email is both good and bad. Now, new technologies promise to help tame email abuse (spam). Still, others open up exciting new versions of this cost-effective electronic marketing medium to the advantage of small businesses, as never seen before.
About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or website: www.lenzimartin.com
Table 1. Charges for Each Email Service -- Great Big Noise
Flash Mailing Template (per use)……$19.95
Sending Email per Address……………$0.01
Custom Email Services…………………Call
EXTRA: New Technologies Emerge to Block Email ‘Spam’
In a June 19 article, The Wall Street Journal cited a survey that identified up to 37 percent of all email messages are “spam” -- unwanted mass email commercial messages.
Aside from new proposed anti-spam legislation now before Congress, the story identified several new “clever approaches to filter or block unwanted email.” Some of them include:
* Cloudmark, of San Francisco, uses Napster-like “peer-to-peer” technology to assign a “signature” to suspected spam messages distributed to all subscribers of the free service who vote “yes” or “no.” * MailShell, of Santa Clara, Calif., lets users set custom parameters on email to determine a “spam score” for each piece of mail received. High scores are blocked.
* Brightmail Inc., of San Francisco, sets up “blacklists” that filter out spam as it hits users’ email gateways.
* IronPort Systems Inc., of San Bruno, Calif., asks e-marketers to set up a financial “bond” that guarantees their email isn’t spam. IronPort deducts a fine from violators’ bonds.
My personal choice (not mentioned in the Journal story) is MailWasher, of Christchurch, New Zealand -- a free service that lets you preview email, then bounces back unwanted messages before you download them, thus fooling the sender into thinking your email address is invalid.
-- David H. Martin