But, Neifield said, "We've actually found that text-based messages work best with a high-tech audience. That audience doesn't want to wait for downloads," even though high-tech workers are very likely to have broadband connections.
HTML appeals to the heart, while text appeals to the head, agreed Mark Stephens, New York-based media director for Lot21, a San Francisco-based interactive ad agency that does a lot of e-mail campaigns. "For consumers, we get better response from HTML," he said. "For technology-oriented clients, it's the other way around-they prefer text. The tech guys aren't as enamored of the pretty pictures."
For Charlie Tarzian, chief strategy officer for Baltimore-based interactive agency Circle.com, this argues for text e-mails in most b-to-b applications.
"On the b-to-b side, people are prequalified, and they want the information formatted in a way so they can consume it as quickly as possible," he said. "Text works well. There's also no sure-fire way to know that you'll get HTML mail through."
Guio Barela, CEO of TouchMarketing.com, a Renton, Wash., marketing firm that uses both print catalogs and e-mail, agreed. "Respectful marketing is attentive to how you use your client's resources," he said. "You're using someone else's assets."
It's here that HTML can actually hurt in a b-to-b application.
"In a corporation with 10,000 employees, sending each target a 50KBps message"-which is what HTML can "cost" when graphics have to download after the message opens-"will bog down the system," Barela said. "The consumer marketplace can accept rich media more readily."
This rule doesn't hold in all niches. Jeremy Bachmann, VP-online marketing and strategy with Countrywide Home Loans Inc., Calabasas, Calif., a home lending company, targets real estate agents with its HTML newsletter. Bachmann admitted that HTML e-mails cost more to produce but argues they offer better branding and can support more links. So he uses HTML as his default format.
With text, "tracking URLs look just like what they are-tracking URLs," he said. "Consumers who are less comfortable with the Web feel better about clicking on www.fullspectrumlending.com than on www.fullspectrumlending.com/defaul.asp?id=2040383iu40."
Even with HTML as the default, Bachmann's company still produces a text version of its newsletter. "You can send out text without worrying about the customer seeing gibberish," he said. "For example, Visto.com, a large Web mail provider, can't support same-page anchor links in HTML mail."
If you're considering HTML e-mails, consider an "HTML sniffer" program to detect a user's e-mail client, said Sharon Tucci, president of e-mail marketing agency Sling Shot Media L.L.C., Cornwall, Ontario.
Still, she said, "Even if someone has specifically said they want to receive your newsletter, unless you advise them it will be in HTML, you should never default someone to that."
There is something worse than failing to click: Users could accuse you of spamming or complain to your Internet service provider. And, if it's a close call, they're more likely to do that with a large HTML file than a small text file, she said.