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Marketers indulge in rich media’s promise

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The use of rich-media marketing to acquire customers and complete sales is on the upswing, and many b-to-b marketers using the technique are reporting terrific results. From Motorola Inc. to SAP America L.L.C., marketers running audio and video campaigns are reporting reach and pass-along rates superior to traditional direct marketing, Web banner and print advertising. Yet some skeptics wonder if the use of rich media could be a fad.

It is not unusual for marketers to get 3% purchase rates from a streamed audio and video message, said Fabrice Hamaide, president and CEO of Talkway Communications Inc., Fremont, Calif. Most marketers would be happy with a 1% response to more traditional methods. Talkway has partnered with traditional direct marketing agencies to offer Internet services to clients. Hamaide even went so far as to claim that in some circles rich media is used in about 15% to 20% of all marketing e-mails, up from just over 0% a year ago.

``We’re doing two or three b-to-b campaigns per day now, whereas two months ago we were doing two or three a week,” affirmed Jay Stevens, director of marketing for rich-media e-mail services company Radical Communication Inc. ``Rich-media e-mail is becoming a standard form of b-to-b marketing.’’

Results for early adopters are outstanding.

A travel agency recently used a Western Union-branded video message to reach 7,600 business travelers, Hamaide said. At an average cost of about 20 cents, the travel agency converted 35% of the prospects into viewers, and 1.3% of recipients booked a trip, Hamaide said. The campaign netted about $200,000 in revenue—returns that a traditional direct marketer would love to have, said Carlan Dodson, director-product development for Western Union. Neither Hamaide nor Dodson would disclose the name of the travel firm involved.

Leslie Dance, global director-communications and media relations for the personal communications sector of Motorola Inc., said rich-media e-mail is becoming a standard part of her company’s marketing mix.

For an estimated $100,000 to $200,000, Motorola recently orchestrated an 80,000-message b-to-b video campaign featuring “Silent Bill,” the self-styled leader of his own movement and promoter of a new line of wireless devices.

The target audience was young-adult workers at high-tech companies—consumers who can make or break a newfangled Internet device. Motorola took the unusual step of embedding a URL into a video message in order to bring prospects to a product Web site.

``Viral guerilla marketing is part of our overall marketing mix now,’’ Dance said. ``Rich media was a way to communicate with our target customer in a way that’s relevant to them.’’ The fact that the message is being passed along from target to additional audiences indicates the campaign is working, Dance said.

``You can’t measure these campaigns in the classic sense, through click-through rates on the Web site,’’ she said.

Technology holds interest

Techniques that allow streamed media to be sent to a browser without requiring downloads of proprietary players have paved the way for video and audio in e-mail messages, Dance said. ``If people get frustrated or bored, you know you’ll lose them,’’ she said.

Conferences and seminars led the initial charge to rich-media messaging, Stevens said. Organizations like Iconocast Inc., First Conferences Ltd. and Ziff Davis Development Group have used rich-media marketing to reach prospects. Now, more traditional direct mail b-to-b marketers are jumping in.

B-to-b marketers are looking for a formula that delivers engaging content. Unlike television or radio, streamed advertising on the Internet needs to accommodate an audience with diverse desktop systems and processor horsepower.

A recent campaign created by ScreamingMedia Inc. was sent to 26,000 prospects and opened via pass-along users by 40,000 people, in part because it was engaging even at low bandwidths, said Stevens. Not everyone is going to enjoy those results, but fresh content can draw impressive pass-along rates, he added.

Audio and video e-mail marketing is enjoying a boom because it is new, said Blair Lyon, president of e-mail service provider TMXinteractive. TMX has recently handled campaigns for such clients as enterprise software developer SAP America, Lyon said.

The challenge for marketers will be to maintain high response rates as rich-media e-mail becomes more widely used. After all, Web banner advertising, once delivering response rates as high as 4% to 5%, are now as low as 0.3%.

``The novelty will wear off,’’ said Lyon, whose firm charges $40 to $60 per thousand for delivering a rich-media campaign and $10,000 to $20,000 to develop the creative. Some e-mail campaigns are tying directly to direct mail campaigns. New York-based Wired Business Inc., out to reach CIOs and CEOs,

developed a rich-media advertisement for an event it produced featuring former St. Louis Rams head coach Dick Vermeil but supported it with an expensive print piece packed in a black-oak wood box. That’s the type of integrated campaign that will work best going forward, Lyon said.

One business advertiser is absolutely sold on rich media.

Roman Fitzmartin, director of business development for Internet incubator bHive.net, is working on a second $10,000 campaign to attract businesses. A first campaign, launched in March, generated the most important response of all: customer leads. Fitzmartin is not concerned about the potential for lower response rates as the rich-media novelty wears thin.

``We’re looking at what the next thing will be to catch the eye,’’ Fitzmartin said. ``When you look at delivering a message, audio and video can be used in more different ways than text. We’ll have a chance to adapt over time.’’

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