Programs such as Unity Mail 2.0 from Revnet Systems, Huntsville, Ala.; Lyris from Lyris Technologies, Oakland, Calif.; and Media Synergy from Media Synergy, Toronto, put e-mail recipients into databases that let managers deliver pitches to specific users.
Both Lyris and Unity Mail support in-line HTML, so e-mail programs supporting Web content can offer hot links in messages; Media Synergy supports a proprietary format that allows high-quality graphics.
Best of all, these messages are definitely not spam. Users sign up for lists managed by any of the three programs, and the database capability lets managers deliver messages only to portions of the lists that meet specific criteria.
So far, those who have tried it say they are enthusiastic about the capabilities.
Bob Simpson, a program manager at Integrated Device Technology, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based computer chip maker, says he has built an 8,000-name e-mail database using Unity Mail.
"We send nothing that's universal," Mr. Simpson says.
Some e-mail broadcasts go to customers, others to resellers, and the customers are segmented by products, mainly memory chips and microprocessors.
"Each of our e-mails is filtered based on attributes in our database," he says.
The entire list is checked against a category, which filters out only those interested in a specific topic. The filters reside on a Web page screen with checkoff boxes, so it's easy to use, Mr. Simpson says.
John Schlegel, director of publications for the San Diego Padres, has built new subscription forms for his 3,000-name list to collect demographic information.
"We're setting up groups, offering specific e-mails to be delivered to them," Mr. Schlegel says.
Kara McGovern, manager of publications and multimedia for the New York Yankees, has gone a bit further. New visitors to the yankees.com site are invited to join the fan club, and that demographic data goes directly into her Unity Mail database, which now encompasses more than 50,000 entries.
"We asked when their last visit to the stadium was in case we offer a ticket promotion," Ms. McGovern says. "We can send e-mails based on those fields."
She can also send e-mails to fans in specific geographic locations, or send them only to families with young children, for example.
The Yankees got the software in May, and Ms. McGovern admits she hasn't tapped its full potential yet.
"I've sent messages out, but most are to the entire database," such as when the club opened its online store, she says.
During the off-season, Ms. McGovern says, she plans to integrate the Unity Mail database with ticketing and paper fan mail databases.
A full license costs $25,000 and includes unlimited mailings.
Meanwhile, Media Synergy has been testing its program with customers such as the National Geographic Society and CBS SportsLine, preparing for delivery of the final version in the first quarter of next year.
So far, the results have been excellent, says Elan Vaknin, marketing manager for CBS SportsLine, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"We got over a 20% click-through," Mr. Vaknin says, after sending a multimedia message to some members promoting merchandise sold in conjunction with the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
Unlike most sites, the e-mail database at SportsLine is already a finely grained Oracle database. The company not only knows where its customers live and what their sports preferences are, but what merchandise they've purchased from the site.
It also has explicit permission to send users e-mail concerning those topics that interest them.
"We're not talking spam here," Mr. Vaknin says. "We have targeted offers to targeted lists. We feel it's a service."
Joshua Baer, president of Pittsburgh-based Skylist.Net, has built a business based on Lyris. Skylist.Net counts IDG Books and Peachpit Press among its clients.
"A lot of my clients want customization, and that almost always involves database integration," Mr. Baer says. "What we do for IDG is pretty vanilla. We send thousands and thousands of messages for them, and do a mail merge so that each user is referred to by their e-mail address.
"We've also begun doing something for Foragents.com, a site for insurance agents, that's pretty cool," he says. "They have a lot of State Farm and Allstate agents there, and we offer them both security and anonymity. Users are authenticated before they enter a shared list, but they can then choose to be anonymous in a post that is shared by the list. If users are not anonymous, the software also adds their location to the post automatically as it's published, so people know where they're coming from."
The full Lyris license is $7,500.