So-called rich e-mails--whether a video clip of' 'N Sync or animation and audio touting the merits of new golf clubs--add what Jupiter Communications calls "the wow factor to e-mail."
Jupiter projects that commercial e-mail revenue will hit $7.3 billion by 2005 as volume increases 40 times. While text e-mails continue to garner high response rates, Jupiter expects responses to drop. Already, e-mail vendors are talking about ways to better target marketing, create integrated campaigns and use tools such as rich e-mail to keep customers' attention.
While Tony Priore, senior VP-marketing at YesMail.com, doesn't consider rich e-mail "a silver bullet," he thinks the technology is a good way to enhance selling.
"Enriched media is an advantage if you've got the [basic direct marketing] principles intact," Mr. Priore said.
Last year, CMGI-owned YesMail.com signed a partnership with e-mailer Radical Communications. While 70% of YesMail clients are interested in enriched campaigns, few have used them. One exception is Animal Planet with its "Crocodile Hunter" promo.
Entertainment marketers, taking advantage of the natural synergy between the enhanced e-mail and the music and video products they sell, quickly embraced rich e-mail. But other marketers are realizing the advantages of using rich e-mails to gather more consumer information and reduce steps to make a purchase online.
"There are various degrees of sophistication that e-mail marketers are reaching in a ladder:
text, HTML, list segmentation and one-to-one," said Jay Stevens, director of marketing at Radical Communications. "The next stage is really a jump to more dynamic
e-mail like ours."
Radical--which has partnerships with Bigfoot Interactive, ClickAction, Digital Impact, 24/7 Mail, L90, MessageMedia as well as YesMail--works on two to three e-mail projects a day. Just six months ago, Mr. Stevens said, employees worked on two to three projects an entire week.
Radical's product RadicalMail uses a streaming technique in which audio or video play when an e-mail is opened. With streaming e-mails, marketers can track how long a consumer views an e-mail, what they click on and how it is passed along.
`GREEN MILE' MISSIVE
Last month, Radical and MessageMedia created Columbia House Co.'s first enriched e-mail. The message, sent to members of ColumbiaHouse.com's DVD club, included a 2-minute trailer for "The Green Mile." Michele Jehle, senior VP-general manager at ColumbiaHouse.com, said click-through rates appeared on par with regular e-mail, but purchase rates were slightly higher.
Tom Blakeley, chairman-CEO at MindArrow, which creates enriched e-mails via an attachment rather than streaming, finds the click-through and pass-along rates of his company's video-clip e-mail "insane." A recent e-mail campaign for 'N Sync had a 60% pass-along rate and was opened by 34% of 230,000 fans, he said. Each viewer watched video clips an average of five times.
An April e-mail campaign in conjunction with the University of Georgia and Atlanta-area Nissan auto dealers played some part in increasing monthly sales volume 34% over the prior year. The e-mail, offering a car rebate and a $200 donation to the university, had a 58% pass-along rate for 2,300 alumni.
"[Rich e-mail] is definitely eye-catching for now and it can provide that extra interactivity that can get consumers to really pay attention," said Michele Slack, senior analyst at Jupiter Communications. "We are finding that the richer forms are delivering on average two times the rate of click-through [as traditional e-mail]."
Enhanced e-mail averages 7› extra apiece, Mr. Stevens said.
Online golf product site Chipshot.com saw higher sales after Responsys, Chipshot's e-mail marketing company, and enhanced-audio provider MixMe Networks included audio messages in e-mails sent to some of its 250,000 members. Enhanced e-mails garnered 98% more revenue per customer than plain
e-mails. "These are little things we can do to increase the response rates and get people to buy more often," said Nick Mehta, co-founder and VP-interactive marketing at Chipshot.com.
Rich e-mail eventually will let people buy products within an
e-mail without having to link to a Web page. "The killer app for us, which will drive a lot of revenue, would be to e-mail customers who buy golf balls, say, `Last time you bought this, click here to buy more' and it would be done," Mr. Mehta said.
So far, however, security and systems integration issues have kept buy-from-within e-mails from being implemented.
Streaming e-mail provider inChorus will insert USA Global's Instant Call technology in e-mails. InChorus, which works with Grey Interactive, New York, on e-mail campaigns, will add a link so consumers can ask a customer service rep to reach them an old-fashioned way--call them on the phone.