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Another trend that already has marketers excited is the focus on rich-media e-mails and their ability to provide new points of interaction. "What we’re seeing is an evolution occurring," said Bill McCloskey, CEO of Emerging Interest L.L.C., an interactive advertising and consulting company." Rich-media e-mail is creating a new platform to do e-commerce, to market services and brand companies."

For instance, Radical Mail is creating e-commerce-enabled e-mails. Though the technology has so far been used only in consumer settings, it could have significance in the b-to-b realm. The company recently created a promotion for Zagat Survey L.L.C. that gave customers the opportunity to purchase its famous restaurant guides right in the e-mail message. Marina Del Rey, Calif.-based Radical Mail said the campaign achieved more than triple the number of purchases over similar e-mails it created for Zagat that didn’t offer e-commerce capabilities. "We’re shortening the distance between the first impression and the actual buy," said Jay Stevens, the company’s marketing director.

Two other companies that are targeting the streaming e-mail space are Los Angeles-based Dynamics Direct Inc. and Dallas-based Postfuture. Dynamics Direct, which earlier this month closed a $12.5 million round of funding from Botticelli Venture Funds (the investment arm of Omnicom Group Inc.) and others, says it can deliver e-mail that not only uses rich media but also is much more personalized than what other vendors currently offer. One promotion created for MCI WorldCom’s small-business unit increased the company’s conversion rate by 200%, as compared with a control group that didn’t receive Dynamic Direct’s Flash-based e-mails.

Postfuture President-CEO Richard Merrick said rich media shouldn’t be used simply for the "gee-whiz factor" but to foster interaction between the customer and the company through such promotions as electronic greeting cards and interactive surveys.

"To provide rich media because it looks good is only half the story," Merrick said. "The other half is providing interactivity to let people tell you what they’re interested in and what their needs are. You’re not just sending a message, you’re also gathering intelligence."

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