Spam this isn't. Call it very targeted -- and welcome -- direct e-mail, which has helped Symantec firmly imprint its software brand online and sell its products to new customers.
Marketers from Symantec to Procter & Gamble Co. and from Lands' End to IBM Corp. are taking advantage of opt-in e-mail to deliver messages directly to current and potential customers.
Electronic mail newsletters, or e-zines, are merely the latest interactive marketing tools being used widely to tap the Internet's ability to target one-to-one.
In communicating content, public relations or news, online newsletters "are effective in getting out information," said Chris Charron, research director-new media group at Forrester Research.
More than 100,000 e-zines are published regularly, mostly by an army of small- and home-office Internet entrepreneurs, said Christopher M. Knight, CEO of SparkNet Interactive, a Milwaukee-based e-zine and Internet consultancy. Large marketers also have ample opportunity to gain market share and voice, he said.
Hit the P&G banner ad on Children's Television Workshop's site to sign up for Tide's Neighbor to Neighbor e-zine (www.clothesline.com/neighbor) containing product and parenting information.
Lands' End Overstocks News (www.landsend.com) can be found at Lands' End's site. The product e-zine reaches some 200,000 subscribers a week and gives them "access to different aspects of the company they might not know about through their catalog," a company spokesman said.
600 JOIN A MONTH
The Symantec SmallBiz Newsletter keys off the company's database to reach customers who have bought its Act (contact management), Norton Utilities (utility program with anti-virus capabilities) and PCAnywhere (PC networking) software. More than 600 people join the opt-in list a month, said Jeanne Brophy, manager-marketing communications.
The monthly newsletter is rife with product offers, sweepstakes, surveys and news on how to better use Symantec's and its partners' small-business tools.
The e-zine and the company's small-business Web site (www.smallbiz.symantec.com) get more than 30% of the Symantec's small-business marketing budget, Ms. Brophy said.
Symantec's e-zine -- delivered with help on content from Internet consultancy NetMarquee, Needham, Mass. -- has proven a powerful sales tool, Ms. Brophy said.
The software marketer has tracked log-ons to its sites and watched as subscribers download trial versions of new software. It also has seen 32% of those trial users buy the complete version -- with a little help from three e-mails sent out during the 30-day trial period, Ms. Brophy said.
"[The e-zine] has sold product on a consistent month-by-month, quarter-by-quarter basis," she said, adding that an essential component of the effort has been the soft-sell of the e-zine's message. "We're building that trust online."
SparkNet consultant Mr. Knight said trust is necessary to make any e-zine message a success, and sponsors and advertising messages are uncommon.
"Assuming that a big company doesn't mess it up by not communicating a friendly approach and personality, this is a very powerful, low-cost, high-return way for a company to get positive return," Mr. Knight said. "We already agree that e-mail is a killer app. I still don't know of a lower-cost way to bring [customers] back to your Web site."
E-zines are finding a place as adjuncts to traditional print titles. Porthole Preview (www.porthole.com), a 5,000-circulation weekly e-zine that supports cruise industry magazine Porthole, bowed in 1998 to tease upcoming stories, said Ann Drew, director-publicity and business development with Porthole publisher PPI Group.
What began as an offshoot of the 100,000-circulation every-other-monthly consumer magazine soon will spawn its own brand extension -- Porthole Insider, an e-zine targeting cruise industry executives, Ms. Drew said.
The publisher is bullish on e-zines as a cost-effective way to keep the magazine in front of readers between editions.
In May, IBM launched IBM Small Business E-News (www.ibm.com/smallbusiness) to tap into and stay in touch with the burgeoning small-business market -- seeing it as far faster than direct mail. Admitting that the small-business community is "huge and not homogeneous in any way," IBM found that it can improve retention of customers by learning more about them after they make a purchase, said Nancy Evanson, VP-small business of IBM North America.
Supported by ads from Ogilvy & Mather, New York, for IBM's small-business Web site that have run in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and more than 10 large metropolitan dailies, the company has grown e-zine circulation from 14,900 in May to 70,200 in July, said Diane Jacobs, manager of interactive marketing-small business of IBM North America.
Using surveys, sweepstakes and contests as a means of collecting even more information about its subscribers, IBM has built profiles such as areas of interest, number of employees and whether a business is minority- or woman-owned, Ms. Jacobs said. That data helps the company, which develops and writes content internally, tweak information to meet readers' needs. In surveys, some 76% of readers said the e-zine was good or excellent in providing news about topics they find valuable, Ms. Evanson said.
IBM will likely use that knowledge to create so-called dynamic Web pages tailored to subscribers' tastes. Some marketing executives consider that to be the next step in the e-zine evolution.
"It's a lot more than sending them a newsletter," Ms. Evanson said. "For us it's very much a relationship marketing angle. If we can't do that, then the