Email Has a Purpose: To Connect Us

I was in New York City last Monday and Tuesday, September 10 and 11, to attend the seminar titled “Maximizing Your E-mail Marketing ROI,” sponsored by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and the Association for Interactive Media (AIM). Monday’s energetic presenter was Jay Schwedelson, vice president of Worldata and a frequent speaker at DMA events.

In fact, the last time I saw Jay on the podium was at, in Seattle, in February 2001. His presentation was halted by a deep rumbling under the convention hall. And seconds later, the chilling realization that it was an earthquake…

On Tuesday, I didn’t get uptown to the DMA’s spiffy offices. Instead, I stood with my sister on a friend’s rooftop terrace in lower Manhattan, transfixed by the sight of the flaming, smoking twin towers of the World Trade Center a mile south of us.

An hour passed as we anxiously scanned the sky and listened for sounds of other incoming planes. Would there be another attack? Then, in front of our eyes, the towers slowly crumpled, one after the other, in gigantic mushroom clouds of smoke and ash. It was a surreal climax to a morning that made email marketing and e-newsletters seem at best irrelevant and at worst obscenely trivial.

Still, with the phone lines incessantly busy, email and the Web turned out to be enormously comforting. A few hours later, I was able to email close family members in Europe and Australia to tell them that I was OK. In contrast, it took five hours to get one phone call through to Washington, D.C., to my husband (who was also fine).

What did I tell my family in my email message? Nothing memorable, really. But it was instant, real-time, heart-felt communication that enabled me to connect with each of them.

And that’s really all you need to say about successful email. Whether it’s a high-priced rich media campaign or a text message to your 20 key customers and prospects, the tone and words of your message must be authentic — and the context in which you deliver them must be appropriate.

Voice is key. Which brings me to what I had been planning to write about, as a follow up to my article on rich media.

Several readers had provocative responses about sending and receiving rich email messages. Here was the most useful comment: Shouldn’t you send a rich media email as a link embedded in a text message?

It’s a great point. I think it’s safe to say that in today’s cubicle work environment, most business email recipients would prefer not to have a booming voice or thumping music come blasting through their inboxes.

As Schwedelson put it, “It’s not only irritating, it makes it look like you’re not working. It’s beyond intrusive.”

Business readers do want substantive information delivered in a compelling manner. But do it appropriately. Let them control how they receive your message. Offer them a link that takes them to a page where they can launch your rich media message. Or, if you’re sending an HTML message, include a button that says, “Play now,” or something to that effect.

This is not just my opinion, by the way. A recent Jupiter Media Metrix study says that business users prefer “fast and efficient” Web site content to rich media.

That’s about all the commentary I can muster for today. As I write this on deadline, Friday, September 14, has been declared a national day of prayer and remembrance.

The reality of what I saw with my own eyes last week is slowly sinking in. I am overcome by sadness for the thousands who were killed in the terrorist attack on the United States on Tuesday, September 11 — as well as for the victims’ families and friends, whose lives will never be the same.

That is true for the rest of us as well. The Internet, when all is said and done, is the most powerful communications tool we have. Let’s use it for good causes — to connect with one another and to make a difference.

Editor’s note: For more on the impact of the September 11 attack, check the special section of’s E-Commerce/Marketing Channel, The Trade Center Disaster: Industry Response.

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