NEC Launches U.S. E-Mail Marketing Firm

Tokyo-based electronics giant NEC Corp. is planning a foray into the U.S. rich media email business, spokespeople said this week.

The company aims to capitalize on what it sees as an emerging industry by starting a new company, San Jose, Calif.-based Auraline.

Leveraging NEC’s multimedia and Internet technology, Auraline hopes to turn personalized, rich media email marketing services into a profitable side business for its Japanese parent.

While the email marketing industry has seen some contractions as of late — inChorus recently laid off the remainder of its non-executive staff, and email marketer NetCreations slashed its fourth-quarter earnings projections — NEC is optimistic about Auraline’s prospects.

According to NEC, the fledgling company aims for annual sales of $104 million within three years, and an IPO. Prior to its official launch, Auraline has tapped its NEC connection to do work for clients including e-business services firm Epicentric and OKI Semiconductor.

NEC, the majority shareholder in the firm, has put about $5.7 million into the company. Subsidiaries NEC Systems, Inc. and NEC Soft, Ltd., are also minority shareholders in the firm, and will promote Auraline’s services to Japanese companies.

In addition to developing creatives and delivering rich media email campaigns, Auraline will also handle profiling, list brokering and database management.

NEC’s effort at a U.S. email marketing subsidiary business grew out of a promotional email campaign run by the company in 1999. That campaign, which encouraged users to send electronic greeting cards, only ran for about two months and included about 55,000 emails.

But impressed with the user response — more than half of the emails were opened, according to NEC — the company began contemplating turning the technology behind that campaign into a marketing B2B offering.

In May, NEC announced a partnership with U.S.-based market research, database and consumer intelligence firm Sagent Technology to offer Web-based CRM tools. T

hrough that deal, NEC integrated Sagent’s customer-analysis software into its iBestSolutions CRM product, with the goal of offering an online direct marketing campaign optimization and management system to Asian-Pacific clients.

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