Rich Email: Part 1

If you’re ever feeling lonely and unwanted, and you happen to write a weekly column for a web publication, I have a great solution for you. Just casually mention in one of your columns that you plan on writing an article on rich media email. KABOOM! Lonely no more.

My inbox has been flooded with information about rich media email, examples of it, and requests for interviews from companies exploring this cutting-edge space ever since I mentioned I might cover it a few weeks back. And why not? Email is red-hot right now. According to Jim Nail at Forrester Research, email ranks number one, alongside affiliate networks, for effectiveness amongst online marketers.

So you’d think that combining the power of rich media with the effectiveness of email would be a marriage made in heaven. And to a great extent that’s true, with some minor caveats.

According to Jay Stevens, marketing director for RadicalMail, a company that is leading the charge in rich media email, the technology works best when it is an inherent part of the product being sold. For example, when Warner Brothers sent a rich media email that incorporated a trailer for an upcoming film to potential licensees, the click-through rate was 40 percent, and the campaign achieved a 12 percent conversion rate. Outstanding by any metric.

The key to over-the-top success like this, however, is targeting, whether you’re working with rich media or not. Obviously an email sent to potential WB licensees is a highly targeted B2B campaign. But targeting in the consumer market will also dramatically improve performance and ROI.

Digital Impact, a company whose specialty is targeted email, has been joining forces with companies such as RadicalMail and AudioBase to deliver high-impact rich media email tailored to targeted groups of consumers.

For a recent TowerRecords.com campaign, Digital Impact teamed up with AudioBase to create an email campaign to promote Alanis Morissette. Russ Eisenman, marketing manager for TowerRecords.com, reports that the AudioBase-enhanced campaign outperformed the plain-text version of the campaign, increasing both its response rate (by 55 percent according to figures supplied by AudioBase) and conversion rate per email (an increase of over 50 percent).

Russ points out that although the conversion rate for AudioBase emails was higher over plain-text emails for its untargeted general mailing (about five percent so), the conversion rate was even higher when the email was targeted toward people who had a history of buying Alanis Morissette merchandise from the TowerRecords.com web site (about seven percent higher than that garnered by the plain-text version).

In addition, TowerRecords.com’s unsubscribe rate, which usually runs from three to four percent, dropped to one percent with the audio-enhanced rich media campaign. While RadicalMail is tightly focused on the rich media email space, AudioBase finds its competitive advantage by taking a broader, full-service approach.

Suzanne Brisendine, former rich media guru for Intel and now vice president of marketing for AudioBase, says that AudioBase helps their clients put together their audio strategy across the board, including banners, email and web sites. The Alanis Morissette email promotion, for instance, was part of a larger site promotion for this artist that incorporated sound as part of the marketing mix.

So what is the downside? The usual: Like everything cutting-edge, it takes a while for the general consumer to catch up to the technology. On the positive side, we are talking email here, so traditional barriers to adoption, such as site acceptance and integration, are a non-issue. But only around 40 percent of all email clients can accept HTML email, a necessity if you want Steve Forbes chatting to you from your inbox, although that figure is expected to grow to 100 percent by 2004.

So although the AudioBase-enhanced emails were more effective, they were delivered to only about one eighth of the overall mailing. Even so, TowerRecords.com was very pleased with the outcome and plans on using rich media-enhanced emails in future campaigns.

Next week we are going to dig deeper into the various email technologies and how they work, but I was curious to see how my wife would react to rich media email, since she provides my insight into Middle America. (I should let you know that my wife is the prototypical soccer mom. If she likes something… it’s a trend!)

I plunked her down to view one of RadicalMail’s demos to get a reaction. After expressing slight dismay that this was going to be just more advertising, she said, “You know, this is just like an infomercial. I would never read this stuff if it came to me in an email, but when it’s talking to you, I just sort of get sucked in and listen to what they have to say.”

Trust me, my friends. That is a ringing endorsement.

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