Rich Email: Part 2

I have to admit that until I started this two-part series, I really didn’t give the matter of rich media email much thought. Banners, interstitials – that’s where the rich media action is. Now I realize that I was thinking about the subject too narrowly. I just hadn’t seen enough examples to really get rich media email up on my radar screen.

A new report from Forrester Research, “Personal Rich Media Takes Off” (February 2000), has helped me think about this subject a little more broadly. As Forrester wisely points out, there’s a ton of rich media email being sent every day, and it has nothing to do with companies like Digital Impact and RadicalMail. This phenomenon is called personal expression.

Forrester estimates that over 10 million crazed greeting card fans cheer us up, wish us happy birthday, hope we feel better, and generally stuff our inboxes with graphically rich bon-bons every month. And the good cheer is spreading: The typical recipient of these rich media Hallmarks sends out new ones to five or six other people!

Forrester refers to such animated greeting cards as “personal rich media,” which it defines as “multimedia content like images, video, and sound created or manipulated by consumers for the purposes of personal expression, communication, or sharing.” Within five years, Forrester predicts that “92 percent of online consumers will use personal rich media once a month – changing how they create, archive, and communicate.”

That’s right friends, it’s America’s Funniest Home Videos winging its way to an inbox near you. And when our National nightmare is in full swing, when every wedding, birth, and bris is clamoring for your attention from your AOL account, how is any company going to get their message across?

By hiring professionals like Digital Impact, AudioBase, and RadicalMail to create targeted, well-produced rich media emails that stand out and, most importantly, get to the point fast!

Actually, rich media email is one of the best deals out there for price-conscious marketers.

Although the upfront costs are higher for rich email than for other forms of rich media (CPMs of up to $200), the customer acquisition costs are lower (about $100, compared to $300-$400 for GIFs, and $600-$800 for Java and Flash banners and interstitials), due to the much higher conversion rates, according to a report from Jupiter Communications (“Narrowband Creative,” Jupiter Communications, 2000).

Creative costs to develop a rich media email campaign obviously vary, but on average are not much more expensive than a standard GIF campaign ($3,000) and are much cheaper than a Java banner (around $25,000).

As reported last week, reach is still low. Only around 40 percent of the available email accounts can accept HTML, a prerequisite for rich email.

In addition, it’s not easy to deploy. Configuring a rich media banner to work in a handful of web browsers is a walk in the park compared to the myriad of email clients out there. Jay Stevens, from RadicalMail, claims they spent six months figuring it all out, and are just now getting it right. And email is all they do. Other companies specializing in alternative marketing media types and just now getting into rich email will have a hard row to hoe.

How audio and video are integrated differs depending on which company you work with. AudioBase and RadicalMail both use a Java-based applet to deploy audio files (rather than plug-in technology like Real Player or Windows Media Player), but each integrates the audio file into the email message in a different way.

RadicalMail establishes a secure connection between its servers and the client as soon as the email is opened. This enables it to offer secure transaction capability from within the email itself and allows for the deployment of dynamically generated content.

On the other hand, AudioBase – reflecting its more integrated approach across media types – simply embeds its 5k applet in the email, which then streams in the audio content once the user requests the file to be played.

Both companies provide tracking, including play rate and repeat plays. RadicalMail actually tracks forwarded email as well. Needless to say, all the companies I interviewed for this article have strong privacy polices in place.

Effective, low-cost, high-impact… What are you waiting for? Start sending me some cool email before my mother starts filling my inbox with videos of our family vacation to Niagara Falls.

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