Rich-Media Email Baby Steps

If you peer around the bend, you can see rich media email marketing in the distance. But it seems this train is awfully slow arriving at the station. Are B2B email marketers not ready for it?

Well, yes and no. Much is being written and said about the promise of rich-email marketing, but the few practitioners thus far appear to be big companies with big budgets.

If you’re not in that category — and even if you are — here are a few observations along with a few tips on how you can dip your toes into the next new thing in email marketing.

What Is Rich Email Anyway?

For some, rich-media email is shorthand for streaming audio and video. But it can also be Flash animations or revolving ad banners within an HTML message. Ben Isaacson, executive director of AIM (Association for Interactive Media) has a good definition: “It’s anything that is dynamic and has the active delivery of content within the message — without going onto the Web.”

That’s a non-techie explanation that works for me. If you want to show off, you can talk about DHTML (dynamic HTML), java applets, the ability to detect RealPlayer versus Windows Media Player versus QuickTime. Or my new favorite term, “HTML skin.”

This I learned from Diane Kuehn, president and CEO of VisionPoint Media, a small rich-media email company that is one of the new players on the block. The “skin” is the HTML code that programmers wrap around a streaming video or Flash movie so that the message can be delivered to your recipient’s inbox.

Do I sound techie, or what? I’m trying to make a point, however. In addition to the two obvious hurdles of production cost and bandwidth, the learning curve is another factor holding email marketers back. It takes time to get up to speed on how moving, talking, streaming, interactive content works and how best to use it to get the results you want from your target audience.

As AIM’s Isaacson puts it: “While the technology is compelling, text still reigns. Going from text to rich email is a big step.” That said, rich email clearly has a place in B2B sales and marketing. “Sending a rich email is no different than showing up in someone’s office with a great PowerPoint presentation,” Isaacson said.

What Does It Cost?

If your budget is unlimited, you can go to your agency or directly to a rich media company and tell them to build you a really cool streaming video message. It will cost you anywhere from about $6,500 to $30,000 dollars for your first campaign (according to VisionPoint’s Kuehn, who has priced out her larger competitors). That’s the budget for one rich-email message sent to a list of about 50,000.

If that’s beyond your budget — or if you’re not ready to commit to a rich-email campaign — I’ve got an alternate recommendation.

Tell Me More

First, get up to speed by reading everything you can about rich media. You might start with Rob Graham’s ClickZ column on rich media. Also, Emerging Interest is a great site with articles about rich media. And for a stellar “streaming media 101” series, see

Several of the better-known rich-media email companies, including Dynamics Direct and TMX Interactive, have good demos or showcases on their sites. (Tell me: Do you love or hate the guy waving at you on the Dynamics Direct site?) RadicalMail (about to be acquired by MindArrow) is also worth a look.

For streaming-audio email, check out BYOBroadcast. And here’s a good overview of Rich Media on BoldFish.

But I Want to Be Cool Now

Don’t we all? Here’s how I suggest dipping your toes into rich email: Use it in your sig file (signature file), as an online business card, or as branded letterhead.

Diane Kuehn of VisionPoint Media uses an animated sig file that caught my eye. Her creative director pulled the logo off the home page of the company’s site and saved it as an animated GIF. (You can add an image to your sig file through Outlook, but please don’t ask me for exact instructions!)

A company called PeopleStreet has developed an updateable online business card it calls a “LiveCard.” You can create a sample card for yourself on the company’s site. The only problem is that to exchange LiveCards with business associates, they must also have one installed on their system.

And, finally, you can create your own letterhead by sending your email messages in HTML format.

Or you can use a product called LetterMark to create a “letterhead” with a live navigation bar at the top linking back to your site and an online business card at the bottom. Here are some neat examples.

Have fun. And more on rich email another time.

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