Sometimes It Pays to Be Rich

OK, it’s time to revisit the rich media email debate.

One topic that generates a great deal of mail from this column’s readers revolves around text versus HTML and rich media email messages. Stick to text, some of you advise. Email should be simple, and genuine content is the most valuable. Go with the flash, others say; it generates more excitement in recipients.

The key, of course, is knowing your audience. If your subscribers are on slower machines, use dial-up connections, or are being sent content best suited for words only, plain text is often the way to go.

Rich Email Grabs Gamers

But if your subscribers more closely resemble the recipients of a recent Microsoft Canada campaign, you might want to take a good look at this week’s case study.

Gamers are, almost by definition, some of the most tech-happy computer users out there. They tend to like rich graphics and eat up “cool” applications. So it’s not surprising that when Microsoft Canada began considering how to reach them and build brand awareness, it looked to creating a flashy email marketing campaign.

And what it came up with was targeted nicely to the audience.

Working with Publicis Dialog, a global marketing communications agency, and Innovative Information Technology International (IITI), the company that created the rich media streaming email technology called interactivebyte, Microsoft Canada launched an ambitious campaign that turned heads and generated response rates higher than 25 percent.

Loaded With Features

On the creative side, the message is an ambitious one. It begins with a short Flash movie and leads into a product page that contains demos of games and other programs for sale, all of which are contained within the email message; users need not click through to web sites.

Also within the message, recipients can add items to the animated shopping cart, edit the cart’s contents, use a built-in calculator to see totals, and click a “buy” button. Taking this last step transports recipients of the email to a secure transaction site, the first step taken outside of the email message.

The message had forwarding, sweepstakes, gaming tournament announcements, and other components as well. And it was sent in high- and low-bandwidth versions in English and French.

Tracking Response

“Ah, ha!” you may be saying. “This sounds interesting, but it will only work for those with HTML-enabled mail clients.”

Well, it’s true that Microsoft Canada carefully considered whom to send the message to. It went out in late fall to Microsoft Canada’s opt-in list of about 250,000 people and to about 100,000 registered users of Playdium, which runs large-scale interactive entertainment centers in Canada. Microsoft Canada knew the lists had an 87.4 percent Flash penetration rate.

How receptive were the recipients?

Microsoft Canada’s in-house list, which was tracked in aggregate, had a response rate of 25.65 percent, meaning that more than a quarter of the recipients who received the email opened it and spent time viewing and/or interacting with at least one of its components. The Playdium list, which was tracked in aggregate and by individual user, had a response rate of 26.35 percent.

On the back end, the tracking went much deeper. IITI tracked 58 discrete elements, including which products were viewed and for how long, which demos were accessed, the average number of clicks per user, whether the message was forwarded, and more. The data is all updated on the fly, and although Microsoft Canada (for obvious reasons) isn’t publishing its data here, if you’re interested, you can see a sample report generated by the usage of one person — me.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, one size doesn’t fit all, and this sort of campaign won’t work for all audiences. But for those consumers who are receptive to rich media email, this one hits the spot.

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