February 28, 2007, 12:00 AM

Marketing outlook for Outlook 2007 isn’t so bright

Marketers are relying more on interactive and animated content and e-mail messages, but Microsoft Corp.’s new Outlook 2007 e-mail management system is making it difficult to use such content.

E-mail marketers are flocking to tools like animated images, videos and JavaScript to make their e-mail messages catch the attention and clickstreams of recipients. “Everybody is trying to be on the forefront of marketing, so they know that anything they can do to make their e-mails more interactive is the way to go,” says Julian Scott, creative director for e-mail services provider Responsys.

But with the recent release of Microsoft Corp.’s Outlook 2007 e-mail management system, many of those interactive e-mails aren’t working as intended when viewed by their targeted audience, Scott says. “This is definitely a concern to a lot of marketers,” he adds.

Microsoft altered the e-mail tools in Outlook 2007 from earlier versions of Outlook by using the Microsoft Word word-processing application to both compose and view e-mail messages. In the past, Outlook used Microsoft Word only to compose and edit e-mail content and used the Internet Explorer web browser for viewing.

But the former set-up was found lacking because a web browser would often change the appearance of content composed in Word. To provide consistency in composing and viewing, Microsoft decided to use only Word, a spokeswoman says. “Our customers wanted the rich editing tools from Word, so we decided to unify the rendering and editing engine in Outlook by using Word’s engine,” she says.

And though Word was not designed to handle animated image files, data-entry forms, videos or other interactive images, Microsoft says that e-mail recipients can still view them by simply clicking a new Outlook menu option to view content in Internet Explorer.

But that raises the question of whether consumers will bother to take an extra step after initially viewing an e-mail to click it open in a browser. E-mail marketing firms including Responsys and BlueHornet are advising marketers to alter their content so viewers in Outlook 2007 will see the most important information without having to use a browser.

For a multi-image, animated gif file, for example, marketers should put all critical information in the first image so recipients see it whether or not they use the browser, Scott says. Marketers should avoid using background images, which Outlook 2007 won’t display behind text, so recipients won’t see large empty areas, he adds.

Scott notes marketers can also use any of several tools, including Macromedia Dreamweaver 8 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer 2007, to preview e-mail content as it will appear through Outlook 2007.

Marketers can continue to send e-mails with interactive images as usual to recipients outside of Outlook 2007, including many of the personal e-mail systems consumers access at home through providers like Yahoo and Hotmail, Scott says. One way to take advantage of the graphical limitations of Outlook 2007, he adds, is to test whether animated e-mails to non-Outlook recipients are more effective at converting viewers to shoppers.

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