August 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

SPONSORED SUPPLEMENT: E-mail marketers raise the performance bar

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“Consumers interact with e-mail on their mobile phones differently than they do their PCs,” says House. “It is best to send a multi-part message designed with text and HTML, so each format can be read by the device that supports it.”

Mobile phones are also proving to be a powerful tool for opening e-mail communications with customers. Some multi-channel retailers gather cell phone numbers at the retail point of sale and send text messages to the phone informing the customer of a special offer or that they have won a prize, such as a discount coupon, according to Strongmail’s Deutsche. In order to receive the promotion, they must notify the retailer of their e-mail address.

When the promotion is received, customers can then be offered the opportunity to opt-in to the retailer’s mailing list or approve receipt of future promotions through other channels, such as text messages to their phone. “Text messages to mobile phones are a way to create retailer originated communications that encourage the customer to engage the marketing message virtually anywhere,” says Deutsche. “A lot of retailers are having trouble initiating digital communications with their customers, because they only think in terms of e-mail blasts.”

Deutsche cautions retailers to remember that some cell phone plans bill minutes for receipt of a text message, so it is best not to be sending too many text messages without the customer’s consent. “The cost of receiving unwanted messages can be an irritant and text messaging in general can be invasive,” he adds. “That’s why getting the customer to opt-in is important.”

Do they know you?

Equally as important as getting e-mail marketing messages through to the consumer is making certain ISPs can authenticate the identity of the sender. The escalation of phishing and spoofing attacks by criminals looking to gather personal and account information from consumers has brought pressure on ISPs to authenticate e-mail marketers using their network, according to Message Systems’ Abel.

Message Systems includes authentication tools in its Delivery Manager application such as digital message signing with DKIM (domain key identified mail), an emerging open standard. Retailers can also purchase the company’s Goodmail service, which sends certified mail using a native Goodmail Token Imprinter.

E-mail messages sent through Goodmail Imprinters are embedded with a cryptographically-secure token based upon business rules set by the retailer. Authenticating the sender reduces the risk of e-mail being sent by criminals that direct customers to a spoofed web site and helps prevent messages from being deposited in bulk or junk mail folders.

“When the ISP can quickly authenticate the sender, mail flows through an ISP’s filters faster and allows the ISP to put more scrutiny on e-mail marketers that don’t use authentication,” says Abel.

Because the ISPs are still working toward an authentication standard solution, the burden is on the sender to support all of the authentication protocols that ISPs might require. Leading authentication protocols include SPF, Sender-ID from Microsoft, DomainKeys from Yahoo, and DKIM from Yahoo and Cisco.

“Retailers that don’t raise the sophistication of their e-mail technology to support authentication standards risk losing ground to competitors,” says Stongmail’s Deutsche, who adds StrongMail supports all current authentication protocols.

Make use of analytics

Finally, retailers are best served in e-mail marketing when they can integrate analytics into mailing strategies. Pulling data from an analytics package tells retailers not only open and conversion rates, but also pages visited after the e-mail was opened and customer movement from page-to-page.

Understanding these metrics makes it possible for retailers to send follow-up messages to e-mail recipients while they are visiting their sites. The aim is to modify the marketing message based on real-time page views of the e-mail recipient.

“It may be a matter of changing an image to coincide with a product they have viewed, or the subject head, but taking advantage of analytics enables e-mail marketers to modify their campaigns in real time and still get the message to the customer in a relevant timeframe, even after they have logged off the site,” says ExactTarget’s House.

The goal of any e-mail marketing campaign is to create a better customer experience by delivering relevant information in every message. List cleansing, leveraging new communications channels and adhering to authentication standards are all essential to achieving this goal.

“E-mail marketing is far from reaching its peak,” says Message Systems’ Abel. “It can evolve so much further.”

Bridging the gap between direct marketing and techno advertising
With video one of the hottest trends in web technology, it is not surprising the medium has spread to e-mail marketing as a way to engage consumers on a deeper level. The most common uses of e-mails with embedded videos are customer testimonials, product demonstrations or “Thank you” and “Welcome” messages from the company.

“Embedding video in e-mail delivers a new element that generates interest in the marketing message because it promises to make the message more informative,” says Mike Adams, co-founder of Zeop Inc., provider of applications that enable e-mail marketers to embed video into e-mail messages.

Zeop enables retailers to host their own videos and will even help them create a video community on their web site that allows customers to upload and share videos related to the company’s marketing objectives. Retailers can use video e-mail to direct customers to the community.

To make its service work, Zeop embeds a JPEG file containing a linking code to the video in the message. When clicked, the JPEG file launches the video from the host server on which the clip resides. The process is far more efficient than attaching a video file to the e-mail, which in most cases would be too large to pass through most ISPs in bulk.

The clickable JPEG file appears to ISPs like any other image embedded in e-mail marketing messages and uses open formatting standards, making it compatible with any e-mail application and inoffensive to spam filters. The video launches only when the JPEG is clicked, which keeps the message consistent with opt-in e-mail practices.

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