October 1, 2010, 12:35 PM

Sponsored Supplement: Getting creative with e-mail marketing

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One way to achieve that goal is to keep track of consumer purchase behavior in order to craft e-mails that will be relevant to each recipient. “Retailers don’t want to still be sending e-mails promoting games for children ages four to six to a customer that bought one three years ago,” McDonald says.

E-mail messages that are properly formatted for each mobile device also enhance the value of the retailer’s brand. An iPhone will format an e-mail message differently than a BlackBerry, which means it’s important to test how an e-mail message renders on all of the popular mobile devices. “E-mail templates have gotten larger and wider in recent years and that improves how they render, but smartphone technology is moving so fast that the e-mail template being used has be tested to make sure it formats properly to the screen,” says Experian CheetahMail’s Ezrin.

One alternative to sending e-mail to mobile devices is text messaging, also known by the telecommunications industry term SMS, for short message service. Text messages can be sent directly from a web server to a mobile phone, as well as from phone to phone. The advantage of text messaging over e-mail is that a text will automatically format to a phone’s screen because text messaging was created with mobile handsets in mind.

A text message can be an effective way to remind a consumer of an upcoming sale or an ongoing promotion that was highlighted in an e-mail that consumer opened. But in order to use text messaging, retailers must obtain customers’ mobile phone numbers.

“Retailers really ought to focus on building an opt-in list for SMS text so the message is not considered intrusive,” Ezrin says. “Retailers typically don’t have a consumer’s mobile number.”

One drawback to text messaging is that it costs considerably more than sending e-mail. “Retailers that want to use SMS in addition to e-mail should finely target its use because of the cost factor,” says Emailvision’s Heys. “It makes more sense to send an SMS text to a consumer that abandoned their shopping cart in an attempt to lure them back to complete the purchase than to send it as part of a broader marketing campaign.”

Advances in video

Just as communicating with consumers through the mobile channel can enhance a retailer’s e-mail marketing strategy, so, too, can the inclusion of video in e-mail. Gmail and Hotmail, two of the major providers of e-mail services to consumers, have upgraded their servers to automatically stream embedded e-mail videos hosted on YouTube’s server once an e-mail is opened.

This represents a significant leap forward in using video as part of e-mail marketing. Previously, e-mail marketers typically incorporated video by embedding links in e-mail messages to landing pages where the videos could be launched.

“Retailers that want to make use of streaming video in their e-mail campaigns should comb through their mailing list to find customers with Gmail and Hotmail addresses, segment them out and create campaigns for them that include streaming video,” says Heys. “While the technology opens the door to embedding streaming video in e-mail, it is not available to all e-mail clients. Outlook 2007 and Yahoo Mail, for example, cannot display video streams.”

Emailvision’s Campaign Commander is an example of an e-mail application that segments mailing addresses by domain name. Campaign Commander is a software-as-a-service product, which means Emailvision hosts and maintains the application and client retailers access it via the web. Campaign Commander allows marketers to manage all aspects of their e-mail marketing campaigns, including design, planning, delivery, A/B split testing and analytics.

Because streaming video is not supported by all e-mail service providers, the most practical way to add video to e-mail is to include a graphic image in the body of the e-mail that looks like a video viewer with a play button in the center of the image, or to use a video GIF file. When the consumer clicks on the play button she is linked to a landing page connected to a server that launches the video.

“The goal is to create an image that has the look and feel of a video, but includes a link that routes the consumer to a landing page that streams it,” says Experian CheetahMail’s Ezrin.

Experian CheetahMail`s services include campaign management; creative, strategic and analytical consulting; and data analysis.

Like the body of an e-mail message, video must deliver information the consumer deems valuable. Videos that educate consumers about product features, show how to use a product or ways to accessorize an outfit promoted in the e-mail can influence the purchasing decision.

“Retailers have access to a lot of video content about the products they offer that can help consumers make a purchasing decision, and it’s a good idea to make use of it in e-mail marketing campaigns,” says Silverpop’s McDonald. “Including a video or link to a video is a great way to get the consumer to visit the web site and make a purchase.”

One way for retailers to make effective use of video in e-mail is to create tutorial videos about how to use a product promoted in an e-mail campaign.

“If a cookware retailer is promoting a pancake griddle in an e-mail campaign, it should include links to a video that show how to make pancakes on the griddle and maybe a video that details a pancake recipe,” says Lowery. “Video has to enhance the value of the e-mail and entice the consumer to buy the product being pitched.”

Bronto Software provides such features as advanced reporting, web analytics integration, and dynamic content that enable retailers to deliver relevant, timely e-mail messages.

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