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THE SCIENCE OF e-Marketing
By Cliff Smith

SEND IT IN STYLE?

If Old McDonald had an email farm, he’d probably be singing, “Here an email, there an email, everywhere an email.”  Surely, Mr. McDonald will read some of his email, which begs the question, “Which ones will he read and hopefully respond to?” 

According to Jupiter Communications the commercial e-mail market will soar to an estimated $7.3 billion in 2005, cannibalizing direct mail revenues by 13 percent. Jupiter's research indicates that US consumers will see an estimated forty-fold increase in e-mail volume because e-mail is a cost-effective and high-response rate vehicle by which to acquire and retain consumers, sell and promote products, drive loyalty, and reinforce branding efforts.

Marketing professionals must contend with the “Email Evolution” on a daily basis while also considering the issues of cost, reach, effectiveness, and measurability. This will force marketing professionals to become experts of email both in messaging and creative. So let’s consider the various formats of email. 

Email messages have evolved from a Plain Text format to HTML and now even to email-based Web Commercials (Web-mercials). The pros and cons vary for each, so which is right for your next campaign?

The Plain Text format is typically what Internet users were exposed to from the early to late 90’s, thus making it the most recognized format for the time period. This has preconditioned email users to predominantly send and receive email in this form and has a definite grip on today’s marketing professionals.

Plain text email is unobtrusive and can incorporate trackable hyperlinks, directing its recipient to a targeted area of your company Web site or promotional splash page. Formatting this style to read quickly and easily is a definite plus. In fact, large companies like NetCreations™ (PostMaster Direct.com) send millions of targeted email messages every year in this format.

On the other hand, the plain text format might be considered by some to be very boring, rudimentary and creatively confining. After seeing what new Internet technologies and formats have to offer, the plain text format by comparison, leaves very little room (if any) for visual branding and messaging.

The latest migration of marketing professionals has been to the HTML format. Offering a wide variety of fonts, styles, colors, and functionality for branding and messaging, the HTML format is proving to be a powerfully visual and functional addition to the marketing professional’s email repertoire.

HTML allows marketing professionals to cut through the clutter by providing them a tool by which they can customize the correct combination of content and visual for a specifically targeted campaign.

However, if used incorrectly HTML can become intrusive and even annoying. Getting carried away with this format can cause email to become very large, and the issue of even being able to view the email message has to be considered. Because this format demands a moderate knowledge of HTML, the average marketing professional may not have the time nor experience needed to create an email in this format, thus an internal or outsourced Web Team may be needed for creative. Potentially, this could decrease both valuable time and human resources.

Based upon the ever-changing Internet Technology sector a new trend in Web-mercials is emerging. This format integrates animation, streaming media, and film technologies with products such as Flash by Macromedia™, ultimately transforming email into mini commercials. As this trend progresses, marketing professionals will have the ultimate in marketing tools that will enable them to create targeted, hi-res campaigns.

The largest downfall of this style however, is file size. This type of creative can run into file sizes from 500kb to 3 Mb or more, and usually requires that the recipient have extensions or plug-ins installed in order to even view these files. Although broadband usage is increasing in both the business and consumer markets, it is not yet dominant so choosing this format over plain text or HTML should be done with caution.

After reviewing these different formats, you may still be wondering which is right for you. The answer lies in what is right for your customer database. If your customers are, say, attorneys, it might be more appropriate to send messages in the plain text format, presenting an easy-to-read, quick loading, formal and professional message. Customers interested in financial or marketing related industries might best receive email in HTML format. If your database consists of young, Internet-savvy, college students you may want to do your best to wow them with an awesome Web-mercial (assuming their usage of broadband Internet connectivity is high).

If you are still unsure which format is best suited for your customer database, and you have the time and resources available, it is highly recommended you send the same message in each of the three to a test group that is representative of your customer database and track the response rate and comments. Be flexible enough to change with the quick-paced demands of your customer database, as well.


About the Author:

Cliff Smith is a Fellow of the Business Forum Association.  He is the President of 1st Net Technologies, Inc.  Cliff is actively involved in gaining community and industry recognition for 1st Net Technologies. Under his initiative, 1st Net is a member of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce and The San Diego and Imperial County Better Business Bureau. In 1997, Cliff teamed 1st Net with the San Diego Chamber of Commerce and Pacific Bell to create and develop a presentation titled the "Tour of Technology" for the San Diego Insights 1997 World Conference.

Cliff has represented 1st Net Technologies through public speaking engagements at the San Francisco Money Show where he made a presentation on investor relations marketing services for public companies on the Internet. He also conducted two investor relations marketing workshops at additional Money Shows in both San Francisco and Seattle. Mr. Smith was also a Speaker at the 1998 Regional Investment Banker's Association Conference in Washington, D.C. and in San Francisco where he presented an overview of 1st Net and the company's proprietary technologies regarding affinity- based browsers, content-based routing, email management software and IP telephony.

He appeared as a guest on “World Business Review” hosted by Casper Weinberger in June 1999 where he discussed two of the company’s proprietary technologies including the affinity based browsers and the 1st Net "Interactive Business Cards" used to efficiently and cost-effectively market any e-commerce web based business.

Cliff was the creator and conceptual designer of the company's latest marketing product called the 1st LookCD, effectively bridging the gap between the real world and the Internet, all while leveling the playing field for smaller technology companies to compete on a National level.


Previous articles by Cliff Smith:

The Dawning Industry of e-Marketing Technologies
The Search Engine Mystique
Is your on-line e-Marketing Strategy Keeping Pace?


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