An Article by Scott Clark

Continued from part 1….Producing remarkable content in direct-to-customer email communications is a cornerstone for B2C and B2B marketing efforts. Having great material, sent to the right people at the right time can keep recipients interested and your brand in mind.

But let’s think outside the in-box for a moment. What are we really doing when we create a direct email campaign? I believe we’re trying to influence thinking in three critical periods of time. When recipient gets your first message, when they open and view the contents, and when they get the next message. What governs the actions taken at these critical junctures is not very complicated. People are making rather selfish economic decisions when they skim messages – “Is it worth the time?” “What’s in this for me?” Strong visuals can help, but what the business customer is looking for is the same thing web surfers are seeking… great content.

Interactive emails are about “creative thinking and linking.” It’s nearly impossible to insert interactive content directly inside an email’s body as today’s filters will disable it to prevent viruses. This is why we use links to outside content, known as “landing pages” or “landing media.” Each email may have several landing destinations. In addition to providing interactivity options, you can gauge interest by measuring traffic to each destination. Audio interviews, for example, are a very easy enhancement and make great newsletter content.

A client of mine is publishing an email newsletter with links to interviews with experts in the field the recipients care about. This client sells information products to the financial services industry. For phone interviews the set-up costs were low – around $150 for the software and hardware needed – a Sennheiser PC headset, Audacity free audio editing software, Skype (a free PC-based telephone,) Pamela Call recording software, plus broadband service.

My client speaks with interesting people in his industry, recording the 20-25 minute conversations directly to his computer. He does this from a variety of locations, and the slight ambient noise injected a type of “on the go” energy we both like. Back at the office, call recordings were converted to MP3 format, saved on his website, and later referred to in his email newsletter as a MP3 link to support a story. Every interview he’s done has sounded terrific, but it’s those he’s chosen to speak with, and what they have to say that matter. I suspect the same would be true for you.

As an optional extra, the podcast version of these interviews (found on iTunes and Yahoo! Podcasts) will contain shorter teasers ending with an invitation to sign up for the whole interview, which is delivered via email link only after registration. This lets listeners get a feeling for the content but gives us the strong “push” component needed for effective marketing. We’re now rewarding referral subscriptions and letting subscribers contribute questions for future interviews, automating almost all of this functionality on-line. Integrating viral marketing techniques is the next step in growing the subscriber base.

Another powerful use of landing media is the “Flash movie” screen recording. Think VCR for your computer screen plus voice-over. The latest and most powerful of these I’ve seen are created with Camtasia Studio or Adobe Captivate software tools. With these, you can give on-screen tours of products, websites, real-estate listings, and anything else that can be recorded on the monitor and add voice-overs. The resulting clips are viewable in almost any web browser linked from your email messages. The power of this is stunning, especially for training and “tips” oriented emails.

Remember “Baking tips by Betty Crocker?”… then you know exactly what I’m talking about. When a visitor opens your message and reads the newsletter, you can have links that say things like “Click to let us show you three secrets to……” and then showing those tips in a flash movie followed by a “tips brought to you by…” and your own little blurb. It’s so easy that I’m amazed it’s not done more often. Interactive demos can be linked, repeated, rewound and forwarded to others.

Before MP3, Skype, iTunes, iPod, and other tools, we could have never put together this type of collection to give small business this kind of reach. But it’s here, and customers are reading, watching, listening, and talking.

High precision, interactive direct email marketing will be a bigger part of closing the loop of communications with customers as time goes on. The effectiveness of this medium will continue to be refined as we learn. None of these innovations will carry our messages alone. A blend of podcast, RSS, email, animation, mobile, local and other technologies will be the instruments through which we will send the voice of our business to the right person at the right time.