What works?

Most industry authorities will tell you HTML - even rich media (audio and video) - e-mail messages will always outperform text messages. After all, HTML or Flash e-mail messages enable users to have a little fun and interact with images and sounds while text messages, on the other hand, contain only black-and-white text, followed or embedded with a link to a related Web site.

Most industry authorities will tell you HTML – even rich media (audio and video) – e-mail messages will always outperform text messages. After all, HTML or Flash e-mail messages enable users to have a little fun and interact with images and sounds while text messages, on the other hand, contain only black-and-white text, followed or embedded with a link to a related Web site.

Despite Flash, many are taking a back-to-basics approach for designing rich content. ‘HTML is pretty much becoming a standard,’ says Stany Bergeron, director of e-mail at 24/7 Media (Canada).

There’s definitely been a move from text to HTML recently, agrees Mike Allan, lead strategist for Calgary-based MethodMail, a division of RareMethod Capital. ‘We’re quite excited by that obviously, but you also have to keep it simple. A strong offer, good copy, compelling subject line and good list, pound for pound, will give you more impact than a fancy Flash intro or streaming media. It’s just getting back to marketing rudiments.’

Historically, a lot of caution has been used with regard to e-mail marketing, says Hugh Furneaux, president of Toronto-based Ariad Custom Communications. For the most part, people have tried and tested it at its most base fundamentals, he says, and are only now beginning to add the bells and whistles – especially now that the technology is there to deliver dynamic HTML content. According to Furneaux, rich media messages outperform plain text anywhere from 30% to 60% already. But marketers must remember, he adds, the maximum penetration for enriched e-mail is 50% to 60% at the present time – either consumers don’t have the capability of receiving rich media at home, or in many companies, firewalls are set up to block such content.

Nonetheless, the majority of e-mails are being read at work where people are more likely to have some kind of high-speed connection, says Roman Bodnarchuk, president of N5R.com. ‘Why not send a rich experience to those people?’ he says, citing 350% better response rate averages for HTML. ‘Now is the time for video e-mail – we’ve been testing it for several years.’

One of Toronto-based N5R.com’s biggest clients is Intrawest, of Vancouver. Over the last three years, the resort operator has begun deploying e-mail marketing for every one of its resorts. ‘Not only are they now embracing it, but they are using state-of-the-art technology – for example, we are now using video e-mail. When consumers receive e-mail from a resort in Vermont, they’ll get to experience a video of the resort or experience,’ he says.

‘The key is to ask your customers what they want – now they know what the difference is,’ says Bodnarchuk.

Furneaux suggests making the e-mail available in both formats and employing ‘sniffer’ technology to detect whether or not a person can accept rich text. The technology then flags the recipients’ name accordingly and they are delivered the message in the proper format.

Even though broadband has decent penetration in Canada, especially Ontario, Andrew White, president of Toronto-based Strategy9, part of the In2itive Group of Companies, says there’s a lot to be said about the quick one-sentence text e-mail messages, which are usually more likely to be read.

‘While audio and video are being used to a limited extent, you’ve also got to remember they’re still fairly new and untested,’ he says, adding he recommends a combination of both – perhaps a monthly HTML newsletter, supplemented with a weekly text message.

The target audience also plays a major role in the HTML versus text dilemma, he says.

Chris Charlwood, president of Charlwood eMarketing, of Toronto, agrees. ‘It can be very industry- or demographic-specific. I did a text-only e-mailing to teachers (K to 12) in the U.S. and received a huge response rate. In general, teachers and school boards don’t have sophisticated e-mail applications,’ he says. ‘But more sophisticated IT professionals, for example expect HTML. Some people don’t have the time, or prefer to read simple straightforward text copy.’ ‘From:’ facts
When an e-mail comes from a woman rather than from a man, response rates (among both men and women) are always higher, according to Toronto-based N5R’s Roman Bodnarchuk. If we insert a person’s name in the subject line, the response rate climbs again. Furthermore, if you include an actual signature and/or a photo of the person, the rates go higher still, he says.
‘Subject:’ savvy
After testing different ‘Subject:’ lines for a travel client, Elizabeth Mast VP sales and marketing for permission marketing company Connectus of Toronto, says ‘price’ pulled the best response – the chosen subject line read something like ‘Vive le Montreal for $69 per night.’