Walking and talking e-mail coming soon to your inbox

It was only a matter of time before the singing telegram made its way onto the Web. Instead of opening the door to the smiling face of a tuxedoed chanteur, prospective netizens will soon see their inboxes full with singing or talking (and often walking) permission-based e-mails.
Taking rich-text e-mail one step further, Vancouver-based en-gen Networks enables a voice message (recorded over the telephone) to be played to the e-mail recipient - it can be a song or a jingle, if the marketer so chooses, or simply a spoken message.

It was only a matter of time before the singing telegram made its way onto the Web. Instead of opening the door to the smiling face of a tuxedoed chanteur, prospective netizens will soon see their inboxes full with singing or talking (and often walking) permission-based e-mails.

Taking rich-text e-mail one step further, Vancouver-based en-gen Networks enables a voice message (recorded over the telephone) to be played to the e-mail recipient – it can be a song or a jingle, if the marketer so chooses, or simply a spoken message. In addition to the voice recording, en-gen can stream an audio-visual file directly into the body of the e-mail – anything from a repurposed movie trailer or commercial to a clip from a baseball game.

The real advantage though, from the user’s standpoint, is that there’s no downloading required. There is no media or Flash player needed either. The message doesn’t arrive as an attachment, so everything that’s required to interact with the marketer’s message is supplied in the e-mail; all that users need to do is press the ‘play’ button.

‘This is the next generation of HTML e-mail. It’s HTML with muscles,’ says Roald Thomas, en-gen’s cofounder, who launched the company two months ago with partner Michael Cvitkovich. The en-gen marketing model incorporates Vancouver-based Clipstream’s streaming media technology.

In a solicitation demo created by en-gen, a message opens with a phone-recorded greeting that starts playing upon the user hitting the flashing, green play button in the e-mail. Below that, is an applet player, with the standard play, pause and stop buttons. After detecting the connection speed, a trailer for the immensely popular The Lord of the Rings film streams via the user’s e-mail interface. If the user clicks on the image, he/she is taken directly to the appropriate Web site – in this case, The Lord of the Rings official Web home.

En-gen is targeting advertising agencies, along with some direct clients, to join in the second coming of the singing telegram. The model works on a pay-per-play basis, meaning if the recipient doesn’t open the message, en-gen does not receive payment.

The company charges a 55-cent fee for use of the audio and a 75-cent fee if the visual component is engaged. It costs roughly $4,000 to initiate the account, and the creative for the customizable templates range from $3,500 to $3,700. Prices however, will vary depending on client needs, he says.

‘We are many multiples higher than direct mail,’ Thomas explains, adding that the moment an e-mail is opened, en-gen can track the user’s IP address, along with the click-through rate. ‘Our measurement is real-time. We provide the client with a database that knows seconds after if the e-mail worked or not.’

One concern is that en-gen’s e-mails aren’t mistakenly pigeonholed into the dreaded spam category, he adds. It’s a fact of wired life that everyone receives junk e-mail, and even though this is a step forward technologically, en-gen and the clients that come onboard must distance themselves from the mass spam issue.

‘We’re too expensive to be considered spam,’ Thomas notes, half-jokingly. But on a more serious note, he adds the e-mail campaigns he envisions are meticulously targeted, the names of the recipients are protected, and it’s up to the client to decide how many and through what means the names are used.

Thomas is currently pitching the Vancouver market, and then plans to stretch outward to the rest of Canada followed by the U.S., then zero-in on Europe and Japan.

So far, he and his partner have lined up Cossette and Glennie Stamnes in Vancouver to bring the en-gen e-mail model to their clients. Some other unnamed agencies in Canada and the U.S. are coming soon, he says. Toronto’s PrideVision television channel, Vancouver-based entertainment promotions company Shout Entertainment, along with travel agency group Best of the Best are all onboard in the developmental stage.

Another client is a Vancouver-based immigration consultant David Coombs. The biggest obstacle lately for Coombs, Thomas explains, is some of the people he deals with are in the Philippines and an obvious language barrier has hijacked communication. To combat this, he hired a language expert to record a message to his clients in their native tongue and stream it to them via the audio component of the en-gen e-mail.

‘This is substantially more effective than traditional text e-mails,’ he says. ‘It’s interactive. When you see something that moves and wiggles or talks in a platform that’s usually as flat as a pancake, people will be interested. It’s exploding already.’