E-mail Gets a Face-Lift
Rare Method is offering a new service to help advertisers reach their customers with high-style rich media digital communiqués.
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Rare Method, a media design shop, is encouraging companies to look past the notion of a self-contained Web brand and presence and embrace the concepts of cohesive branding and presentation. "A lot of companies don't approach Web-site design and implementation in terms of a marketing solution that exists outside the online environment," says Keith Dundas, vice president of marketing at the Calgary, Canada-based company.

Through its MethodMail managed e-mail service, Rare Method designs and delivers e-mail campaigns intended to match a firm's overall brand, particularly its Web face. MethodMail clients can send messages in up to four different levels of visual complexity, ranging from a full audio/visual feast to plain text, and the end customer will see the most aggressive format his computer can support.

Although the consumer broadband market that was expected to sustain the drive to rich media e-mails has largely stalled, the mission is still relevant says AMR Research analyst Kevin Scott. "It's still important that you consistently have the same image through e-mail, direct mail, phone contact and co-branding," he says, noting that despite the consumer bandwidth challenges, many people receive both business and personal promotions through fast office Internet links.

Despite the challenges, companies need to reinforce their images through their e-mail campaign materials, Rare Method's Dundas says. He scoffs at the unassuming text advertisement he received from a cable television provider: "It's really in the media business, but the e-mail was plain text. If this is the business they're in, they should be able to communicate who they are to me in a way that reinforced that image in my head," he says. "An e-mail in plain text gave me no confidence that the company knew what business it was in."

Persuasive Packaging

MethodMail is currently the e-mail medium of choice for the Smiles For Life charity program operated by Dental Success of Salt Lake City, a service firm catering to dentists. In return for teeth-whitening services provided by a participating dentist, patients pay the fee directly into the charity fund. The outfit took a cue from a member dentist, who drummed up a great deal of participation in the program by sending a plain-text e-mail to his client base. Rare Method prepared an animated sign-up form, a presentation involving spokesman Garth Brooks and a dentist locator all within the rich-media e-mail. Dentists can then forward that to their client bases, says Dental Success Director Greg Sneyd.
In addition to taking pride in sending out a catchy presentation, Sneyd says, the design and visual appeal also boosts the legitimacy of the message. "We don't want to give anyone reason to doubt that this is a real offering," he says. "Although the Internet has been around for a while, there are people who are skeptical and don't know who can be trusted....If an e-mail message is coming from their dentist, we want it to go to a professional-looking site."

Loyal customers are far more interested in content than presentation, and, in the end, response rates are more dependent on the substance of the message than the glitz, says AMR's Scott. "If I'm using my own customer base to mail to, they're already interested. So it doesn't have to be as eye-popping or engaging," he says. "But if it goes along with your brand, something associated with luxury or high-performance, customers are going to expect a higher-quality image and [electronic] ad campaign."

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