Big Sea, Bold Fish

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When navigating the vast sea of customers, the prize goes to the boldest fish. Or at the very least, the prize goes to the fish that can get its message to the greatest number of customers in the way that's faster, cheaper and more reliable than methods favored by its competitors.

Traditionally, however, generating these vast messages has been a headache. Bulk e-mails, the medium of choice for savvy businesses, can clog the company server for hours and can be tough to personalize in a way that's appropriate for the best customers. What's worse, dealing with bounced-back messages--those that return due to anything from a wrong e-mail address to a temporary problem with the recipient's server--creates a backlog that requires an employee's manual attention to resolve.

Silicon Valley-based software developer BoldFish introduced its BoldFish Express Server last year as a product designed to solve this bulk e-mailer's dilemma. The Express Server integrates into a user's Web site, database and existing infrastructure to enable high-volume e-mail personalization.

Spam Free
"This isn't about spam," says BoldFish Vice President of Marketing Andrew Lochart. "We don't license our technology to spammers...It turns out that when you're trying to generate a lot of personalized outbound messages, you run into a number of technical obstacles. That's what BoldFish has set out to solve."

Able to send thousands of messages an hour, the Express Server is installed at the customer's site and brings "powerful personalization" capabilities to its users, Lochart says. It can support multiple message templates to hit exactly the type of message the customer chooses to receive, and it works quickly.

The Express Server also includes a sophisticated bounce handling feature that automatically delineates between hard bounces (invalid e-mail addresses) and soft bounces (auto replies). In the case of soft bounces, the Express Server will automatically store those messages and resend them later. According to Lochart, the system flags hard bounces and alerts users that additional action is necessary to correct the issue. Other systems require that employees manually address all types of bounces. "The statistics we've seen from analysts indicate that anywhere from two to 20 percent of messages will bounce on any given mailing," he says. "When you're sending [one] million messages, that's a lot of e-mail to process manually."

BoldFish's latest offering, Express Network, takes the capabilities of Express Server further by enabling users to send an even higher volume of e-mail. The network is a hosted service that allows users considerable control over their messaging system. Users can choose a variety of means to access the BoldFish Express Network via the Express Server; by using a CRM application with integrated BoldFish technologies; or by integrating BoldFish technology into an existing application.

"Normal e-mail protocol is called stMP, and it does a great job with what it was designed for, but it's 20 years old," Lochart says. "We developed our own protocol, the Express Network protocol. When you hit send and choose to send your mailing over the Express Network, BoldFish does not take the data from the database and merge it into a template and crank out a million copies. Instead, it takes one copy of the message template, takes data from the database, compresses and encrypts that and sends it over to the Express Network. Once we have it, we unpack it, then do a mail merge at the BoldFish Express Network."

While costs vary depending on configuration, Lochart says Express Server licensing begins at $67,500 for a database of up to 100,000 names. Pricing for Express Network includes a one-time fee of $20,000 to install the Express Server, plus a monthly fee based on committed capacity, which begins at $2,450 for the first 5 gigabytes of data. Prices include support and maintenance for the first year, including free upgrades.

Controlling Mammoth E-Mails
Why would a premier sun and ski resort nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California need an e-mail program capable of sending thousands of messages at one time? There are 6,300 reasons, says Andrew Sundsboe, Internet marketing manager at Mammoth California, which manages the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

"It snowed today," Sundsboe says, "and how do you get that information out to people? You do it by e-mail."

Mammoth California offers an e-mail subscription service that delivers weather news, snow conditions, resort information and other goodies to anybody who requests it on either a daily or a weekly basis. A Mammoth employee arrives at work at 5 a.m. to update the e-mail and send it out so subscribers can get up-to-the-minute information.

At the peak of the ski season this year, 6,300 people wanted to receive Mammoth news every day. On average, 5,900 people subscribe on a daily basis, while an additional 3,600 people are on the weekly list. That's a lot of e-mail. One of the goals of this marketing strategy is to encourage guests to return several times each year and enjoy the summer and spring activities offered at Mammoth as well as the winter skiing and snowboarding.

At first, Sundsboe says, Mammoth relied on a free mail server recommended by its Internet service provider to send the newsletter, but the system was complex and difficult to use--not to mention slow. "We were running into people who were getting the e-mail a day later than it was sent," he says. "That hurt us."

Three years ago, the company switched to BoldFish. "We chose BoldFish because of its Web interface," Sundsboe says. "Even the most beginning Internet users become savvy users."

The Boldfish solution easily adapts to Mammoth's constantly changing subscriber list. "We've got these people who subscribe themselves for two weeks prior to their visit, then after their visit they don't want to receive the e-mail anymore," Sundsboe says. "With BoldFish, they can fairly successfully unsubscribe themselves."

Sundsboe adds, "The bounce feature is a wonderful thing. As the e-mail [came] back to us because it couldn't find somebody, the other system would just keep sending it over and over, and we'd have to remove [the address] manually. BoldFish does it automatically. It has given us a more accurate e-mail list."

Through BoldFish, Mammoth California is able to save money, time and keep employees free to focus on other tasks. The bottom line, Sundsboe says, is "it brings the people closer to Mammoth Mountain."

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