E-mail campaigns get lively

Imagine opening an e-mail and hearing "Saturday Night Live's" Don Pardo pitching the latest business-to-consumer Web site.
Written by Grant DuBois, Contributor

Imagine opening an e-mail and hearing "Saturday Night Live's" Don Pardo pitching the latest business-to-consumer Web site.

MediaRing.com Ltd., a Singapore-based developer of Internet voice services, will announce this week new software that lets businesses enliven their e-mail marketing campaigns and electronic newsletters with streaming audio messages.

VoizLetter provides marketing departments with the capability to create voice-enabled e-mail messages that let customers access audio messages through a URL in the e-mail or a link on a company Web site. The messages can be any length and can be sent to an unlimited number of recipients, MediaRing officials said.

"We're taking direct marketing one step higher," said Bob Nelson, Media Ring's vice president of marketing, in San Jose, Calif. "On the business side, there are opportunities to bring streaming voice to the Web."

To use VoizLetter, a business designs a newsletter, provides Media Ring with the accompanying audio message and sends to its customers an e-mail message that contains a URL for the voice-enabled newsletter. Customers may then click on the URL to link directly to the VoizLetter, and the audio for the newsletter is launched through the default browser.

Customers can also view the Web page contents while listening to the company's audio message. The Web page gives viewers an option to click on other e-commerce links located within the VoizLetter and reply to the newsletter with their own audio messages.

Text and graphics of the VoizLetter can be stored on the customer's Web server, or MediaRing.com can host the content, officials said. Voice clips that accompany newsletters are stored on MediaRing's voice server for about 30 days per VoizLetter.

After three months of beta testing, MediaRing officials claim a 50 percent higher response rate over regular e-mail and a 30 percent higher sales rate.

MediaRing could be addressing a growing niche as market researchers, such as Jupiter Communications Inc., are predicting a decline in traditional direct mail marketing.

But it is not just land-based mail marketing that is under pressure. New York-based Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. reported that the response rate to text-only e-mail marketing is about 3 percent to 4 percent while the response for HTML marketing is around 12 percent to 15 percent.

VoizLetter works with any e-mail system and can be used on Mac OS. VoizLetter listeners need PCs equipped with sound card and speakers. Those who want to respond with voice-enabled e-mail messages will also need microphones.

One VoizLetter is priced at $500 for setup and $1,500 for one month of hosting. Additional costs for a VoizLetter depend on content design, length of audio, and the customer's storage and hosting preferences.

In September, MediaRing will launch VoizCards, e-mail greeting cards with audio messages. VoizCards, like VoizLetters, will let users listen to audio through a URL link, officials said.

Audiovisual gets the response
Response rates to text e-mail and HTML marketing
13%: Size of the decline of traditional direct mail marketing over the next five years (Jupiter Communications)
3-4%: Response rate to traditional text e-mail marketing (Morgan Stanley)
12-15%: Click-through rate for HTML marketing (Morgan Stanley)
200 billion: Number of marketing e-mails sent yearly (Forrester Research Inc.)
$14 billion: Amount to be spent on Web promotions by 2006 (Forrester)

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