Making Your E-Mail Work Harder

People who send you junk mail on your computer??spammers? in Web lingo?are regarded as Web pariahs. But many jewelers are discovering something unexpected about electronic mail. When it?s done right?when you have the recipient?s permission to send it?e-mail can become an impressive marketing tool, more powerful than even the most stunning of Web sites.

Indeed, while the promise of the Web understandably mesmerized the global marketplace during the late ?90s, Internet research marketing firms know that e-mail is the Internet?s true ?killer application.?

Consider: More than 75% of the 41.5 million adults online in 1998 used e-mail, according to a Cyber Dialogue/Find SVP (www.cyberdialogue.com) survey. By the end of this year, that number will have more than doubled, to 108 million people, according to a study conducted by the Electronic Messaging Association (www.ema.org).

With such rapid expansion of e-mail use, it?s no wonder companies ranging from mom-and-pop jewelers to Fortune 500 giants are integrating the e-mail medium into the core of their online marketing strategies.

Specifically, innovative online marketers are using the medium for:

Newsletters. Once the private projects of the academics and ?netizens? who pioneered the Internet in the late ?80s, e-mail newsletters now are viewed as essential for businesses seeking to establish relationships with customers and potential customers. Spa City Silver (www.spacitysilver.com), for example, invites visitors to its site to sign up for an an e-mail-delivered mailing list. A number of low-cost Internet newsletter creation and maintenance software packages?also known as ?mailing lists??are available; see box below.

Newsletters with hotlinks. A kind of ?next generation? e-mail publication, newsletters with ?hotlinks? enable subscribers to ?click back? to a Web site for more information and graphics on specials, new product announcements, and the like. Hotlinks transform an e-mail newsletter into a mobile Web page. Most e-mail newsletter software offers a hotlinks option.

United Ventures Group, owner of Americancharm.com (www.americancharm.com), a retail jewelry site, uses hotlinks in its e-mail press releases that refer readers to the company?s Web site. The International Gemmological Institute (www.igiwordwide.com) also uses hotlinks in its e-mail press releases, as does Buyjewel.com.

Meanwhile, Pawnbroker.com (www.pawnbroker.com) uses hotlinks in e-mail press releases that click back to the full text of executive speeches. The company recently used the technique with a press release on CEO Neil McElwee?s speech about plans for the site, which sells jewelry and other merchandise.

E-mail alert services. After signing up for these services at Web sites, subscribers receive special e-mail alerts when a store generates news of special interest. House of Hollington (http://houseofhollington.com) sends e-mail alerts featuring fashion and jewelry tips, merchandise discounts, and news of items for sale.

Interactive newsletters. Corporations looking to generate an ongoing dialogue often sponsor interactive e-mail newsletters to which every subscriber can add content. Such newsletters are perfect for developing new product ideas, new brand images, and the like. Some interactive newsletters enable subscribers to add content at will. Others feature a moderator who screens subscriber content before it?s distributed to the mailing list community at large. All titles from the newsletter vendors mentioned in the list on p. 229 offer a subscriber interactivity option.

A good industry example of an interactive, corporate newsletter circulating the ?Net is ?Orchid,? sponsored by Ganoksin Jewelers. The newsletter features insights on jewelry manufacturing procedures and methods. For more information, send an e-mail to service@ganoksin.com.

Participation in third-party newsletters. Mailing list clearinghouse Liszt (www.liszt.com) tracks more than 90,000 special-interest ?mailing lists? or newsletters currently circulating the ?Net. Many corporations regularly add content to these newsletters to keep their brand names in front of readers with highly specific?and highly targetable?interests.

Any jeweler is free to add commentary to the third-party newsletter ?Beauty Biz,? which targets beauty, fashion, fitness, and jewelry professionals. Business promotion via commentary is also available in the Diamond Milee mailing list, which focuses on jewelry repair. You can find both newsletters at the Liszt site by entering the keyword ?jewelry.? Liszt also tracks two mailing lists that focus on gems and 43 that focus on gold.

A step beyond. Once you?ve experimented with e-mail marketing basics, you may want to move on to more sophisticated uses of the medium. The most popular techniques among these include:

Autoresponders. Already popular with firms savvy about e-mail marketing, autoresponders enable ?Net surfers to send a simple electronic message to a designated Internet address and receive an ?instant? e-mail on a specialized subject. This is target marketing in its most precise implementation. Type ?autoresponders? in any search engine for more information.

Product pix-to-go. Now that sending pictures over the ?Net is a snap even on ?beginner? services like America Online, companies are capitalizing on this facet of the technology to better represent their services and products via e-mail. All that?s needed to send product photos is any popular e-mail program. Always in Style (www.alwaysinstyle.com), for example, sometimes includes a link to a supporting digital photo when distributing its e-mail press releases.

Slideshows-to-go. Take another look at the latest incarnation of programs like Microsoft PowerPoint (www.microsoft.com) and Corel WordPerfect Office 2000 (www.corel.com) and you?ll find beefed-up applications that enable a company to easily create and send a slideshow via the ?Net. Another easy-to-use program: Catch-the-Web by Math Strategies (www.catchtheweb.com).

Animations-to-go. Firms more at home creating and sending product animations via e-mail also have a slew of tools they can use. Software titles in this category?in addition to titles in the slideshow category listed previously?include Hijaak Pro by IMSI software (www.imsisoft.com); PrintShop ProPublisher 2000 by Broderbund (www.printshop.com); and Barking Cards by Blaze Technologies (www.barkingcard.com).

Panoramic virtual-reality-to-go. Panoramic VR is one of the most sophisticated graphic presentations easily sent via e-mail. It enables you to create 360-degree virtual ?walkthroughs? of products and facilities. Apple Quicktime VR (www.apple.com) pioneered the medium. Other panoramic VR toolmakers include Communiqué (www.cvcmedia.com) and Infinite Pictures (www.smoothmove.com).

One caveat: None of this e-mail marketing technology will do any jeweler any good if the resulting presentation is sent as ?spam,? or unsolicited e-mail. Spammers are the scourge of the ?Net, and spamming is a quick path to commercial suicide.

Joe Dysart is an Internet business consultant based in Thousand Oaks, Calif. You can reach him at (805) 379-3841, e-mail: joedysart@aol.com.

How to Speak Intelligently to Your Web Designer About Mailing List Software

In their most basic incarnations, mailing list software packages enable users to send the same e-mail to multiple parties or subscribers. Subscribers usually ?join? a list by signing up at a Web site. Alternatively, they can e-mail a request to join the ?list manager.? Either way, the tool offers your list manager a powerful, inexpensive way to reach a virtually limitless number of customers in your own neighborhood or anywhere in the world.

Here?s a sampling of available packages:

Groupmaster, from MessageMedia in Boulder, Colo., is one of the easiest programs to learn. Designed with the novice in mind, Groupmaster?s interface is the user?s Web browser, which is used to create mailing lists, add members to the list, schedule and send messages, and view statistics on the results. The software also enables subscribers to enroll directly from a Web site. Call (303) 440-7550 or visit www.messagemedia.com.

Listserv Classic, from L-Soft International in Landover, Md., is a pioneer in Internet mailing list software, regarded by insiders as a reliable program for high-volume (10,000 and more) mailing lists. Call (301) 731-0440 or visit www.lsoft.com.

Listar, from Starnine in Berkeley, Calif., is especially designed for Mac users and works best with small to medium lists of up to 10,000 recipients, according to those familiar with it. The software comes with templates that simplify list creation and reduce list manager/moderator burden. It?s designed around a point-and-click interface. Call (510) 649-4949 or visit www.starnine.com.

Lyris, from Shelby Group Ltd. in Oakland, Calif., is another mailing list pioneer. Aficionados consider it an industrial-strength software package, but it?s a challenge for those who don?t know PERL, a programming language. Call (800) 768-2929 or visit www.lyris.com.

Majordomo, from Great Circle Associates in Mountain View, Calif., is another PERL-intensive program, but it?s popular because it?s available free on the Web. Many stalwart, early list pioneers swear by it. Others grouse that the continually evolving package is riddled with bugs. Call (800) 270-2562 or visit www.greatcircle.com.

Other mailing list software packages. Vivian Neou maintains an excellent listing of mailing list software packages at: www.catalog.com/vivian/mailing-list-software.html.

Free mailing list maintenance services. Interested in experimenting with a mailing list for your store but not looking forward to finding a savvy Web person for help? No problem. There are a number of services?which often earn revenue via advertising at their home Web sites?willing to host your mailing list for free. Here are a few mailing list services to explore:

Coollist (www.coollist.com). This service offers to maintain a mailing list free, with no strings attached.

Listquest (http://lq.corenetworks.com). This is another free mailing list service that also will maintain searchable archives for your list. The advantage: If someone posted a helpful suggestion to your mailing list five months ago, you?ll be able to search ListQuest?s archive to retrieve it.

eGroups (www.egroups.com). This service bills itself as the place to start and manage a free mailing list, subscribe to existing mailing lists, and view archives of old list messages, all from the eGroups Web site. It supports many different types of mailing lists, including announcement lists, restricted lists, and moderated lists.