Video E-Mails Let Car Dealer Stand Out

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Graff Chevrolet, a Grand Prairie, TX, automobile dealer, began sending video e-mails this week to consumers who visited the dealer's Web site and requested auto information.

The rich media e-mails feature customized vehicle information, a video commercial of the car or truck the consumer expressed interest in, a personal message from the company president, and a link to various pages on its Web site.

"When we get a request for certain types of vehicles, we send a video e-mail of that vehicle to the customer as our first response," said Ron Harred, general manager at Graff Chevrolet. The dealer has delivered about 100 video e-mails so far and has received positive feedback from recipients, Harred said.

"The consumers usually e-mail several dealerships, and everyone else just sends them a text message back," he said. "We're sending them an actual streaming video. And it sure gets their attention."

Graff Chevrolet is using a new company,, to produce the video e-mails and set up the infrastructure to deliver them. Peter Martin, president of ExpandMail, Dallas, said its technology allows businesses to send a streaming video message, combined with a fully functioning Web site, through a standard e-mail.

Both Martin and Harred said the video e-mails are more user-friendly than some streaming media because there is nothing to download. The recipient selects his Internet connection speed, which opens a video e-mail version in a 56K or DSL/cable feed.

ExpandMail produces the video e-mail using footage from a television commercial -- if the dealer already has one -- or by working with the client and a post-production company to shoot original footage. The clients choose whether to set up the e-mails as part of an auto-responder system or to send them to its inhouse mailing lists.

Graff Chevrolet is using the video e-mails in auto-responder mode, but by September the dealer expects to start testing their effectiveness to names on its inhouse mailing list.

"We are going to use it more as a targeting tool," Harred said. "We'll go back in our database and find people with an old-body-style pickup truck [for example] and send them a video e-mail of the new-body-style pickup."

Martin offered several reasons why ExpandMail's early marketing and promotional efforts have focused on the automobile industry. Auto dealers, especially large ones such as Graff, which sells more than 3,500 cars per year, tend to have a sophisticated understanding of marketing and usually have commercials ready to go, he said. Automobiles make for good video, Martin added. And ExpandMail's parent company, Expansion Unlimited, also owns, an online directory of auto dealers.

"We just understand that market and know there is a need for these services," Martin said.

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