RSS Gives Marketers Uncensored Channel

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Frustrated by the incessant e-mail bouncebacks from ISPs and yearning to send giant audio/video pitches over the Web unencumbered, some direct marketers are turning to RSS, or really simple syndication, to get all of their messages - and all of their message - to target markets headache-free.


"We've been at this awhile, using mediums like TV, radio, e-mail. But I have to say, RSS is one of the best advertising vehicles I've seen come along in awhile," said Terry Weaver, CEO of Truckflix.com, an online jobs broker for trucking companies and drivers.


Even if you haven't investigated RSS, you've probably seen hints of it in the form of those little "RSS" or "XML" tags in the corners of Web pages. The tags are links to snippets of RSS code that can be cut and pasted into an RSS reader, which then will automatically track changes to those pages.


RSS users generally check their readers the same way Web users check their e-mails. The difference is that the RSS alert appears as a hotlinked headline that users click on if they want to read the full story behind the headline, or check out the Web page change that the hotlink refers to.


Like many things online, RSS was first popularized by bloggers, many of whom have used the technology to track updates to the other blogs they monitor regularly. DMers like Weaver saw the efficiency of that perspective - and a lot more. No known major Internet service provider blocks RSS transmissions. So with RSS, a marketer can rest assured that a new message posted to a Web page is automatically sent to every consumer with an RSS subscription to that Web site.


There are no ISP spam filters to get through. There are no stale e-mail addresses to worry about. And there are no cranky consumers complaining that they never subscribed to your marketing messages.


Weaver saw another major advantage in RSS: He could use it to distribute large audio/video files - short trucking firm recruiting videos - to truck drivers subscribing to his site via RSS.


"Compare that to e-mail," he said. "You can't attach a 20 megabyte video file to a mass mailing and expect something like that to get through."


Weaver is not the only one to see RSS' inherent distribution advantages. Amazon.com (www.amazon.com/exec/obi


dos/subst/xs/syndicate.html/002-1322556-1475202) offers dozens of RSS feeds to consumers looking to track new offerings in product categories that interest them. Burpee (www.burpee.com/jump.jsp?itemID=744&


itemType=CONTENT_ARTICLE&apage=1) sends seed customers RSS updates when there's a new product offering or change to its Web site. And smaller companies like Lap of Luxury (www.lapofluxury.com/xml/add-news) and Bargain Supply Wholesale (www.bargain-mall.com/store/aboutrss.asp) also are cashing in on the technology.


"I think you're going to see RSS begin to appear on marketers' radar by Q4 of this year and really take off the following year," said Lee Odden, president of TopRank Online Marketing (www.toprankblog.com), a Web marketing service provider.


Like Weaver, Odden said the ongoing hassles of e-mail will spur an increasing number of marketers to turn to RSS as a clear, uncensored channel.


"There's nothing there to stop you from getting your message to the consumer with RSS," he said, "no filters to worry about."


Odden said he is testing an RSS marketing campaign with an auction site that wants to use the technology to alert subscribers to bids and counterbids on closeout merchandise. Such convenience, coupled with the emergence of ever more user-friendly RSS readers, virtually guarantees the rise of RSS as a marketing medium, according to Odden.


"Using the Firefox browser and Sage - an add-on RSS reader program - I'm able to surf the Web while I simultaneously monitor all my RSS feeds in a side window," he said.


Weaver agreed that RSS' user-friendly feel will inspire converts.


"When we send a recruiting video to a trucker - show truckers the kind of people they'll be working with, the kind of facilities they'll be working out of - there's no risk, as with radio or TV, that the trucker will tune out," he said.


Every recipient asked to receive the video recruiting pitch, Weaver said, so it's more likely that truckers are stopping the videos if they are momentarily distracted, then picking up where they left off later.


"They can listen to the marketing message where they want and when they want," something that's impossible with more traditional forms of advertising, he said.


In coming years, Weaver sees RSS' reach becoming nearly ubiquitous. Marketers eventually will see their audio/video messages regularly beamed to cell phone users who signaled an interest in a product or service by subscribing to company Web site changes via RSS.


To investigate this technology, a good place to start is Yahoo's MyYahoo site (www.my.yahoo.com/s/rss-faq.html). The megaportal recently added RSS tracking to its Web data gathering tools. You can learn how to create an RSS feed for your own site at IceRocket (http://rss.icerocket.com), which offers an easy-to-use RSS builder. IceRocket offers the service for free as a way to encourage use of its Web search engine.


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