E-Mail's Next Generation to Bring Greater Success

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We live in an era when most of us depend on e-mail for work, travel, entertainment, shopping and personal correspondence. It may even suffice to say that this generation does not make a move without e-mail. According to ClickZ, North Andover, MA, e-mail is the No. 1 online activity among Americans. Currently, 94 percent of those online use e-mail, and by 2001, half of the U.S. population and 450 million people worldwide will use it.


With today's technology, we can access our e-mail from almost anywhere -- from airplanes and cars, through pagers and cellular phones. We can call our e-mail inboxes and have our mail read to us by an automated voice. In a time when personalized e-mails are the standard, we receive the information we want, from whom we want and whenever we want it.


E-mail technology has come far since its inception. Content, format, objectives and users have changed drastically. So, what led to the development of e-mail in the first place? And, is this communications medium good for more than just sending instant messages?


• In the beginning


According to U.S. News Online, Washington, the birth of e-mail dates to October 1969, when Leonard Kleinrock, a computer science professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, sent the first e-mail message to a Stanford University colleague. Immediately after the message was sent, Kleinrock's computer crashed. Despite its unstable origin, e-mail became much more widely used in the early 1980s, when users began sending basic text e-mails containing news and information to others.


The corporate world quickly caught on to the trend. Early corporate adopters began sending copies of their company Web pages and long, newspaper-like articles to subscribers. With the understanding that a larger audience base could equate to increased sales, these pioneers operated with the simple strategy that more is better. Through this new communications tool, companies could reach new markets and greatly increase company and product awareness among these audiences.


• Revolutionizing today's business communications.


Innovators such as Mercury Mail, Netscape and Hotmail were critical in e-mail's evolution into a reliable and popular communications tool. E-mails now are delivered in HTML and rich media formats, and they often include video and audio functions. E-mails we receive in our inboxes are now personalized, with content and format customized to meet our personal needs and specifications.


The corporate world also has risen to a more sophisticated level with e-mail. Companies have established e-mail marketing strategies and are implementing e-mail campaigns largely to meet their customer relationship management needs. Also, with regular communication containing company news, personal account activity, special promotions and the like, customers increasingly trust these companies.


In addition to relaying the latest in corporate news and information, companies also use e-mail as a sales tool. Companies, especially e-commerce companies and bricks-and-mortars moving online, use e-mail to cross-sell, resell and upsell to their customers. E-mail is generating response rates up to 10 times those of traditional channels of direct marketing, and companies using e-mail are seeing higher response rates than ever before.


• Enduring the test of time.


A steadily increasing number of e-mail users and rapid technology advancements indicate that many possibilities for e-mail are on the way. Enhanced personalization, increased security and more interactive e-mails are among the advances around the corner.


Personalized e-mail campaigns have been successful in today's corporate world. Companies now know the key to customer acquisition and growth is getting the right message to the right person at the right time. In the next several years, companies will continue to focus on personalized e-mails and one-to-one e-mail marketing, but with more advanced targeting technology. Many companies already use sophisticated database and CRM technology to track the success of their e-mail campaigns.


Another e-mail advancement coming soon could have a major effect on the way business is done on the Internet. With new security developments, such as software-based and hardware-based encryptions, business and personal transactions will be easier than ever. Bill statements, transactions and bill payments will soon be possible through e-mail. Other advancements include e-mails with expiration dates and e-mails that cannot be forwarded or copied, for safer transmission of sensitive material.


In the next few years we will see and even hear e-mail in a whole new way. Imagine getting the hottest new movies or music delivered directly to your inbox, or seeing the day's breaking news video via e-mail. The link between e-mail and the Internet is now virtually seamless, and streaming audio and video content is more common than ever.


*•Tom Detmer is senior vice president for data strategy at 24/7 Media, Denver. Reach him at tom.detmer@247media.com.
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