This E-Mail Will Self-Destruct...

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Toronto patent attorney Andrew Currier uses self-destructible e-mail as a way to remove time-sensitive e-mails from a recipient's inbox and confirm that the right person opens a letter.

Echowrox Corp.'s "secure send" option within Mr. Currier's Microsoft Outlook is helpful for lawyers protecting privacy, but can this tactic benefit retailers? Luc Vezina, director of strategy and product management at e-mail services firm GOT Corp., thinks not.

"Destructible e-mail is counter to the objectives of most marketers, who want to engage a broad audience," Mr. Vezina said. "Destructible e-mail may come in handy for publishers who want to place restrictions on the number of people who receive e-mails. However, effective marketing campaigns encourage the sharing of e-mails."

But some marketers think the self-destruct feature could be beneficial when playing with a time element or targeting a segmented group.

"I think self-destructible e-mail could help marketers create a sense of urgency for time-sensitive promotions," said Geoff Atkinson, director of Web site and e-mail marketing at Overstock.com. "It would be just an added feature at our disposal and might be beneficial for time-sensitive e-mail campaigns."

Though the closeout retailer has yet to adopt the function, it is interesting to examine how it could work to a marketer's advantage. Perhaps a message for 15 percent off Nautica sheets purchased within the next week would disappear at the sale's end when the content is no longer relevant.

Then there is the etiquette issue. Consumers do not want to feel spammed and have inboxes filled with marketing messages. A disappearing e-mail might show valued customers that the marketer is responsible and not looking to clutter.

"I think self-destructing e-mail ... helps e-mail take one more important step toward being a legally trusted medium," said David Atlas, vice president of marketing at Goodmail Systems. "That said, it seems counterintuitive for a retailer to actually have much use of a technology that, after a time, would make his e-mail marketing messages self-destruct."

Though opinions vary on self-destructible e-mail's benefit, it is clear that marketers must build trust.

"Anything that gives a sender greater control over how his e-mail is used helps restore trust," Mr. Atlas said. "This benefits everyone, including retailers."

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