U.S. E-Mail Service Looks to Global Niche Markets

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NASHVILLE, TN -- SmartReminders.com, a 5-month-old targeted and opt-in e-mail delivery service, is launching sites in the UK, Canada and Australia next month, and another seven before year-end.


China will be one of the most important, said CEO Rich Maradik, thanks to a deal the company struck with e-tang.com, Shanghai, China, a portal that raised $45 million from Americans and has filed to go on the Nasdaq.


Other target countries include France, Germany, Spain and several other European locations.


Since it launched in April the company has acquired 3.5 million registered users, 1.2 million of whom are non-U.S. residents. Chinese users make up the bulk thanks to the e-tang alliance.


SmartReminders this month concluded a strategic agreement with beenz.com, a company with 14 localized Web sites in the United States, Europe and Asia-Pacific, that will put links to SmartReminders on its local pages.


Beenz is a loyalty-building site that gives surfers beenz currency that they can use to shop on the Internet. It has proved particularly popular in the UK, where it is outdrawing the U.S. site.


"Its traffic numbers are very respectable in the countries where it has launched," said Maradik. "The user base is good because the beenz currency structure does build loyalty, which means it is a great beginning point for us.


"But after the initial launch with beenz we will go to other portals in our target countries, where we will use nonglobal portals because user acquisition costs tend to be lower that way. Also, we can use our main page in each country to drive traffic to other Web sites."


SmartReminders customizes its e-mail service to consumers' needs, sending information on any subject a subscriber want to know about on a regular basis. Each e-mail sent contains one ad.


"This is still advertising and you win two ways. One by providing customers with a higher [return on investment], and two, by giving advertisers a reach our competitors currently don't offer. ROI and reach are the two biggest deals in advertising," Maradik said.


"We saw an opportunity in permission e-mail to bring a lot of global names into our network, which would allow our advertisers to touch somebody in Seattle and in Shanghai."


SmartReminders is owned by Smart Direct, a DM company that Maradik also chairs.


"We worked on offline DM for years, and we still do, but found that direct mail campaigns overseas were expensive and a big hassle," he said.


"It involved a lot of separate steps and didn't always get the bang for the buck you were looking for. It is much easier to do DM online overseas than through direct mail and it is much cheaper once a site is up and localized."


He plans to use translation software and then have "a physical signoff." An individual in each country of operations will check the machine translation to make sure gaffes -- an insult to Mao Tse Tung, for example -- are avoided.


"Our templates are all the same, which makes boilerplate translation easy, including an opt-out feature."


Ads and offers, he conceded, are more difficult. "We'll have to double-check to make sure no errors occur."


Customers who sign up through a beenz link can ask for e-mail information on specific events on an ongoing basis or choose from the localized menu of content.


Customers also have the choice of requesting specific information.


"You want to know what Alan Greenspan said whenever he speaks, we'll let you know," Maradik said. "We have a content team here in Nashville and large relational databases that aggregate information and then distribute it across many platforms. We also e-mail some fun things -- the thought of the day, a bible verse."


Competitors such as Yahoo, America Online and 24/7, Maradik contended, do not offer the same product. "24/7 aggregates newsletters. Their car site sends out weekly newsletters to car buffs that contain advertising. But what they are not doing is e-mailing people with information about a new sports car. We don't have the size and depth to do what Yahoo or AOL do. But we do have a different information product.


"It's a nice niche that's good for advertisers by intelligently going into different countries. We're not trying to become the biggest Web site in any one country, but to build a good amount of loyal people who rely on us."
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