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TV-Like Features Boost E-Mail Response for IBM

IBM Corp. is using an interactive television-like e-mail for its ForwardView small and midsized business monthly newsletter to better engage opt-in subscribers.

Called Showmail, the e-mail format by creator IQ Television Group, Atlanta, delivers content in multimedia to IBM customers and prospects on IT stories relevant to their industry and interests.

“The success of the Showmail trial evaluation has caused IBM to drop its HTML format in favor of the Showmail format as the exclusive vehicle for the ForwardView newsletter,” said Tony Quin, president of IQ, Atlanta.

Showmail solved a few problems for IBM, Quin said. It increased the number of stories and view time on ForwardView. And the number of new subscriptions also rose since the pilot began in June as prospects signed on and e-mails were forwarded.

Through July, the latest period for which results are available, the click-through rate on Showmail was 5 percent versus 1.5 percent response on standard text and HTML e-mails. And average time viewing the online newsletter also climbed to more than nine minutes using the Showmail player.

ForwardView is mailed to more than 300,000 people on IBM's lists. The August issue is up on http://ibm.showmail.tv. Results have yet to be tabulated.

Showmail is a new, proprietary e-mail marketing system. Its delivery and content customization engines tailor the content a viewer receives by profile and preferences. It automatically detects a viewer's connection speed and yields the appropriate experience.

IBM's Showmail does not overtly attempt to sell products. This is in order to maintain its editorial integrity and perceived content value. But all articles link to IBM sales resources, directly tracked back to Showmail.

“IQ is responsible for the end-to-end delivery and all tracking associated with the Showmail player,” Quin said.

IBM is not the first company using Showmail. IQ has clients in IT, radio, TV, entertainment and financial services. They include Sci-Fi Channel, TV Land, National Geographic, Fox Cable Networks, ABC for its “Alias” show and SunTrust Bank.

The company is developing the next generation of Showmail to improve the interactive TV experience. A greater level of automated personalization and tracking of data is planned.

Meanwhile, IBM is using IQ's interactive television disc, or ITVD. This CD is meant to engage recipients and position IBM as a technology source, not just selling products, services and integration partners.

“IBM's traditional customer constituency has been very large, enterprise-sized companies,” Quin said. “The small and medium business Americas division wanted to shift that perception.”

IBM dropped 60,000 discs nationwide starting in May to small and midsized businesses in the industrial manufacturing sector. The next phase is due this fall.

The IBM interactive disc contains more than 200 content modules and several thousand paths. But the individual experience is designed to be only five minutes. Viewers are presented with research and insight from industry leaders in an interactive TV format.

IQ's technology lets an ordinary CD-ROM contain up to 60 minutes of full-screen, near-DVD quality video that plays automatically and instantly on any computer. No downloads or special software are required. Moreover, it can connect to the Internet and dynamically download the information.

“The ITVD architecture is designed to take the typically very general marketing message and quickly focus it to the specific interests of the viewer,” said Matt Wright, IQ's director of business development. “This approach is further bolstered by giving the viewer meaningful content at every step rather than just sales messages.”

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