By Roger Harris
December 2000 - First there was voice mail. Then came e-mail. And now video e-mail is emerging as the newest tool in the businessperson's communication toolbox.
Video e-mail brings a new dimension to marketing goods and services, according to Peter Martin, president of ExpandMail.com Inc. (www.expandmail.com), a Dallas-based producer of video e-mail. In the words of the Texas entrepreneur, video e-mail combines "the impact of a personal video message with the e-commerce options of a Web site."
In essence, video e-mail is a customized video presentation embedded within a fully functioning Web page, Mr. Martin explains. Like regular text e-mail, video e-mail is delivered to the recipient's e-mail in-box and can be opened immediately. However, unlike some multimedia Web sites, there is no annoying wait for videos to download because ExpandMail.com uses the latest compression and streaming multimedia technology.
Video e-mail works with 56K dial-up modem connections or high-speed DSL and cable television connections. A downloadable version is available for customers with 28.8 modems. ExpandMail.com video e-mails are compatible with the Microsoft Windows Media Player, America Online, and most other major Internet service providers.
Video e-mail also can be printed and forwarded like a basic text-only e-mail. And of course the recipient can view the video-mail over and over.
Because video-mails are unusual, consumers forward them an average of seven times, according to ExpandMail.com. "They really give the marketing effort more bang for the buck," Mr. Martin says.
One of the best features of ExpandMail's video e-mail is its interactivity, according to Ron Harred, general manager of Graf Chevrolet in Dallas. Because of the Web-page format, Graf Chevrolet customers can click on icons to request more information about a car or truck, get a quote, schedule a test drive, or arrange pre-approved financing.
"People think they're amazing," Mr. Harred says. "With a lot of regular e-mail, people think it's spam and they just delete it. With a video e-mail they're more likely to open it."
Graf Chevrolet, which sells 200 to 250 vehicles a month, has been using video e-mail for some months now. In its first video e-mail campaign, the Dallas dealership targeted 10,000 customers. The dealership has a second video e-mail in production.
Producing a video-mail starts at about $5,000, but in many cases that can be less expensive and more efficient than designing and printing a direct-mail campaign. "I don't think there's any question that it's cheaper than direct mail – and we're getting a strong response and solid leads," Mr. Harred says.
ExpandMail.com claims that the average response rate of video e-mails hits 35 percent. Printed direct-mail brochures typically generate response rates of 1 to 2 percent.
In addition to sending customers electronic brochures that highlight new products or services, video e-mail can be an effective way of sending "thank you" messages, reminders, or invitations.
Graf Chevrolet customers will receive video e-mails from the service department at appropriate times – suggesting that it's time to winterize their cars, for instance.
Video e-mails also can be a good way for a business to communicate with employees or for a public company to communicate with shareholders, Mr. Martin says.
ExpandMail.com, a subsidiary of Expansion Unlimited, a Dallas-based Internet incubator, initially targeted its video e-mail product to the automotive industry. Another early ExpandMail.com client in addition to Graf Chevrolet is Lute Riley Honda in Richardson, Texas, one of the highest-volume dealerships in the country.
"We think video e-mail has unique benefits for the automotive industry," Mr. Martin says. "One of the biggest complaints of consumers is the slow response time from dealers when shopping online. Most of the time when the consumer is shopping for a car online they're going through a middleman. Video e-mail eliminates that middleman, and anytime you do that you're speeding up the response time."
At $5,000 a pop, producing separate video e-mail for each of an auto dealership's models could get expensive. But ExpandMail.com offers a package deal that includes multiple versions of the video e-mail for $12,000, according to Mr. Martin.
Car dealers are not the only businesses hiring ExpandMail.com to produce video e-mails. The company recently signed a deal with Dr. Kenneth Slayer, a pioneer in craniofacial surgery, to develop video e-mails to raise funds for the International Craniofacial Foundation.
"We will continue to refine what we do to make it even more user-friendly," Mr. Martin says. "We think video e-mail is a great communications tool."
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