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Episode 13: More Effective E-mail

Air Date: July 23, 1998


It's Monday morning at the Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI), and while Executive Director Susan Langdon is picking up her mail, she bumps into IBM's Tom Vassos, who has just arrived for his weekly consulting session. Their conversation quickly falls onto the topic of mail, specifically the use of e-mail by Susan and her resident designers. While they have made progress, Susan admits that their use of e-mail is still quite meager when compared to the total number of communications that the TFI sends out on a daily basis. However, they continue to make progress in the collecting of e-mail addresses from their outreach members and publicizing their new e-mail addresses and web address via the TFI monthly newsletter. Susan even received an e-mail all the way from Brussels, inquiring about the possibility of a jointly-produced virtual fashion show. However, Susan is still concerned for the success and the proper management of the TFI's e-mail initiatives, and looks to Tom for advice, which he is only too happy to provide.

Sending E-mail to People Without E-mail

One of the roadblocks that Susan is encountering with respect to the building of her e-mailing list is the fact that many of her outreach members, sponsors, and other stakeholders do not have access to the Internet. In order to reach these individuals, Susan must reach them via the more traditional (and more expensive) communication channels, such as telephone and 'snail' mail. Tom mentions that this is still a common problem for many businesses, and will be for a number of years until the penetration of Internet access into households and businesses has gained enough momentum. However, as a stop-gap measure, Tom suggests that Susan use one of the many 'e-mail to fax' conversion utilities available on the Internet, such as the free service available from the TPC.INT 'Remote Printing Experiment' (www.tpc.int). With these services, TFI members and stakeholders without Internet access can receive e-mails by way of their fax machines.

But getting e-mail is not expensive as you think, as many people are finding that they have e-mail access either through their home, work, or school. E-mail is gradually shifting from a 'nice to have' to a 'need to have' communications tool, similar to the shift that the telephone underwent in its early days. Way back when telephones were viewed with hearty skepticism, you probably had to make a business case to justify the expense of getting your hands on one of these newfangled doohickeys. Now, almost one hundred years later, a business does not have to 'rationalize' the purchase of a telephone or the cost of subscribing to Bell Canada-- it is an established part of doing business. E-mail is just another communications infrastructure for conducting business, allowing for a less expensive but richer kind of interaction that telephones and fax machines cannot offer. Like the telephone, it is only a matter of time before having an e-mail address is as common as having a telephone number.

You can even now get secondary e-mail addresses free from companies such as Hotmail (www.hotmail.com) or Yahoo! (mail.yahoo.com). The advantage of these free e-mail services is that you have the ability to check your e-mail from any browser-enabled computer in the world. This is a bonus if you do a lot of travelling, since most ISPs only offer local access, which means hefty long-distance charges to check your e-mail if you are far from home. Another advantage of having a secondary e-mail address is that you can divert all your 'junk' or less-important e-mail to the secondary address, while maintaining your regular e-mail for friends and family. Furthermore, there are 'e-mail sniffers' roaming the Internet for e-mail addresses posted on web pages, which are then used to send out unsolicited e-mail advertisements. By publicizing your secondary e-mail address on your web pages, you can keep your regular e-mail address out of reach of these 'sniffers', and free of junk e-mail.

Spam is a Four-Letter Word

While we're on the topic of 'sniffers', you may have seen advertisements on the web for lists of e-mail addresses: "One million e-mail addresses for $499!" or something to that effect. Though these e-mail lists are a quick way to create an extensive database of e-mail addresses, they are of little use for the average small business, and may even do harm. These lists are often generated by the aforementioned 'sniffers', and the individuals on these lists are often unaware that their e-mail address has been 'sniffed'. The fundamental problem is that the people on these lists are a diverse lot, and many of them may not belong to the target market for your product or service.

Furthermore, unsolicited e-mail is colloquially called 'spam', and like many other four-letter words, they can cause much ire. Not only is this practice unethical, but your contract with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may even have clauses forbidding you from sending spam. And because the Internet environment is one of true anarchy, some users will often exact their own brand of vigilante justice on would-be spammers. The more civilized ones will contact your ISP and complain about the spam you have broadcasted. The mischievous ones will even retaliate by inundating your host server with millions of e-mail messages, preventing you from receiving your legitimate e-mail messages and effectively shutting down your ISP. Either way, you will probably find yourself without an ISP not long after a stunt like that.

The best way to build your e-mailing list, even though it is more time-consuming, is by speaking with your stakeholders, and encouraging them to join your list. Publicize your list on your web site and on all your 'real world' promotional pieces. Make collecting e-mail addresses as routine as taking down names and phone numbers. This way, not only do you avoid spamming and the nastiness that follows in its wake, but you ensure that your message is reaching the right people.

Effective E-mail Management

Administrative Assistant Stefania Gianvito

Another issue that Susan faces is managing the growing e-mailing list, which will be the responsibility of Stefania, her administrative assistant. Right now, this job is not particularly onerous, since the list only consists of a few names. However, once the list grows into the hundreds, Stefania will not be able to keep up with the additions, deletions, and changes to the e-mailing list. Fortunately, e-mail distribution list software is available freely off the Internet, which makes the management of an e-mailing list much simpler, allowing you to automate changes to your mailing list and send out hundreds of e-mail messages quickly. Listserv, Majordomo, and Listproc are the most popular utilities, in addition to the many shareware applications that you can download for free (such as at www.shareware.com). There's even a free web-based e-mail list manager available at www.makelist.com!

Outerwear by Serena

Another useful tool for composing e-mail, especially for the 'hunt-and-peck' typist, is voice-recognition software. This type of application, such as IBM's ViaVoice (www.ibm.com/viavoice), allows you to dictate your e-mail correspondence by speaking into a microphone hooked up to your computer. Of course, the use of these applications is not restricted to e-mail-- you can use voice-recognition software to dictate your word processing or to verbalize your web surfing.

E-mail distribution list software and voice-recognition software both handle the 'outbound' aspect of e-mail management, but what about handling the 'inbound' aspects, when your stakeholders are sending you queries and correspondence? A recent Computerworld survey found that 35% of all businesses do not respond to their e-mail, which is akin to only answering a third of the telephone calls that your business receives. In most businesses, only being able to answer one in three calls is unacceptable, and the same rule should apply to your e-mail. Each e-mail correspondent is a potential customer, and if you are not in the habit of checking your e-mail regularly, make it a habit.

One web tool that some companies use is the infobot, which can be used to automatically acknowledge every e-mail you receive while providing additional information about your company, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. To see an example of an infobot in action, try sending an e-mail to the President of the United States (no really!). Not long after sending a message to president@whitehouse.gov, you will receive a response from the President's infobot, thanking you for your interest, and providing you with other sources of information that may answer your query. More advanced infobots are able to read simple commands in the e-mail message, and provide tailored responses to those commands, such as finding the name of a book in a library database.


If you had to name the 'killer' application on the Internet, it would probably have to be e-mail. With it, you can communicate with people around the world, market your products, support your customers, and find new business partners. But like every other communications tool at your disposal, it must be used effectively (it can be argued that some companies still have not learned how to use the telephone properly!). With e-mail list distribution software, infobots, and e-mail-to-fax conversion services, your business can productively use e-mail to its fullest potential.


Hot Links


Want to learn more about the topics covered this week? Then check out these great web sites and resources:


Converting E-mail to Fax


Remote Printing Experiment


A free e-mail to fax service that covers most parts of the world



A Netherlands-based free service, though there are restrictions on document length and transmission times

Internet Fax Resource Page


An excellent resource listing free and for-fee Internet fax services


Voice-Recognition Software


IBM's ViaVoice



PC Magazine's Review of ViaVoice



Apple PlainTalk


Speech recognition applications for the Macintosh



Where to Get Free E-mail


Yahoo! Mail




Altavista Free E-mail


Comprehensive Guide to Free E-mail Services



E-mail List Distribution Software




A free web-based mailing list management utility. Worth a look!



You'll find dozens of shareware e-mail list distribution applications here



All About Spam


The Rules of Netiquette


A 'Miss Manners' for proper behaviour on the Internet

Cyberpromo's Page of Links About Spam


Everything you want to know about spam, including articles, legal information, and activist movements




W2-S Internet Services


This company offers a free infobot





Mark Schneider		CTV - Host of "Digital Desktop"
Tom Vassos		IBM e-business Advisor and Host of "This New SoHo"
Susan Langdon		Executive Director, Toronto Fashion Incubator
Stefania Gianvito	Administrative Assistant, Toronto Fashion Incubator


Production Credits


Anthony Steward		Camera
Andre LaPalme		Sound Technician
Anthony Leong		Senior Web Editor

All episode summaries and supplemental information written by Anthony Leong, with material and assistance from Tom Vassos, his book Strategic Internet Marketing, and Mark Schneider. 

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