November 05, 2003
How To

Adding Audio to Email Campaigns: Inspiration from 4 Marketers, 5 Tips, and 5 Vendors

SUMMARY: Let's face it, 90% of the population doesn't really enjoy reading. Yet, email to a large extent is based on the written word. Yes, you can test rich media (Flash, streamed video, etc) to catch their eye... but the production costs can be prohibitive for lots of tests or regular ongoing campaigns such as newsletters. So, we wondered, what if you just try audio? We interviewed four marketers who've tested it, got some creative samples for you, and included links to a few vendors:
Audio clips in email can help your campaign stand out in a crowded inbox; encourage people to forward your email to their friends (especially if the audio is funny); and, get your point across to people who don't adore reading (i.e. 90% of the population.)

If you're considering including audio in emails, here's a quick rundown on how to do it successfully:

-> First things first: can you send audio email? -> Inspiration from 4 marketers -> 5 tips to make audio work -> Snapshot profiles of 5 vendors

-> First things first: can you send audio email?

Upwards of 90% of today's PCs and Macs have the ability to play audio files. Even in corporate America -- where some large companies have computers that haven't been upgraded in years -- the majority of offices have computers equipped with audio, says Phil Leigh, Senior Analyst, Inside Digital Media.

However, audio email deliverability is a different story.

Many filters block emails with audio, and email clients such as Yahoo and Hotmail block or strip emails containing Java or Flash. Plus, if you're sending to the government or other institutions who are still using Lotus Notes, they won't be able to get the audio clip, either.

This doesn't mean you should forget audio. Instead of embedding audio right in the email, consider putting a link to it in your message that sends users to a landing page where they can launch the audio.

"About 40% of people that open our HTMLs click through to the landing page," says Michael Diamond, President and Founder of 3 Buddies, a viral marketing agency that handles audio campaigns.

Note: 40% is a *high* number; most marketers can't expect to get such a high click rate. Diamond attributes his success to three things: recipients are "brand-loyalists," the emails include incentives for going to the page and listening, and the emails are funny, which is always a good driver.

-> Inspiration from 4 marketers

o Power Nissan -- uses audio as a sales tool

"A lot of times we don't get the opportunity to shake hands and show (shoppers) our smiling faces," says Linda Webber Director of Fleet/ecommerce Operations for Power Nissan, an automotive dealer whose Internet sales represent upwards of 50% of their total retail operations.

Each time a lead comes in (either through the web, the dealership, or offline marketing), the sales managers send out an email that includes a photo of him or herself, along with an audio clip introducing themselves. (Link to sample below.) Webber feels this gives shoppers the personal touch they'd normally get if they went to the dealership.

"A lot of folks are leery about going to a car dealership," says Webber. "I'm a firm believer that if they just get the chance to meet us, they'll come down."

Later, Webber personally sends emails to customers after they have purchased a vehicle. The emails include an audio clip of Webber’s voice, thanking them and encouraging them to respond with questions or comments. (Link to sample below.)

Though Webber just began this campaign about a month ago, she has had a number of people respond to her thank-you emails. "People do reply, and that's important," she says.

o Seagate Technology -- using audio for corporate communications

"We deliver a lot of information in text format already," says Forrest "Woody" Monroy, Exec Director of Corporate Communications, "and people only have a certain amount of capacity for reading emails or memos or other written communications."

Monroy implemented an audio newsletter called "LiveWire" for internal communications to the company's 42,000 employees. Employees got an email notification with a link each time a new episode was posted on the Intranet.

"You spend a lot of time trying to get strategic messages from the executives in management out to the rank and file," he says. "We'd do direct interviews with our management about a variety of topics and deliver it directly to people's desktops for them to listen to according to their schedule."

Seagate's newsletters were broken down "like an NPR broadcast, with individual stories, usually three main items and some real short recurring features such as a quiz," says Monroy. "We'd call employees at random and ask them a question about Seagate and then tape it. They loved it." (Link to sample below.)

o ADBUMb -- using audio as attention-getter

ADBUMb, a trade publication sent via email, sometimes uses audio as a background in their newsletters as a tactic to cut through the noise in crowded inboxes. Subscribers are media buyers and online ad brokers who get an enormous amount of email each day. ADBUMb's music is a tactic to catch subscribers as they surf through their inboxes deleting messages.

A recent example: the high-pitched (perhaps annoying is a better word) voices of the "Annie" cast singing "It's a Hard Knock Life."

"We didn't include an option to turn the audio off, so it definitely caught attention," says Tia Fix, ADBUMb COO. "But at the same time, our newsletters are supposed to be kind of annoying, so it probably worked."

o Steve Bennett, book author -- using audio for PR

When a new edition of Bennett's book '356 TV-Free Activities' came out last spring, he sent an email with a link to an audio clip (with limited animation) to close to 600 reporters at daily newspapers and parenting magazines. (Link to sample below.)

Of those 600, 60 of them actually went to the link in the email and listened to the audio. 45 downloaded the entire press kit, and Bennett eventually landed 34 interviews.

-> 5 Tips to Make Audio Work

Tip #1. Keep it short

A greeting shouldn't be more than 15 or 20 seconds long, suggests Brett Duncan, CEO of Keep testimonials to 30-45 seconds. Howeverm a training audio clip can go on for two or three minutes.

Seagate's Monroy agrees. "People might think 30-minute programs are okay. That's wrong," he says. In Seagate’s newsletters, he kept individual stories to two minutes max. The entire newsletter never ran longer than 10 minutes.

"A couple of minutes doesn't sound like much time, but people don't have a whole lot of time or the attention span to sit through a long, complicated story."

Tip #2. Be funny

"If you can get a viewer to laugh we have found time and time again that you own them and they will send it to family and friends," says 3 Buddies' Diamond.

Tip #3. Make audio a user choice

If you are sending to people at work, don't have the audio automatically start blasting (think of the poor soul in a cubicle whose boss is watching his every move).

Let them turn the audio on themselves, when they want it (and if they want it).

Tip #4. Consider professional voice talent

Unless the audio clip is intended to be a personal greeting from a specific person (for example, the sales emails with intro from Power Nissan), it's best to use top voice talent, says Diamond. Annunciation, clarity, and excitement in the voice is very important, he says.

If you're recording the clip yourself, use a land line phone with a cord, and don't use a headset or speakerphone.

Tip #5. Keep your eye on the end goal

Don't just use audio for the sake of using audio. Remember that every part of the email campaign needs to answer the question: is it helping to sell the goods?

That means carefully crafting everything from your subject line to the wording in the email that drives users to the site to the landing page. All of these touchpoints should reinforce the message in the audio clip, before the audio is even played by the user.

-> Snapshot profiles of 5 vendors

Here are a variety of vendors representing the different services available to you. These are *not* meant to be specific recommendations. Rather, they are a starting point for your research. Each company offers something a little different.

In alpha order:

o 3 Buddies A big, creative agency that can run the whole campaign for you, soup to nuts, it specializes in viral email campaigns that increase clients' email lists, often using humor and incentives.

o Bennett Digital Media Using professional voiceover artists, they record and package your content in a Flash-based player for distribution on the Web, in CDs or DVDs. They focus on four key client-types: science and technology companies; online merchants; consultants, expert witnesses, and spokespeople; and educational and training communications.

o Destiny Media Technologies/Clipstream The company offers a nifty service called Audio Mail that gives users a number to call and leave a voice message. The message is immediately sent to the marketer's email which they can in turn send via email as an audio clip.

Our favorite use of this service? Ski resorts that phone in with a ski report and then bang out an email to die-hard snow bunnies.

o Greene Creative Services They focus on helping clients produce audio newsletters (they're the agency that created the Seagate newsletter we mentioned above). They can handle everything for you, or help you learn to do it yourself.

o RaveReviewBiz Similar to Bennett Digital Media, but the RaveRunner audio product lets you record your own personalized greeting using your very own voice, and can also include customer testimonials.

NOTE: Here's a link to the samples of the audio campaigns we mentioned above

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