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Modem Marketing


E-Mail, EDI,
Bulletin Boards

Thousands of computer networks connect millions of individual computer users. Thousands of networks alone link big manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers. Last to develop have been the national, entertainment, and information computer networks.

What has allowed all these networks to flourish is the proliferation of computer modems. The first modem was a simple device which "interpreted" between a computer and a telephone. Modems connected to the computers make possible a "phone conversation" between two computers. The two become a computer network to send to each other various kinds of data.

A local area network (LAN) is a small- to moderate-size network, usually within a building or cluster of buildings. A wide-area network (WAN) is usually larger and further apart, often nationwide and sometimes worldwide.

Participants in wide-area networks include members of leading professional and trade associations and employees of large companies. Special carrier networks interlink each network and allow computers to communicate at local phone rates. A gateway connects one network to another.


Basic Modem Applications

Let's start our review of modem marketing opportunities by examining how one of the simplest applications evolved. A bulletin board system (BBS) is a computer (usually a PC) and modem set up to receive calls and act as a host system. The first was an online computer version of the community bulletin board at the local grocery store. Users left and/or picked up messages. Then they "talked" online and exchanged information. This soon developed into desktop broadcasting. BBS's became little videotex newspapers or magazines, club meeting places by computer and little "mutual aid" societies.

Computer bulletin boards worldwide pour out new kinds of information on several hundred thousand varied, narrow-niche interests. These bulletin board systems have proliferated far and wide because

  1. The cost of modems has plummeted while their capabilities and transmission speed have multiplied.

  2. Faster modems send more information each minute for less cost.

  3. Long-distance phone costs per minute dropped 50 percent in 10 years. In addition, the capacity and quality of telephone transmission lines have improved greatly with the widespread use of integrated services digital network (ISDN) and fiber-optic technologies.

  4. Modems are now an integral part of most office computers and many home computers. In fact, the number of modems is an ever bigger percentage of the total number of computers worldwide.

  5. Information stored on computers became accessible through new retrieval-and-analysis software.

There are often thousands of databases available which are of some potential usefulness to a single field of interest. For an ever-growing number of fields, there is a vast database network which comprises a universe of information from libraries, universities, business schools, and other primary databases available directly online from newspapers; magazines; newsletters; and research organizations covering science, medicine, the law, business, and the government.

Later in this and subsequent chapters, we'll explore computer bulletin boards and online networks in greater depth. But first, let's examine two other forms of modem marketing: E-mail and EDI. Electronic mail (E-mail) is the exchange of messages via a network or bulletin board system. One user leaves the message "addressed" to another user, who can read it and later reply. Users by the millions send billions of messages a year. Eighty percent of them are internal or within an organization. E-mail has been growing at the rate of 20 percent a year. Although big companies have their own E-mail networks, many smaller organizations use public E-mail networks such as AT&T Mail, MCI Mail, and SprintMail.

The fastest-growing kind of messaging network is electronic data interaction (EDI), the computer-to-computer exchange of standard business data in a standard machine-readable data format. Presently, about 20 EDI public networks exist in the United States alone, plus several thousand intercompany EDI networks. This number is increasing at a rate of about 40 percent a year.


Communications Tool to Marketing Media

Modem marketing (MM) is the use of any such media to create sales that would otherwise not occur. The easiest way to start is via E-mail. John C. Dvorak and Nick Anis, whose book on PC telecommunications I recommend,1 suggest these E- mail uses:

E-mail provides for instant interactivity (which mail and overnight courier can't) while reducing the potential for errors of phone conversations. E-mail is far cheaper than communicating by courier, often cheaper than mail, and sometimes cheaper than fax. E-mail is generally perceived as urgent as a fax or a courier message and more urgent than mail. And E-mail can be combined with fax or broadcast fax via any PC and faxboard or public network.

However, people prefer to read only short letters on screen and sometimes not even that. An E-mail printout is an extra step. In addition, using a modem with a PC is not as familiar to most as using a fax. To date, modem phone numbers are known far less than fax numbers and scarcely at all compared with phone numbers. Unsolicited E-mail is rarely permissible and often is resented as "junk E-mail."

Moreover, all E-mail networks still do not have a single standard, although faxes do. E-mail network interconnection can have complications and extra cost. Sometimes, interconnection proves to be impossible. Plus, E-mail has no envelope, so it can be read by anyone accessing the computers at either end (without security steps, which for new users take time and trouble).

Considering E-mail marketing? Yes! As postage, printing, and paper costs increase, E-mail becomes more useful. You can use its strengths and, with simple steps, overcome most of its weaknesses. Always use E-mail only as a service, only where prearranged with the customer or prospect, and only with short messages for most promotion. If you word-process yourself, it's easy to communicate by modem yourself, including your identification for security. If an assistant word-processes for you, he or she can E-mail for you.

If you want to use E-mail marketing, how do you start? A single letter via a public E-mail network such as AT&T Mail, MCI Mail, and SprintMail can start you on your way.

At the end of this chapter are phone numbers to get the latest rates plus suggestions for helpful books, magazines, and newsletters. Get the permission of your biggest customers and their modem numbers first. Establish with each a computer-mailbox number and a personal identification number (PIN) for each executive. Set up a computer address file.

Begin E-mail slowly. E-mail's copy format is typically unstructured. It's freeform and meant to be easily read. E-mail connotes urgency. Send E-mail to a customer only about what is important to that customer, such as a back-order has just been shipped, or a price reduction or price protection is available before an imminent price raise. To interested parties, appropriate E-mail messages may concern a looming shortage, a new sweeping guarantee, or a break-through product. Form an E-mail relationship, customer by customer. Then do the same with prospects.

As in every form of modem marketing, E-mail can create inquiries and orders by modem. These naturally supply you with names, modem phone numbers, and E-mail box numbers. Develop an E-mailing list. When this list is within one network, sending an E-mailing to everyone often costs nothing more, even to thousands (we'll later cover this in more detail).