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Essential Tools for Finding an E-mail Provider

March 27, 2001 

Following is the first round of e-mail provider company interviews. Today's players are Cheetah Mail, FloNetwork and messageREACH-a group that ranges from a company that just got into the market last year to the biggest fish in the e-mail pond. And check in tomorrow for company interviews, round two. On deck for tomorrow are Message Media, Netcentives and Responsys.


Irene Pedraza, CEO of Cheetah Mail, believes that what sets her company apart from the rest is its emphasis on customer intelligence. Through the Cheetah Mail platform, clients have an advanced tool to analyze customer behavior, track every point of contact with a customer, and create viral marketing campaigns. She characterizes Cheetah Mail as being between an ASP and a full service model, which she believes gives them an added level of flexibility in dealing with customer needs. Cheetah Mail does not license out its software.

Pedraza thinks that one of the major selling points of Cheetah Mail is its ability to deliver fast, reliable "pushes." Also notable is the "reserve mail" tool which helps direct marketers ensure they are not overmailing, as well as the vast array of event-triggered mailings they support. According to Pedraza, these functionalities help Cheetah Mail meet the needs of direct marketers and e-commerce sites.

Pedraza believes that the current wave of consolidation in the e-mail provider space only points to the value of the industry's services. She believes that this can only help Cheetah Mail because consolidation will reduce the number of competitors and may reduce the time to market of the acquired companies.

I found the versatility of Cheetah Mail's UI to be impressive. Their system allows the user to edit parts of messages regardless of where in the message creation process you are-a change from most other providers that use linear models, where if you make a mistake you start over from the beginning. Unfortunately, their UI is not as intuitive as some others, and requires a fair amount of practice before you get the hang of where things are.

Cheetah Mail averages between 30-100 million e-mails sent a month, with seasonal influences accounting for the wide disparity. Some of their main clients include Barnes & Noble, Ericsson, Internet World and Neiman Marcus.


Chris Keevill is the president and COO of FloNetwork, which was recently acquired by DoubleClick. Keevil believes that DoubleClick's acquisition of FloNetwork will have far-reaching implications for the industry. Internally, the acquisition will mean the eventual merging of the FloNetwork platform with DoubleClick's DART Mail. A team of programmers is currently working on this transition. Keevil maintains that FloNetwork's infrastructure will not be changing, although he concedes that the branding issues have yet to be worked out. Chris is unconcerned about the merger slowing down their development time, noting that DoubleClick is by now very experienced in absorbing new companies.

Looking forward, Keevil sees further consolidation in the market. He believes that in the next six quarters, one dominant player will emerge from the pack with well over 50 percent of the market, with several smaller players combining for 25 percent, and then a whole slew of niche companies taking another 10 percent of the market. Chris believes that FloNetwork is uniquely poised to become that dominant player, with the acquisition by DoubleClick giving them the ability to be a part of a one stop shop for clients.

Chris believes the key to maintaining high ROI and double-digit response rates is the ability to make the message relevant to the reader. One of the ways FloNetwork allows this is their ability to deliver highly personalized messages. The next generation will be the delivery of more rich media to an assortment of different platforms, such as wireless phones, PDAs, and even television. Chris thinks the winner in that race will be the company that can put control over the inbox in the hands of the user.

I was very impressed with FloNetwork's new release, version 3.0. Its ability to store templates, allowing the user to plug in content in predetermined fields, and create highly personalized messages make this product one of the best on the market. Unfortunately, they've had to push back the release due to problems with the reporting functionality. Keevil maintains that the problems have been addressed and the product will be released shortly.

FloNetwork delivers 450 million messages each month for 150 long-term clients. Some of their clients include Barnes & Noble, CNET, Digitrends, Inktomi and Procter & Gamble.

*****MessageREACH entered the e-mail providing game in January of 2000. In the past year, the company has rapidly grown into a skilled player in the field. Matt McGill is the director of market development for messageREACH.

MessageREACH has been in the messaging industry for 12 years-- originally it was a fax communications company. Although its customer base is fairly diverse, messageREACH specializes in invoicing and point-to-point transactions as well as e-mail marketing.

Although messageREACH does provide a Web-based analogue, McGill notes that the company is unique in that its model focuses on having clients host their own lists and most processes on their own network or desktop. He believes that the current consolidation of e-mail providers will only increase in the near future, due to the fact that many companies in the market are currently overextended.

Rather than entering content directly into a Web-based user interface, messageREACH clients use a Microsoft-based application on their desktop to create content. Once they are finished, they can FTP the finished file to the messageREACH server for delivery. According to McGill, messageREACH prides itself on being able to customize this access software based on a client's needs. Although the software is elegant in its high level of intuitiveness, its dependence on the client's network and desktop may cause problems for people who are on the move or companies that have more than one network. And although the Web-based analogue may solve some of these problems, some features like templating are only available through the client's network.

MessageREACH currently delivers about 60 million messages per month. Their client base includes Bank One, Credit Suisse-First Bank of Boston, DIRECTV, Mcgraw-Hill and Sam's Club. At this time they are purely a service bureau and do not license out their software.

by Blas Nunez-Neto, from

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