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Summary:

While the web is interactive and dynamic, e-mail reflects very little of that evolution. But Movable Ink, a New York start-up, is trying to breathe new life into e-mail marketing by making e-mails real-time and context aware, creating messages that don’t go stale.

Screen shot 2011-09-07 at 1.38.17 PM

E-mail is far from dead, if my packed inbox is any indication. But not being dead isn’t the same as being alive in the way we’ve come to understand the web. While the web is interactive and dynamic, e-mail reflects very little of that evolution.

But a New York company is trying to breathe new life into e-mail marketing by making e-mails real-time and context aware. Movable Ink offers advertisers and publishers a way to push out e-mails that remain current whenever a user opens it instead of existing e-mails that become increasingly irrelevant and stale the longer time goes on.

Movable Ink does this by allowing clients to pull real-time content from their websites and easily embed that information into their e-mails. So whenever someone opens a message, it contains the most up-to-date information as well as contextual data based on a person’s location, time of day or the device they’re viewing the e-mail on. And it can reflect changes that have happened throughout the day.

“E-mail isn’t going away but it should be as real-time as the web,” said Vivek Sharma, co-founder and CEO of Movable Ink. “We’re bring e-mail up to par with all the interesting stuff on the web.”

This can be helpful for daily deal sites, marketers, publishers or anyone with an e-mail relationship with a consumer. For example, a daily deal site can provide a countdown clock within an e-mail and direct people to alternative discounts when one deal sells out. Publishers can include the latest news in a message. Event sites or ticketing services can show a live calendar, how many seats are currently available or who’s RSVPed.

GroupMe, for instance, uses Movable Ink to show the latest conversations in a group chat when new members are joining a group. Daily Candy includes live tweets in its e-mails. Double Cross Vodka includes a map showing the closest place to buy the alcohol. Sharma said daily deal sites are seeing a 33 percent lift on click-through rates and some clients are seeing up to 120 percent increases in click throughs using Movable Ink.

Users not only get the most up-to-date information, but publishers can also engage in A/B testing to see what messages or campaigns are working and update their campaigns on the fly. Sharma said customers can implement Movable Ink within a few minutes and get access to a dashboard tool to build and control their campaigns. Or for more serious developers, they can tap Movable Ink’s API for deeper integration. Sharma said his company has done a lot of back-end work building essentially a custom app server that can deliver real-time messages to any e-mail client.

Movable Ink CEO and co-founder Vivek Sharma

Sharma and co-founder Michael Nutt came up with the idea last year after trying to start a syndicated e-commerce company. Sharma said he realized the bigger opportunity was in fixing e-mail, which is an increasingly important channel for companies to stay in touch with customers. He said while some start-ups have improved the data and delivery of e-mail, there was still an opportunity in attacking the design side.

“It was just an a-ha moment because no one’s really innovating in the e-mail space,” he said. “It turns out real-time content delivery is a real problem and we’re talking to some large e-mail providers to make this is a part of their products.”

It seems like Movable Ink would be a ripe acquisition target. Or perhaps some e-mail companies might look to replicate the technology. But Sharma believes Movable Ink can become a standalone business and is more than just one feature. He’s hoping to host a gallery of real-time content widgets that clients can drop into their e-mails. Movable Ink offers a free version and a pro version that costs $49 a month. The company raised a seed round of $260,000 in March.

I think this makes sense to make e-mails more interactive. Google has done some work to make YouTube videos embeddable in e-mails, but there’s more that can be done to make e-mails much more relevant and current. This could be significant news for services like Groupon, which is trying to get people to interact directly with its website and apps but still relies a lot on e-mails to alert people about deals. Many people sign-up for e-mail alerts but fatigue can set in over time. But if the e-mails are more valuable and current, even if a user doesn’t open it right away, it can still be an important way for a marketer to keep that relationship going with a consumer.

It reminds me of PlayHaven, a mobile marketing provider that I wrote about last week, which makes mobile ads real-time and interactive. They’re showing that there’s still opportunity to bring the dynamism of the web to more products.

  1. Obvious/genius idea. Some of the best products are often no-brainers in hindsight.

    1. Big step forward in making email more relevant

  2. Dileepa Prabhakar Friday, September 9, 2011

    Hasn’t Microsoft been doing something similar w/ Hotmail? ActiveView or something like that…

    1. They have but the API is specific to just Hotmail. It’s also not very accessible to marketers. The big difference is that we are cross-platform technology (Gmail, Outlook, iPhone, Apple Mail, etc) that’s so easy a marketer can use it. If you need more flexibility we have a tool that can crop your live web content so you can drop it into your emails. Let us know what you think.

  3. Am I that scruffy looking? :) Michael Nutt (my co-founder) and I are excited about the possibility of email as a platform for richer content and applications. Keep your eyes pealed for the super-interesting things that will get built on the back of email.

    1. Congrats on the product, Vivek. Sounds like a great idea!

  4. The ideas that seem simple, but that take skill to do well, make for great products.

    Disclosure: I’m a seed investor so obviously I think these guys rock.

  5. best tool for email pitches to VCs Friday, September 9, 2011

    my startup has been getting some great traction and i’ve been using movableink to send the most up-to-date stats when emailing VCs. since they can take a week or two before actually getting to my email, want to make sure they see the best numbers (users/pageviews/etc) possible.

  6. Rather surprised that no one has done this before. It’s dead obvious and these are the best guys to tackle this. Email is finally catching up and it’s about time.

    1. It has. See http://www.lettermark.com/LetterMark-customer-gallery.htm (2000), wrapmail.com (2009), SuperSig (1999), and several others. Just make sure your investors understand penetration pricing, and don’t let the bean counters greedy on every license oppty. LetterMark was amazing, served up different templates to people in a group email, as needed, removed html from a received html email and replaced with outgoing fresh html, drop-down selections of multiple options for each dept in large enterprise, had extensions to pull the contact information into a virtual Rolodex of bizcard sized dynamic webpages, change contact information months later and the recipient pulling up the email would have the updated info, cool attachment tricks. Fun stuff. Good luck.

  7. I really like the idea but we need to delve a little deeper. Will it be used by average people. At present I cannot think of a practical use for it. In all likelihood, this will be used mainly by businesses which rely on sending data in real time. But will they stop sending emails once they have sent one single email since that one email will keep updating itself? I think not. On the other hand, I think emails will now more be like bookmarks. In fact, I feel this might start giving competition to RSS in some time where people will look at their emails to fetch latest content. I have only used the free version of it, but if we get a canvas, where one could paste multiple number of images from multiple websites, I think we have something very unique and not just in email but even otherwise! (These images can open even within browsers)

  8. Amazing idea. This will surly revolutionize how companies communicate with their customers. Just think of getting your monthly bank statement reflecting real-time data instead of outdated info.

  9. How are you going to deal with that fact that modern systems like gmail block external content by default. Although useful I can see many security issues with this..

    1. We work with marketers that tend to need compelling creative (images) to draw clicks (e.g private sale or daily deal companies). Movable Ink content shows up under the same rules (display image settings) as the sender’s own content.

  10. We (redeemio) have been using Movable Ink for a while now and love the service, not to mention Vivek is just great to work with.

  11. Siddharth Goyal Sunday, September 11, 2011

    I think the image thus created has tremendous application as facebook page image (the mascot image.) What say you Vivek? :)

    1. I hadn’t considered that one but you are absolutely correct. We’ve been focused on email but you could create a dynamic Facebook profile image using this. Go for it!

  12. REal aha moment, several other companies have been persuing this for quite some time, hey I just had this great idea, the wheel.

    1. Perhaps. But this is the first platform that makes a broad range of real-time content possible within email with no client download. There are real technical challenges hurdles here that we have had to overcome. Happy to chat about it.

  13. Nikolaos Iosif Kakavoulis Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    Been a customer for a while now. Simply brilliant idea!

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