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RSS: What's in It for Marketers? (Part 2)

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A few weeks ago I started this discussion with part 1. Here's the follow-up.

About two or so years ago, Mike Hogan, my COO and head legal council at Harrisdirect, called me into his office. Mike was concerned about the new anti-spam laws and the requirements surrounding ".ADV" being in the subject line.

Mike muttered at the end of the meeting something like "We'll have to figure out how to get around using email" because it would be nearly impossible to push it out due to phishing.

Phishing? What the heck is that?

Phishing is a huge problem for financial services companies. All you need is some rat to grab a copy of your email, change the links, and redirect to a site where they grab your login information and use it to, say, withdraw money.


Because of phishing, every time there is a problem with your email delivery, you end up scrambling to make sure you weren't phished.

I devised a way around communicating with customers by dropping a cookie on them. When they logged into the site (and then when my ad server BlueStreak saw them on our Internet advertising buy), we would serve them retention banner ads instead of acquisition ads.

Mike gave me a look that told me, "That's clever, but now go figure something else out."

Fast-Forward to a Real-Life Problem

We continued down the email path right until E*trade acquired us, so I'm not privy to their current plans. But one of my financial services clients does not send out emails to a significant part of its client base, simply because of phishing concerns.

So how do you take advantage of customers who want to communicate via email?

Simply SimpleFeed

I started sniffing around (rummaging through very old blogs and techie documents) and eventually stumbled across SimpleFeed, which is a company started by Mark Carlson.

With SimpleFeed, you can publish information your clients want—and use a template to make them look like your Web site. Plus, you can make the transaction secure and authenticate it (eliminating SPAM and phishing) and track it—just like it was an email.

I love the fact that the product can make RSS feeds look like an email or your Web page; plus, the security features make it very attractive to financial services companies.

Now What?

What are the problems keeping marketers from using RSS?

First of all is the low penetration. Of course, a lot of folks think it will grow—but what should you do in the meantime?

How about just implementing it on a few pages where the information is updated frequently? To do that, you need to come up with a naming convention. Sure people recognize the RSS icon, but the majority of folks wouldn't even know to click on it. I'd suggest something like your company name:NewsFeeds or InfoFeeds or Feeds.

So, if Harrisdirect were still in business, I'd put a link next to the RSS icon and call it Harrisdirect:InfoFeeds. When someone clicked on the link, they would jump to a page where they could check off the feeds they were interested in, and then link them to a page where they would choose from a variety of popular RSS readers.

The next problem would be the look and feel of the feed and the security question. That's where SimpleFeed's platform would come into play. You could use one of its templates and create a great-looking feed that would look like a Web page or even an email.

Plus, you could even use the feed for cross-selling. Don't think you could handle it? How about checking out Lillian Vernon's RSS feed?

Do I think email will be replaced by RSS? Hardly. But it is complimentary.

It is much easier to pound through a few hundred RSS feeds than a few hundred emails. However, I believe that secure RSS feeds have a strong position in the marketplace, especially in transactional businesses like financial services, online banking, and retail.

And, with phishing concerns not going away, it looks like RSS could be the real deal.


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Eric Frenchman is an online marketing and advertising consultant in New Jersey and chief internet strategist for the online political agency Connell Donatelli (www.connelldonatelli.com). He is a frequent contributor to the daily MarketingProfs blog, the Daily Fix (blog.marketingprofs.com), and writes his own marketing blog (www.ericfrenchman.com).

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