Meeting marketers who are still doubtful about the potential of Internet invitations have probably never had a POPgram in their in-box. POPgrams, the creation of Boston-based POPstick Corp., are among the new breed of personalized, rich-media, interactive electronic invitations that — most important to planners — can be tracked and monitored.

POPstick has popped onto the radar screen of event marketers around the country, including those from Microsoft, Xerox, and Dictaphone, who are grabbing clients' attention with the company's Flash programming. The best way to get a feel for POPstick's gee-whiz factor is to view the POPgram samples on the company Web site (www.popstick.com), but that's just the front end. On the back end, POPgrams have a campaign-tracking database. If a recipient views, responds, or forwards the invitation, marketing executives will know about it. “We provide real-time analytics that match with an interfacer,” says POPstick CEO Dan Kastner.

How does it work? The recipient of a POPgram gets an e-mail message that says, for example, “Susan, here is your user group invitation.” It's a standard e-mail, not a big file, with a link on the bottom: “For your invitation, click here.” The link launches the recipient's Web browser, which automatically surfs to a POPgram.

Recipients view rich media — animation, music, and/or video — and have the opportunity to RSVP and forward the invitation to a colleague. And when they forward it, POPstick captures that new contact information. The product monitors click-through rates and can see if recipients play the entire presentation. Once a prospect's browser is open, the POPgram can direct the person to an online registration form or company URL.

The POPgram can be as personalized as the sender wants it to be. “At a bare minimum, it'll be personalized to the recipient's name,” explains Joe Chernov, POPstick's director of public relations. And it's also likely to take into consideration a person's location and title. “Microsoft, for example, has events in a number of regions. Using a POPgram, the company will steer the recipient to an event closest to them. Or we can have a map that allows them to choose the location. … We can have different templates for people in different job functions. A CIO would have different interests than an IT manager, but many events must draw both.”

Clients Applaud

Aimee Chabot, communications specialist for the Massachusetts Interactive Media Council, which is based in Boston, is a recent POPgram convert. “Print is costly and it's not that effective,” she says. “We can actually track e-mail. That interested us. And there was a lot of information we wanted to get to the people we target.”

MIMC used POPgrams exclusively to invite members to its October 2001 annual awards program. POPstick linked MIMC's e-mail to a Web site, made it fun and original, and packed it with information. It also enabled online registration.

Invitations to the 2001 MIMC Awards went out in mid-September, between the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and the start of anthrax arriving in the mail of politicians and the media. “We were afraid people wouldn't even come to the event,” Chabot says. “We wouldn't have been able to reach out to all these people and get them interested and excited without the POPgrams.”

About 1,000 people attended the awards program. MIMC was so happy with the results that it used POPstick again a few weeks later to send invitations for its annual holiday charity networking event.

Microsoft used POPgrams to promote a concurrent series of developer days in 33 locales. The e-marketing campaign not only promoted the event but also controlled registration. In another case, POPgrams generated 9,000 new attendees for Microsoft's XP launch and captured 1,750 new contact names through e-mail forwarding.

“Traditional e-mail marketing and direct marketing treats different people the same,” Kastner says. “We're using technology to enable marketers to treat different people differently. This active participation technology lets you see how people are responding and tweak the results. So if the campaign is developing excellent results at the CIO level, but not at the developer level, you can tweak the campaign to increase the developer response. You can tell on the fly where the campaign is working and where you need to channel more resources.

“Every marketer needs a competitive edge,” he adds. “We're looking at 20 [percent] to 25 percent response rates to our campaigns. Direct mail is usually 2 percent. I think that's why Microsoft uses our technology so frequently.”