Movable Ink breathes life into e-mail

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 (s goog) 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.