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The new age of fax

While more North Americans might think that Elvis is alive than fax technology, faxing continues to be a highly effective marketing and communications tool-thanks to Internet-based faxing. Industry watchers have noted that the Internet fax market is growing at a rate of approximately 50% per year.

Faxing over the Internet introduces a potential previously unknown in traditional fax technology. According to a Nielsen NetRatings report from Dec. 2003, 64% of Canadians have access to the Internet. That means over 20 million potential Internet fax users in this country could be sending and receiving faxes by e-mail. But why would they?

Simple: Fax is omnipresent in business. Every day, direct mail, purchase orders, forms and a variety of documents are delivered via fax machines. While traditional fax technology is useful, the advent of one-to-one marketing has created demand for new methods of fax delivery that are easier, cheaper and more personalized.

A key strategy in any successful marketing campaign is to reach more customers. Internet-based faxing provides several benefits in this department. Permission-based fax broadcasting services allow for the personalization of large distribution lists merely by touching a button. They also allow for immediate distribution of updated materials to pre-configured customer lists. For example, if your company has regular quarterly price cuts or other regular sales incentive programs, by merging various data sources, select customers can have personalized information sent to them regularly, with a one-time setup.

For public relations purposes, the same rules apply: News releases can be customized and faxed to newsrooms around the world, with minimal cost and effort compared to paper-based faxing methods.

From a one-to-one marketing perspective, what better way for real estate agents to approach potential buyers by sending customized property listings the minute they appear? Agents can fax different client listings at the same time-a key feature when multiple open houses tend to be held at the same time each weekend.

For companies like Strategy Institute, a research-based organization in Toronto that monitors and communicates changes and trends in business, Internet-based fax has proven to be an ideal way to deliver strategic business knowledge to their customers, primarily professionals and corporate executives. Strategy Institute's customers say they prefer to receive marketing information by fax because the technology is less intrusive, with less chance of it being mistaken for spam (unlike e-mail, faxes are not blocked by filters).

Another advantage of Internet fax has to do with security and privacy rules-both a company's own policies, which are critical to maintaining credibility with customers, and government regulations like the Personal Information Protection and Electronics Documentation Act (PIPEDA). Whereas e-mail can be intercepted, a fax service allows the user to log onto a secure website to send a fax (when the person receives a fax, he gets an alert with a link to download the fax).

Traditional fax machines present potential privacy and security risks as paper faxes can sit in plain view on shared fax machines. With e-mail and web-based faxing, incoming faxes are sent directly to the intended recipient and are confidential, without additional hardware or software.

One privacy consulting firm, Toronto-based Nymity Inc., provides businesses with privacy knowledge and resources through training and subscription services, which means the company's own data security is critical. By using fax-over-Internet technology, its customers can disclose private financial information, and Nymity can comply with privacy regulations like PIPEDA, Gramm-Leach-Bliley and Sarbanes-Oxley.

Customers expect information immediately and demand that voice and data keep up with fleeting attention spans and hectic schedules. Though traditional fax methods may seem outdated, the Internet has put a new face on fax.

JOSEPH NOUR is CEO of Protus IP Solutions, an application service provider in Ottawa.

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