CARY — LetterMark is about to make its “mark” as a major player in the web-enhanced email marketing sector, landing its first major contract with an international firm.

Research Triangle Software and Marriott International are announcing today that Marriott will use LetterMark software from RTS to help drive its global branding efforts.

“This is a huge, huge deal for us,” RTS founder and owner Jeff LeRose told Local Tech Wire. “Not only is it a very large order for us but it’s important because of the Marriott name. This will help us a lot with other major corporations.

“The major importance is a real confirmation that our product is wanted and desired by major corporations,” he added. “Marriott a real name brand, and they are very, very conscious and protective of their brand. To use LetterMark to help drive their brand says a lot.”

Specifics of the deal were not disclosed, but LTW learned the deal is a multi-year contract starting with “thousands” of user licenses and could be worth more than “seven figures”.

“LetterMark Email supports Marriott’s marketing initiatives by enabling all of our employees to strengthen our brand with every email they send,” said Kirby Smith, vice president of field marketing with Marriott, in the announcement. “With LetterMark Email, we can use multiple LetterMark templates to professionally feature specific hotel brands, promote events, announce special offers and showcase recent news.”

Marriott signed on with LetterMark after an extensive pilot program with 100 users in 2004. The firm operates more than 2,800 properties in 70 countries. Brand hotels and loding properties include: Marriott, JW Marriott, The RitzCarlton, Renaissance, Residence Inn, Courtyard, TownePlace Suites, Fairfield Inn, SpringHill Suites, Ramada International and Bulgari.

‘Dynamic Republishing’ a Key Factor

LetterMark provides its software as an application service provider and offers what LetterMark President Ken Arneson calls “dynamic republishing”.

“One thing that really got them interested is our dynamically republishing, which means graphics are not embedded in the email itself; they are downloaded at our data center,” Arneson explained. “Marriott has a number of campaigns that they feature and these change over time. When there is a change, they can go to the data center, make a change in the template and all emails sent out have the updated promotion information.

“Also, since the graphics aren’t embedded in the email, when anyone goes back to open an older email they get the new information as well as any changes in contact information.”

The use of email is exploding, according to a variety of statistics. Emarketer recently reported that email volume is expected to hit 2.7 trillion messages by 2007, nearly double the number sent in 2003. Also, more than 91 percent of Internet users in the United States use email.

However, personalization of email with services such as LetterMark remains relatively rare. Jupiter Research reported earlier this year than only 4 percent of emails are personalized.

LeRose bought FullSeven Technologies, which developed LetterMark, in February of last year. LetterMark had won more than 100 customers and had several thousand users, but the Marriott deal is the breakthrough LeRose has sought.

“We have demonstrated to people that we will increase web traffic up to 30 percent if they use LetterMark,” he said. “Almost every email a company sends out is an advertisement link to its web site.”

Moving Toward the Black

With the close of the Marriott deal and the continuing growth of its other major product — CryptoStick, which are portable devices for data storage and encryption — LeRose said RTS is already ahead of revenue reported in 2004, looks to grow by more than 100 percent this year and should be “cash flow positive” before the year is out.

RTS employs 12 people, including five working on LetterMark.

“We’re still looking for money,” LeRose added. He is seeking outside investors to help him grow the firm. “We need some investment to take advantage of the momentum we are achieving and so we can take advantage of market. The company has two products that are doing great. We’re not a typical startup because we don’t need to prove they can sell. We just need to get the word out.”

The UptonGroup, a brand-strategy and communications management consulting firm based in Richmond, introduced LetterMark to Marriott on behalf of RTS.