The Love-Hate Relationship With Email Marketing

Dale Fisher posted a great little blurb about email marketing HTML at The Revolution Starts…Now? last month that reminds all of us why we love to hate email marketing. Compared to mailers, they have a number of strengths but one of email marketing’s shortcomings is how difficult it is to create a simple, HTML message that function properly in the vast array of email client delivery platforms… Fisher points out the Email Standards Project website, which is a wonderful resource for all things related to this seemingly unending pain-in-a-marketing-professional’s-neck. It seems that no matter how much online publishing platforms improve, email marketing solutions seem stuck in HTML-hell. Throughout the past several months, I’ve been examining several email marketing platforms in order to select one that will serve as Venture’s email marketing partner. This included an exhaustive examination of more than a dozen well known and off the beaten path providers. In nearly every case, each provider had unique strengths but one eventually emerged as a dominant solution and that provider is VerticalResponse.

Update, 7/21/2014: since this article was originally published, Vertical Response has unfortunately fallen by the side and failed to keep up with competitors; consequently, you should now strongly consider using MailChimp. Here’s a more recent article examining some of MailChimp’s strengths.

The areas were VerticalResponse (VR) reached above and beyond their peers includes:

    • Google Analytics integration – it will be a snap to seamlessly identify and analyze email marketing traffic from regular website traffic. Venture users will know precisely how much impact their email marketing efforts have on traffic and conversion.
    • The most robust email creation platform encountered. One of the reoccurring issues with most providers is they either relied heavily on using existing (and often dated) templates or expected users to work entirely within HTML. VR offered not only the most complete package that offers something for every level of experience but some of the most advanced user tools. The only real drawback I encountered is a problem every provider had: the ubiquitous copy/paste bug with MS Word. Those of you already familiar with this “issue” are reaching for the ibuprofen but suffice to say, although their solution isn’t as elegant as that employed by WordPress, you can copy/paste from MS Word right into a template or WYSIWYG editor without losing links and font styling.

      The inclusion of a freeform WYSIWYG editor means I’ll be able to provide users with email templates that match Venture’s included design elements. If that weren’t enough, VR also offers a thoroughly unique modular “make your own template” tool that is actually fun to use. There are plain text and freeform HTML editors for those who like to go old school (like me and Fisher).
    • No branded footers!!! I can’t stress how annoying it is to pay someone for an email marketing service and then have no choice but to include their branding in your message footers. Worse still is when they charge users to remove it! By default, VR does insert their logo into footers but it can be removed with a simple request and at no extra charge. Consequently, all Venture VR accounts will automatically have branded footers removed without users having to ask for it.
  • A full-fledged API. Showing just how much faith they have in partners, VR provides a very flexible API that will allow me to incorporate the entire email creation, list management, and message monitoring functionality directly into Venture’s admin panel. It was determined that the best course of action was to wait one year to verify the partnership and providing everything goes as planned, work to fully integrate Venture and VR in a single admin interface will kick off before the end of next season.

    In the meantime, a co-branded admin interface will provide each user with full access along with complete support from Venture’s side of the equation. Providing this sort of API was a particularly important point not simply because of the obvious benefits but because it reinforces what I consider a necessary philosophical outlook on the merits of cooperation over competition (more on this topic here).

VR’s shortcomings were few and nothing that isn’t counterbalanced with the direct support assistance that comes with Venture. For example, although VR provides a very good email signup form that plugs right into the publishing platform Venture is built on (WordPress), it needs to be tweaked to add some custom fields commonly used by most performing arts organizations. Fortunately, that’s a super easy fix and getting Venture users to incorporate the custom fields they’ll need into their signup forms will be a simple task.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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