As part of our eventRFP release, we’ve been sending out announcements to current and potential customers via email, and we hit some roadblocks on the evening of our big rollout. We’ve been using a tool called Mailchimp for our email campaigns, which is pretty popular, largely because its free level is very generous. (If you send fewer than 10,000 messages per month, there’s no cost). It’s also very feature-rich, which is one of its downsides. It’s hard to use, and particularly it’s hard to design a simple-yet-elegant template. Some of the challenges are Mailchimp-centric, and others are inherent in email marketing, but this morning I embarked on a little bit of research on various tools and methods, and I thought I’d share my findings with you.

Mailchimp is just one of dozens of email marketing platforms, including Constant Contact, Campaign Monitor, YMLP, MadMimi, and Aweber. Pricing is all over the place, but if you have 1000 subscribers, most fall between $10-30 per month. I haven’t had time to evaluate them all yet, but striking a balance between ease of use, aesthetic concerns, and feature-richness is going to be key.

One of the problems we were having with our campaign this week was that it’s very difficult to design a nice-looking email template that’s going to display consistently on various email clients. Someone receiving the email on Gmail viewed on Firefox on Windows 7 is going to see something different than the person looking on Outlook on Windows XP or on an iPhone, etc. I found, but haven’t yet tested, a service called Litmus that lets you test how your email will look on a bunch of different email programs. Its pricing is high enough ($49/mo) that probably only serious email marketers would subscribe, but there is a free trial. In general, though, a simpler email template is going to display more consistently.

In addition to needing to send announcement email, our eventRFP product also sends a lot of automatic email notifications, so while I’ve been researching email on the marketing side, I’m also keeping an eye out on the travails that Software-as-a-Service applications have with getting email notifications delivered. This may not be applicable to you, but I thought you might like to know how complicated it can be. Here’s a good overview of some of the basic steps you need to take to try to make sure your email gets through (and the comments on that blog post have some great information on email services in general). There are several email services that specialize specifically on helping you deal with your automatic email delivery, such as SendGrid and Postmark.

We know that Destination Management Companies face unique challenges when it comes to marketing, because aggressive outbound marketing is going to have a lot of misses for each hit, considering that you have to convince any potential customer to come to your destination first. But keeping in touch with past customers should definitely be low-hanging fruit, and some good email marketing tools ought to be on your radar screen. So let eventRFP bring in some new customers, while you try to cultivate long-term relationships with past ones.