CD Email Solutions: Email Marketing Resources, Articles and Services -
Chinie's ESP Reviews: Constant Contact, Vertical Response and MailChimp
Chinie Hidalgo Diaz
Chinie Hidalgo Diaz is a certified Email Marketing professional and a member of the eMarketing Association, the Email Experience Council, and the Email Marketers Club.   Aside from publishing the CD Email Solutions ezine, she also maintains the Philippine Emarketer's Journal.    
By Chinie Hidalgo Diaz
Published on 05/1/2008
Successful email marketing doesn't have to be expensive or stressful.  There are a LOT of do-it-yourself Email Service Providers you can make use of for an extremely reasonable price (about $15 a month) - all of which are easy to use, and can guarantee great delivery rates and list management capabilities.

Here's a rundown on 3 of my favorites so far:  Constant Contact, Vertical Response, and MailChimp.

Constant Contact
Constant Contact offers do-it-yourself email marketing and surveys, and in my view is the ESP of choice for:

  • People who’d like to create a good-looking HTML email quickly. Of the ESP’s I’ve looked into so far, Constant Contact has the prettiest ready-made HTML email templates, and the widest range of choices. All you need to do is pick a template and customize, and if you have all your content ready, you can pretty much have your email design ready in an hour.
  • Companies who send lots of emails to a small to medium-sized list. Constant Contact pricing is dependent on the number of subscribers on your list, not the number of emails you send.

What I like about it: Pretty templates and the per-contact pricing

What I don’t like about it: All outgoing emails have a Constant Contact logo at the bottom right, which you absolutely cannot remove. Also, you can only host up to 5 images on their site with the basic plan. To host more, you have to upgrade to the Premium Image hosting (an extra $5 per month). Lastly, they don’t have an autoresponder feature.

Pricing: dependent on number of contacts in your list. Starts at $15 per month for 0-500 contacts.

Free Trial details: Email free for 60 days to up to 100 contacts. (You have to pay if you have more than 100)

Vertical Response
Vertical Response offers complete email, survey, and direct marketing solutions. Use Vertical Response if:

  • You want to use your own HTML email design. Vertical Response also has hundreds of its own customizable templates, if you’d like to use them, but for those who’d like to use their own design, VR’s process of setting it up is the simplest. (Just cut and paste.)
  • You want to do more than just email marketing. Vertical response has a postcard marketing service which totally rocks - although you can only mail to US addresses. (I use it to send Christmas postcards). Basically you create your postcard mailing using their do-it-yourself software, upload your mailing list and schedule your mailing. VR will print and send your postcards via first class mail for about a dollar each.
  • You want to use and store lots of images. With your VR account you can store up to 25Mb of images free of charge, and they have an extensive library of 75,000 stock images you can also use for free.

What I like about it: Definitely the postcard mailings, and their awesome support library, which offers a lot of really valuable tips, articles, webinars, case studies and other resources for email marketing.

What I don’t like about it: As with Constant Contact, the Vertical Response logo at the bottom of every outgoing email is a non-negotiable. Also I find it a little weird that their newsletter sometimes lands in my Yahoo junk folder - although when i send a test email campaign using my account, it always goes straight to the Inbox.

Pricing: dependent on number of emails/postcards sent. Starts at $15 for 1-1000 emails, but goes lower the more emails you send.

Free Trial details: Send 25 emails and 1 postcard free

MailChimp is by far the ESP with the most personality, which is why I can’t help but mention it in list of favorites. Visit their site and you’ll see what I mean. But aside from that it has some pretty fantastic features you won’t find elsewhere. Use MailChimp if:

  • You want to send your emails out WITHOUT their logo on it. MailChimp doesn’t require you to attach their logo to your outgoing emails — so you can pretend you’re doing all this impressive HTML email sending without help from any 3rd party provider.
  • You think you can refer enough friends and associates to significantly decrease your email marketing costs. MailChimp may not require you to put their logo on your emails but if you DO, and someone clicks on it and signs up for their service, you get $30 credited to your account. (Incidentally the person you referred - the clicker - ALSO gets $30, which is pretty cool.)
  • You want to do split testing to see, for example, which subject line works better. MailChimp has a new A/B split testing feature, which you can use to run quick, automatic A/B tests with every single email you send. No need to setup randomized segments, send multiple campaigns, and constantly analyze piles of campaign data. They do it all for you. You just click the "A/B" button, specify a few criteria, and their patent-pending A/B tester handles the rest—automatically.

What I like about it: As I mentioned earlier, aside from all the great features, they also have personality! After going through all the boring corporate-type websites I have to visit each day, is like a breath of fresh air. All their web copy, including the articles in a truly fantastic resource center, is infused with wit and an often irreverent tone I find totally refreshing. (For example, they have an article entitled "Stupid HTML Email Design Mistakes (Seriously, You Should Know Better"). They also have an excellent 65-page Email Marketing Guide you can download for free at their site.

What I don’t like about it: They have 4 basic HTML templates you can customize, and though the customization wizard is cute and easy to use, there are no "ready-made" templates available that you can just tweak a little bit. You can upload your own template, but can only edit code (no WSIWYG editor). So the email creation process takes a bit longer.

Pricing: MailChimp has 2 pricing plans (which is also pretty cool). One plan is for frequent senders, based on number of subscribers. This starts at $15 for 0-500 contacts. The other plan is a prepaid "Pay-As-You-Go" plan on a per-credit basis, starting at $15 for 500 email credits (good for sending to 500 subscribers).

Free Trial Details: Email up to 100 contacts Free for 30 days

So there you have it! As I mentioned at the beginning of the rundown, all of the ESP’s in my favorites list are cheap, have excellent delivery rates, and offer all the tools you need to create, send and track your emails - so in the end the choice really boils down to what suits your particular needs and requirements.

My suggestion? Try them all out, and see which is the best fit for your personal preferences.

Good luck, and happy ESP-shopping!