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Review: Campaign Monitor, Email Newsletter Software

Campaign Monitor is an online email marketing application that enables designers to create, send, manage and track branded emails for themselves and their clients with ease. Freshview, the company behind Campaign Monitor recently updated the software, adding additional functionality that enables designers to not just run campaigns but actually re-sell it as if it were their own product. They’ll even let you rebrand the application interface and set your own mark-up on the pricing!

37signals uses Campaign Monitor for their HTML emails

HTML email? No thanks!
Along with every other designer I know I’m not exactly the biggest fan of HTML emails. The sheer number of email clients and their sketchy CSS support dredges up memories of web development in the late 90’s. Tables? Inline styles? …and that’s just to get it displaying correctly across the many (many!) email packages, not to mention managing the recipient email addresses and tracking the campaign results. It all sounds far too complicated, expensive and not at all what I got into this web design malarkey for.

Clients do love those branded emails though, so it looks like they’re here to stay. Let’s be thankful then for Campaign Monitor.

First impressions count
Two things struck me immediately about Campaign Monitor (before I had even signed-up for an account). The first was the pricing and just how much you seem to get for very little cost (you can actually do an awful lot for free). Unlike many other internet applications there’s no sign-up or monthly fee; you simply pay whenever you send emails to more than 5 people, which means you can thoroughly test almost everything about the service before committing. The pricing structure is very straightforward – you pay $US5 plus $0.01 per recipient, so sending an email to 500 people would cost $5 plus (500 x $.01) = $10. You also have the option of invoicing clients a marked up cost.

Get paid when your clients send html emails

The other thing that really stood out was the wealth of resource and support information offered across the CM website. Rather than just promote the product it offers information about best practice for designing and sending HTML emails, a run-down of CSS support offered by various email clients as well as tips on how to pitch and charge-for email marketing campaigns. The content across the site is really well written and leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling that ongoing support from these guys won’t be a problem.

Sounds Great, but What About the App?
Once you have signed up to use Campaign Monitor you are provided with a personalised ‘mycompany.createsend.com’ domain name. This is where you manage your clients, email campaigns, billing for each client and your own account settings which includes the white label customisation settings for the interface. You can choose from nine different colour schemes, add your own logo, add a log in form directly from your own site and even change the createsend url to your own domain if you want.

Just like the CM website, the app itself is beautifully designed with a clear, simple interface, that makes it easy to find your way around (which is no small feat given the amount of functionality it’s packing). It’s testament to this intuitive design and the friendly, succinct copywriting, that I never once felt lost or confused while using the application (there’s a good spattering of in-context advice and help links in case you do need assistance or further information as you go though).

Clients and Billing
The first page you’re greeted with is a simple dashboard which lists your clients and a run-down of latest activity. Adding new clients is very quick and easy with a short one-page form where you can set exactly how much access they can have to the system, what they will be able to see and do, as well as their billing details. You can choose to run things exactly as you please, from allowing no client access and sending your own invoice outside of the application, to allowing your client to do everything themselves and have Campaign Monitor charge them and send you your mark-up profit automatically.

Sub-accounts for each client are automatically generated. This is where you can track each client’s campaign, add email templates, create and send emails, manage their subscriber lists and view related campaign reports. These are also the pages that your client will see if you’ve provided them with access to their account.

Sending and managing campaigns
Sending a new campaign is straightforward, and presented as a four-part linear process that you are guided through step-by-step in a clear and logical manner. Once you’ve set the campaign title, subject line, sender and reply-to addresses you import your email design and content. Depending on how you choose to mark-up the html (don’t worry – it’s easy and explained clearly on the Campaign Monitor website) you can invoke a fancy new WYSIWYG editor that you or your clients can use to add content to the email and see exactly what it will look like in real time as you type.

Let clients add and edit email content in real time using the super-simple WYSIWYG editor.

Next you add your list of recipients and send it off. One of my favourite features was how you can choose to have Campaign Monitor test your email design and content to ensure it renders correctly in most email clients and will pass through spam filters and firewalls. This really stood out for me as an amazingly useful feature. As designers we all know what a nightmare it can be making sure our sites render correctly in all browsers, but all of the email clients; web-based, desktop and mobile too? No chance. The only complaint I have was that I found this to run a little too slowly (about half an hour) and still not all of the results came back. The guys at Freshview ensure me that this is being improved however, and I still think it’s well worth the extra $5 they charge for the hassle it saves regardless!

There’s a lot of little extra features associated with sending out a campaign such as automatic archiving of campaigns within each clients’ sub-domain but two nice little touches that really caught my attention were the ability to automatically convert your email’s css from an external sheet to inline styling at import, and automatically generating an online version for those recipients to whom the email doesn’t look right. I had assumed these were both things I’d have to take the time to implement as the designer, so was pleasantly surprised to find them built-in. In fact, I was hard pressed to find anything missing at all, and instead was frequently surprised by handy, unexpected little features like these.

And the Rest
When I first looked at Campaign Monitor I assumed sending branded html email was pretty much it, but that’s just the start! Once your campaign gets sent you can track all manner of information about who opened it, what they clicked, who marked it as spam and who unsubscribed, all presented in a nice Google-Analytics style interactive report. In fact, there’s integration with Google Analytics too, so you can track where on your site recipients go after reading your campaign!

Real time, interactive campaign information presented in a clear, familiar ‘Google Analytics’ style report.

There are a number of other notable features, and improvements over the previous version worth mentioning that I came across while trying out the system but didn’t get to explore fully, particularly around targeting subscribers, generating sign-up forms, subscriber management and the Campaign Monitor API. You can find the full list of features and find out more about them over at the Campaign Monitor site.

Is it Any Good?
You can probably tell by now that I have become a fan of Campaign Monitor. In the course of a week I’ve gone from dreading a client asking for a HTML email to being a lot more interested in the potential that branded email marketing has to offer both my business and my clients’. Campaign Monitor removes so much of what was a hassle before that I’m even starting to think I might start promoting it as service to my clients. I could even make some cash out of it too!

Software name: Campaign Monitor (White Label version)
Developer: Freshview
Price: $US5 plus $0.01 per recipient (but you can set your own mark-up)
Rating (out of 5): 5

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