Caption by: Christian Harris
In its broadest sense, email marketing covers every electronic message you ever send to a customer, potential customer or public venue. In general, though, the term is used to refer to sending direct promotional emails to try and acquire new customers or persuade existing customers to buy again.
This type of marketing is popular because sending email is much cheaper than most other forms of communication. Email lets you deliver your message to people directly, unlike a web site where people have to come to your message. As a result, email marketing has proven very successful for those who do it right. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Apart from the complexities of designing and delivering email messages to the right people, there's the issue of getting them to actually read and respond to your message and measuring and analysing the results. There's also the issue of permission.
This is where Infacta's GroupMail comes into play. The software lets you send highly formatted, professional-looking messages that are personalised for each of your recipients. You can also manage an unlimited number of fully customisable lists with an unlimited number of recipients in each, as well as run and maintain CAN-SPAM compliant newsletters with automated subscription, removal and filtering support. What's neat about GroupMail is that you don't need to worry about keeping your valuable recipient details private and completely secure (email addresses are never disclosed to recipients), and it handles bounces automatically and verifies recipients.
GroupMail has more useful features up its sleeve: you can send messages directly to your recipients from your desktop, or through a dedicated email server using multiple connections (it works with practically all corporate email systems); you can send personalised wireless mobile SMS text messages to recipients using a free email to SMS gateway tool; and you can prepare and schedule messages for delivery any time in the future. You can further extend functionality via a growing range of add-ons.
GroupMail is available in four editions. The most basic version is free and can be used as long as you want. Pitched at the home user or sole trader, GroupMail Free Edition has most of the features you'll need to get started with group messaging on a limited scale. You only get four newsletter templates, address book import support is limited, add-on (plug-in) support is lacking, you can only send to a maximum of 100 recipients at a time, and it supports single connection sending only.
GroupMail Personal Edition (£79.99) lets you manage groups and lists of any size and you can send to them quicker using multiple connections. You can even send direct to your recipients without the need for an SMTP mail server, and you get a range of add-ons to help manage and maintain your groups more easily. Other benefits include the ability to send HTML and or text newsletters, to preview a message before sending, as well as to import Outlook Express, Eudora, Opera, AOL and Netscape address books and distribution lists — vital for any business already using an email client with a fat contacts database. Over 20 newsletter templates are included and add-on support is included.
GroupMail Business Edition (£199) is designed for higher-volume tasks, making it much better suited to business users who are serious about email marketing. This version can send a great deal faster than the Personal Edition by using up to 256 simultaneous connections and incorporates advanced features like database direct linking and importing (ADO/OLEDB/ODBC), scheduling, queuing, background sending, Outlook integration, routing and XML document support. The top-of-the line GroupMail Marketing Pack (£399) goes even further by allowing you to track your opt-in newsletters and email marketing campaigns using web-based plug-ins. It also provides real-time opening and click-through reports that help you analyse your campaigns.
GroupMail's interface is clean and uncluttered, if not exactly attractive. From the home page you can quickly create a new message, review sent items or create or manage a mailing group.
Installation & interface
GroupMail is purchased online in digital format only, although you can buy a printed manual for £24.95. Your online order is processed in real time, and you should receive details immediately via email on how to obtain your licensed product. You'll then need to log on to the dedicated customer resource area on Infacta's web site (a user account is automatically set up for you): frustratingly, there's a wait of up to 20 minutes before your new download and licence key shows up in your account. On the plus side, you can download the software as many times as you like while your license key is active. Once the software has been downloaded you can then install it using the supplied product key.
GroupMail isn't the prettiest Windows application, but the interface is clean and uncluttered and the online Help system is clear and well presented. From the home page you can quickly create a new message, review sent items or create or manage a mailing group. The Task List contains the Groups (term GroupMail uses for email lists) options. The workspace lists the group names, the number of recipients, the group format type and the path, if specified. You can view and manage Group members by double-clicking the Group name, and the View & Manage Recipients window opens with options for adding, modifying, deleting, copying and moving members' information. You can also update email addresses, search for recipients, print a list of Group members and sort any of the field names by clicking the column name. We wish GroupMail had a more intuitive workflow menu system that holds your hand through the logical stages of managing a group, followed by creating and sending a message. It can be daunting knowing to where to start, at least at first.
GroupMail calls email lists Groups, which you can create from scratch or import from a variety of sources.
Managing email lists
The first thing you'll want to do is create or import your mailing list. You can make your Group manually by entering each name and other details (address, phone number, email address and so on), or import them from an Excel spreadsheet, text file or ODBC-compliant database.
GroupMail uses two types of Groups: GroupMail Format Groups and External Database Groups. The former store the recipient details locally on your PC or on a shared network folder, while the latter link to a database you assign (not available in GroupMail Free Edition). You can import existing lists, address books or databases, and you can import common email address books such as Outlook's Personal Address Book (PAB), Outlook Express (WAB), Outlook 2002, Exchange Server/Other MAPI and Global Address List (GAL). GroupMail makes importing contact details quick and easy and we had no problems whatsoever importing data from Outlook distribution lists.
The only niggle was that GroupMail introduced redundant column data that wasn't in our Outlook database; it also renamed column fields — for instance, 'Web site' in Outlook was renamed to 'Business home page' in GroupMail, and 'Mobile phone' was Americanised to 'Cellphone'. As long as you continue to manage your contact details in your favourite database and just use GroupMail for email shots, this slight database eccentricity shouldn't cause any problems.
In addition, you can import data from text and binary files, including Windows clipboard, as well as export recipients to an external file. Groups linked to an external database can be modified to change the group name, change the database connection and redefine group contents such as specifying the database table to use, entering a SQL query and specifying the field that holds an email address. The information in these fields is then used to personalise messages for each recipient. You can have multiple groups, and particular recipients can be included in multiple groups or excluded from certain groups. At the very least, each Group must store the email address of the recipients.
GroupMail Business Edition provides 20 HTML templates. They're basic, but useful if you want to send out a newsletter with more visual appeal than a simple text message.
Creating and sending a newsletter
Creating a newsletter is done in a similar way to Outlook. GroupMail has all of the basic formatting options such as bold, italic, underline, justification, changing font size, colour and type, and image support. GroupMail Business Edition also provides 20 HTML templates. The templates aren't aesthetically cutting edge (if you're serious about image you should get a design agency to create a HTML template for you), but they're useful if your company is on a tight budget and you want to send out a newsletter with more visual appeal than a simple text message. GroupMail can be set to spell-check your message before sending, and even reminds you to preview the message before sending — always a wise decision.
You can run and maintain CAN-SPAM compliant newsletters with automated subscription, removal and filtering support, as well as send messages directly to your recipients from your desktop or through a dedicated email server using multiple connections. The only technical issue that arises is selecting the server type before sending a message — either DNS or SMTP. The program wizard does an efficient job of holding your hand through the setup process, but you'll need the requisite technical details to hand before deciding whether to go through your email client (Outlook, for example) or directly from GroupMail using your IPS's server settings.
The software works with all major corporate email systems and it handles bounces automatically. Other neat features include the ability to send personalised wireless mobile SMS text messages to recipients using an email to SMS gateway tool, the facility to prepare and schedule messages for delivery any time in the future and extended functionality via a range of add-ons. A lot of email software will happily let you show your whole mailing list in the email headers (To or CC field) of the messages that you are sending. GroupMail will never allow this to happen. Your recipients will only see their own email address in the headers of messages you send them. Not only that, you can host email addresses on the behalf of others using multiple sender profiles.
GroupMail is good value for businesses of all sizes. The software isn't exactly pretty, but its interface is clean and, above all, presents all the essential features. GroupMail allows you to create newsletters, while its impressive list handling handles issues like subscribe/unsubscribe, removals, bounced email address deletion and so on. It comes with many free plug-ins that bring add nice features like automatic bounce handling, and can even send a two-part MIME message for recipients who can't read HTML mails in their mail box. Its database integration is also one of the best, and it works like a dream with Outlook.
If you need to manage an email newsletter and don't want to go with a subscription-based online solution that charges per email, you should consider GroupMail. The only downside is that GroupMail is a local program that resides on your PC. Some might consider this an advantage, but the software does use a large amount of system resources to send personalised emails to thousands of recipients. As a result, you might want to use a separate computer solely for newsletter management, or send your newsletters at night when you won't be using your PC. Inexperienced users may also find the software a little intimidating, thanks to the lack of a natural workflow interface that holds your hand through the messaging process. Try downloading the free edition first and see how you get on — you've got nothing to lose.
Caption by: Christian Harris