Wednesday, April 27, 2005

All direct mail from one place? No thanks!

The major selling point of the service called Vertical Response is that you can do all your direct response mail - online and off - from one service. So, although I've been happily using Amazing Mail for print postcards, and Constant Contact for email newsletters, I thought I'd give Vertical Response a spin. Who knew, maybe I don't really have to have three different contact databases after all!

Initially, there were a few features of VR that I liked - for example, on their postcards, you can type and edit text right on the front of the card, over top of your image. But as I got further along, I found myself unimpressed. At first glance, I was happy to see the entire back of the card was available for a message but when I realized how poorly the margins were set, it seemed like a mistake from a design standpoint. Plus, the back of the postcard would only take text - and I like to put my logo and mailing address on the reverse as a graphic. I wasn't able to set the font on the back either.

Compared to Amazing Mail, the entire proofing/customization process for the VR postcards felt clumsy and confusing. At one point, I realized I had to back pedal in the process and rerun the proof so I could get a code to access the PDF of what it would look like. I really disliked the PDF process, and wondered why they made it so complex to proof a document. Amazing Mail is really "what you see is what you get" without the added hoops to jump. Then, on placing the order for my trial card, I kept getting a message that the date needed to be in the future - I finally figured out it was defaulting to 2002! Ugh!

Still curious, I went on to see how the newsletter feature worked and that seemed okay - plenty of generic templates to choose from, but not nearly as flexible as Constant Contact.

The big question I had was whether I could append mailing lists and combine multiple lists. This is the bugaboo for so many small businesses - managing databases. We end up with records in Outlook or another customer management system, importi../../../../css/ng_and_exporting_from_online_databases__trying_to_map_fields_so_it_all_works_together._And_usually__it.css's a major pain in the rear. Well, sad to say, it's no easier with Vertical Response. I really needed to maintain the categorization I have in my main database and to get it into the VR system meant all sorts of futzing around, exporting in segments, mapping and scrubbing fields. No thanks - an hour into it, I threw in the towel. I remembered that I really did like Constant Contact and Amazing Mail independently doing what they do best.

So, my conclusion is that for a new business, without pre-existing direct mail solutions or maybe not even a database of any sort, I imagine it would be attractive to use a service that does both in one place. And if you were not already spoiled by an existing service, those little gotcha's probably wouldn't hurt as much. Unfortunately, I don't think I will be using or recommending Vertical Response after all.