Online Marketing Tools: A Comparison
Thursday, April 29, 2010; 12:00 AM

What are your top strategies for keeping in front of customers in 2010? Chances are, as an entrepreneur, you're looking to connect with your customers faster and more easily. You want to strengthen relationships with customers to help drive and increase your revenue. You can accomplish that with an online marketing tool. The key is to find the best tool for you and your business.

A lot of online tools claim to make you a better, faster marketer. Many also promise to help you easily connect with your customers. So, how do you choose? The trick is to pick online marketing tools that not only help you reach your customers, but also are really easy for you to use.

Here are the criteria I use to assess marketing tools for entrepreneurs:

Ease-of-use: Is the tool easy to use and implement?Relationship builder: Can you build a database with the tool and--at the same time--reach, strengthen and build relationships with customers more quickly?Quick online campaign-tracking capabilities: Can you analyze what you've sent to customers and quickly find out if your customers are clicking through your e-mail campaigns?Professional e-mail marketing templates: Are there professional campaign templates that allow for e-mail and direct-mail capabilities, enabling you and your business to look marketing savvy?Cost-effective: Are costs affordable, averaging less than $30 per month?

Here are four potential tools that could be the key to your customer relationships:

Vertical ResponseEase-of-use: Designed for the smaller business, this tool takes little technology know-how to get up and running. When I was ready to launch my first campaign, it literally took me less than an hour to upload into my chosen template, select my list from the database, send myself a test e-mail blast and push the launch button. It's that simple.Vertical Responsepasses the "easy to use" test with flying colors.

Relationship builder: Vertical Response allows you to organize "lists," but you are responsible for inputting the lists and keeping them updated. You can upload existing contacts from a database you already have in Excel or another program. What is good about Vertical Response is that it tells you if you've entered an e-mail twice or if a contact's e-mail address isn't active.

Quick online campaign-tracking capabilities: After you launch your campaign, you'll be able to see a detailed report of how well your campaign did in terms of click-throughs and "opens." You'll know if any e-mails bounced or if anyone unsubscribed. The reports tell you which lists are performing well, and Vertical Response can compare response rates to other e-mails you've sent in the past. Vertical Response also sends a reminder e-mail in case you forget about the reporting function.

Professional e-mail marketing templates: The templates are professional, clean-looking, easy to use and time-savers. The newsletter template includes suggestions, such as how many words your header should be so people will read it. An editor is built into the newsletter template, so you don't have to be one.

Need a postcard fast? There's a template. Need to e-blast a newsletter to your customers monthly? There's a template. Customizing my own newsletter template took far more time than I had expected, so I recommend using the company's templates to save time.

Cost-effective: Vertical Response has a pre-paid credit set-up, so you can order credits before launching your campaign. As you buy more credits, your cost per e-mail goes down. You get the first 250 credits free when you sign up for the tool. So on average, for a few thousand credits, your cost per e-mail is about .013 cents or about $13 per thousand.

Bonus: There's always someone knowledgeable and helpful to talk to and walk you through your campaign if you need help. Vertical Response also will let you know if you've uploaded something incorrectly.

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