How Fast Prototypes Helped Us Chose
I'm not a cheerleader by nature. I'm not sponsored by them but in my opinion Mailchimp is the best newsletter service for most small businesses in 2022 in terms of features and pricing. These are my opinions after setting up a new website and newsletter for Com-X Network, a quarterly networking event for San Diego Pharma executives. But what's hopefully more useful to you than one more internet opinion is understanding the process that lead to Mailchimp beating the competition.
Com-X needed to:
- Email members about upcoming events.
- Collect RSVPs for their events.
- Manage member contacts.
Until now, they did this manually through Outlook.
There was concern about keeping member emails private and avoiding accidental mass replies but no need to gate any information.
They could have kept using Outlook or the Gmail equivalent but that would have meant missing out on these benefits:
- Consistent look across all email clients or apps.
- Automated list management for signups and unsubscribes.
- Follows CAN-SPAM rules for sending commercial emails.
- Reputable sender address.
- Statistics on opens, unreads, and bounces.
Services We Considered
We discussed Squarespace, MailChimp, and Constant Contact. Squarespace was initially the favorite because the shared interface with the website meant they only had to learn one new interface.
Here are the monthly pricing tiers for our three choices along with some other popular ones that can also do the job:
- Mailchimp $0,$11,$17,$299.
- Convertkit $0,$9,$25.
- Substack $0,10% of paid subscriptions.
- Squarespace $5,$10,$24,$48.
- Ghost $9,$25,$50,$199.
- Constant Contact $10,$45.
How to Pick A Service Efficiently
Normally this type of article will breakdown features extensively and compare them. That information can be googled, so I won't go in that kind of detail.
Instead here's the process that can help you choose the right newsletter service efficiently.
Timebox Researching The Service's Context.
Google "a product name vs" and you'll see autosuggestions of competitors, reviews, queries, and issues that are relevant and trending. Review the comparisons for one hour to get familiar with current product features and terminology.
Avoid spending a lot of time documenting features. Products in a mature space provide very similar features, but place some at higher pricing tiers than their competitors, or eliminate others some to undercut an established player by offering core features at a lower price point. Use your must have features to create a shortlist of candidates.
Decide whether being a service's target customer is important? Substack and Convertkit's free options might have equivalent features to Squarespace and Mailchimp but one is targeted to subscriber supported publishers and the other to creative businesses. Com-X is not their intended customer. Note, I occasionally use service for a critical feature, but have fallbacks in case availability or pricing change.
Consider whether the service is white labeled or if your newsletter recipients might have a negative perception of it.
Know the Sender Business Context
Now that you have some idea about what services are available, you can have an informed conversation with the decision makers about their priorities. Here are a few examples:
- Matching the website look very closely.
- Customizing the newsletter with features like A/B testing.
- Automating certain processes.
- Generating revenue by charging subscribers.
Use what you've learned to narrow or prioritize your shortlist.
Test Strong Product Candidates with Good Enough Prototypes
Walk through the documentation for all the potential products on the shortlist for an hour maximum. If a product has no obvious flaws, take no more than an hour to setup and send out a trial newsletter.
Both Squarespace and Mailchimp allowed the group to build a trial audience of a few people, send out trial newsletters and see for themselves if the service was a good fit.
Here are some guidelines we followed:
- Include enough trial participants to get a realistic cross section of senders and recipients and cover typical and outliers situations.
- Model the sender to recipient experience with placeholder text and images to catch dealbreakers in functionality.
- Talk through the parts that aren't be prototyped with other trial participants until there's a consensus on what will be done.
- Be open to hearing feedback from everyone. People have different devices, privacy settings and email habits.
- Discuss outlier situations that might become issues in the future.
Initially the group liked Squarespace's ease of use. The dealbreaker was the inability to capture more than a subscriber's name and email address. We wanted each subscriber's title and company in one location with minimal management.
Mailchimp is flexible with the intake fields and tightly integrated with the Squarespace. The documentation anticipated our setup issues and let me build a working newsletter and audience within an hour.
The group chose Mailchimp.
With enough time, anyone in this group could have built the website and setup the newsletter. The technology is very consumer friendly but there is a learning curve.
Working with an experienced designer meant that:
- No one was too invested in any one service (ie the IKEA effect) allowing the choice to be less political.
- Everyone experienced several services as senders and recipients in a short amount of time.
- The final product is more polished than a first-timer's work.
Reach out to VeryCleverDesign for your next website project.