First they were a garage band. Then they became a garage tech company start up. The band is pretty good, but the tech company, Constant Contact, started by four musical friends in Newton, Massachusetts, is brilliant. The friends, Jeremy Abraham, Alec Stern, Larry Streeter, and Nik Fournier, are having fun, but they take their business seriously.
Constant Contact provides an invaluable service for small and large companies that is making a huge difference for associations.
Alec and his partners understand associations. They are heavily involved personally in a number of associations local and international, small and large, and serve on boards, provide support, and help them grow and spread their messages.
The core idea of the company was to provide a way for associations and small businesses to know who their email messages were reaching – who was opening them, who was clicking through, who was spending time on multiple click-through pages. Hatched in 1996, Constant Contact went public in 1998, to provide small organizations an easy and affordable way to evaluate, measure, and improve their email marketing.
The company “feels” different from the minute you open their web site. To help an association that doesn’t have an expert on-staff MIS director or web designer, it offers a highly intuitive work place where you can choose from among more than 400 colorful, powerful design templates to create customized newsletters, brochures, or other communications, to send to your members. The “wizard” behind the templates walks you through the addition of your own logo, artwork, and photos; headline and body copy text; videos; and the list you will use to send your communication to.
“From the beginning, it’s always been really important to us that our customers use email marketing in a responsible and effective way,” says Alec Stern, one of the founders of Constant Contact. “We have a high regard for the laws and the best practices that have evolved around email marketing, designed to protect privacy and security. We built into to our templates features that make it easy for our customers to allow their members to opt out – or opt in – to future email communication. And we have built in safeguards that prevent unethical companies from spamming their clients.”
For example, when you start to add new contacts to your distribution list, you are automatically prompted with a message that says “Be advised, your account is subject to the terms in our zero tolerance Anti-Spam Policy. Your list must be permission based.” The Anti-Spam policy reads “Constant Contact has a no tolerance spam policy. Constant Contact’s customer support actively monitors large import lists and emails going to a large number of contacts. Any customer found to be using Constant Contact for spam will be immediately cut-off from use of the product. If you know of or suspect any violators, please notify us immediately.”
They are serious about spam – and for a company serious about building quality customer relationships, that’s a good thing.
“Every email contains a mandatory unsubscribe link built in. Anyone that tries to remove it gets a warning, and if the link is de-activated in any way, we terminate the customer’s account,” says Alec.
“But more than just helping ensure that you are using the web responsibly, our company is designed to provide creative marketing advice and support so that customers get the most out of their communications,” he says.
From the day you sign up for a free trial of the Constant Contact service, you are assigned a personal coach that will help you resolve any questions you might have, and will help you get started. The coach is there to give as much support as you need and no more. The coach is helpful, because although the design templates are easily intuitive, the uploading of contacts is less so.
Live and recorded webinars and tutorials are offered every day, and the courses have a fun, helpful, relevant feeling to them. The instructors must be former coaches, because they are great at anticipating what a user will want to know.
In addition to the training and the coach, Constant Contact has amassed really helpful benchmarks that can guide you in boosting the response to your messages.
By analyzing the responses that customers are getting, they have determined that:
- 80% of the individuals who get a marketing email make the decision to open it based on a glance at the “from” and “subject” lines.
- Subject lines of 7 words or less have a 40% higher response rate than longer ones.
In addition to email marketing, the company offers an integrated survey and poll application that again is intuitive and easy to use.
When a survey of small businesses by Constant Contact demonstrated that 73% of the companies surveyed are using social media marketing, and that more plan to do so, the company added easy, intuitive social media links to the templates.
They offer a terrific event marketing and registration module, and in June launched an application that lets registrants check in via mobile phone.
Still missing is a political action application, but there are a number of new major solutions on the drawing board, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that among them.
Pictures and videos of the principals still look like a garage band – but the company surely doesn’t. With 4,500 customers, and 850 employees, they are big business with a small-company feel.
There are other companies out there offering similar services, but Constant Contact may be the best in its class. Its surely worth a trial.