For more than a decade, guys I respect like Chris Brogan, John Hlinko, Nicco Mele, CC Chapman, and Christopher Penn have been a broken record when it comes down to brass tacks: cultivating an email list is the only real reason to do social media marketing, content marketing, inbound marketing, guest blogging, or column-writing. I take that back, selling and making money is the only reason, at the end of the day, but just ask anyone in the world of fundraising, ecommerce, and sales the true value, in dollars, of a fresh, segmented, double-opt-in, targeted list, per subscriber, and I bet you'll pop your wig (upwards of $3+ per-record for really desirable lists).
I have never started a list. I have everything else. I have never wanted to commit to wrangling the content needed to support a hungry list. Collecting a list is one thing but actually working the list, engaging the list, and setting aside the resources and creativity necessary to get an interesting, informative, compelling, well-written, entertaining, and salient newsletter out the door, checked and edited, every week is hard enough but actually shoehorning everything into a format that is both professional-looking and also deliverable.
I have gone through the discovery phase a number of times. I think I started, back in the day, with Mailman. I loved mailman because it was just an Open source Listserv software, not a proper broadcast list.. Of course, my next try was MailChimp.com, which is at least integrated with most every other app, but while it's come a long way, it's still more of a framework than it is a wizard.
I live in a world of Gmail, Wordpress and SquareSpace. I live in an app world. My tools should enable me to spend all my time writing content for my list subscribers instead of all sorts of post-production "splicing" - I want to do what I do when I blog: write it up, add some photos and a title, and then click [Post].
So, in my exploration, I have come upon GetResponse, which seems to me to be sort of like the SquareSpace of direct email. Everything's drag-and-drop, everything is template-based. The job of a perfect app, in my opinion, is a service program that makes it so easy to get to 80% perfect - totally good enough - so that all the hard stuff - setup, design, branding, customization, production, post-production - out of the way as much as possible so that you and I can get to the business of trying to fit one or more weekly missives to my prospects, clients, fans, friends, and followers (okay, twice-a-month; okay, then, monthly).
Painless Email Creator
If webmail weren't absolutely painless to use, nobody would use it. I believe that all web apps need to be as easy at Gmail or it's a failure. As an app developer, you have about ten minutes of good faith and attention before a new user hits the eject button and leaves forever. This all needs to be dead simple, template-driven, and every template needs to be professional, gorgeous, and good enough to only require a couple simple uploads, like a photo or two, a profile photo, and a logo and good-to-go. And, one needn't care about file size, format, density, height, or width. You should be able to upload anything and the back end should be able to resize and optimize (hell, there are even server-based tools that can do amazing things with image-fu, including gifsicle, jpegtran, optipng, pngquant, etc.). GetResponse seems to do it's very best to get out of the way towards getting me on the road. Writing up newsletters for the wise and sage subscribers to whom I aspire to entertain, compel, and sell should not be any harder or laborious than writing a memo to my staff or writing my weekly blog post for Biznology.com. The easier it is, the more often I will engage with my followers and, presumably, the more top of mind Gerris and I will be (if I do my part).
Simple List Building
Another thing that top-of-the-line email and social media tools offer is contact-slurping. First you register, then you validate your email, then Facebook, Stitcher, LinkedIn, and even Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, and Hotmail/Live.com/Outlook.com slurp up all your other contacts, onboarding them as completely, painlessly, and quickly as possible. GetResponse slurps up everything and anything from everywhere, it's up to you to control your lust and be smart about who you really should be sucking into your list and who you should probably just leave alone. Do all 14,000+ of your contacts really want to be on your weekly Social Media Marketing and Digital PR missives? I mean, it would be pretty nice to start a list off with over ten-thousand members, but think about it: blowback's a bitch. Don't include anyone who might be interested in reporting your unrequested email to the spam police (called the "List Booster")
Landing Page Creator
Chris Brogan, John Hlinko, Nicco Mele, CC Chapman, and Christopher Penn are smart. They realize that you can play patty cake with your subscribers and followers and friends on your email lists and social media all you want; however, if you want to convert folks to customers, you need to take them further into the funnel and a landing page is, generally-speaking, tailor-suited for selling and converting casual visitors to investors in your fruitful future of milk and honey. But don't be coy. A landing page is not the place to be all "shucks," it's where you can take the 7+ touches that your email marketing has proffered and turn that into a proper business relationship.
I don't use these very much but what they do do - if you're the sort of person who is able to put the sort of work into setting up automated follow-up email cycles, birthday emails, 1-to-1 communications, and customized offers - is probably really very cool. I'm not that guy.
Responsive Email Design
This matters to me. Responsive design is one of those trendy buzzwordy trends you and I want to just dismiss out-of-hand - but don't. It's really something else. And, when it comes to grabbing peoples' attention from wherever you reach them, you need it. What responsive design does is customize the look, feel, and usability exclusively based on what device, mobile or desktop, phone or tablet, big or small monitors, tiny iPhone 4 or phabulous iPhone 6+. So, since GetResponse offers responsive email templates, your email will always arrive premasticated bespoke for each and every one of your subscribers. You can check it out by using their Inbox Preview tool which allows you to preview the email you're sending out to make sure it makes a splash on as many devices, email clients, operating systems, and browsers as possible.
In addition to these basic and essential offering, GetResponse also offers segmentation of lists; A/B testing, allowing you to try out different subject lines, images, slogans, or introductory paragraphs to see if one design, subject line, or introduction works very much better or another. You can test a little bit of the list, see how it performs, and then run with the best-performing one for the entirety of the rest of the list. It's very cool stuff.
I have always wondered why direct email tools had been so difficult to manage. Maybe it's because a few people have been making a lot of money by being the experts in this too-complicated and obfuscated industry. Maybe it was to control the space. MailChimp has taken a few steps towards democratizing the process but GetResponse has made direct email marketing as easy and simple as joining Facebook or registering for Gmail.