Creating email invites can save money, be eco-friendly, and still be personal

Guestpost by Ragani on Dec. 31st

raganiTribe member Ragani had her "Old Hollywood" style gala wedding last May in Oakland, CA. It was pretty spectacular, and I should know, because I was there.

Instead of sending out paper invitations she sent them via email — and they were quite cool. Here's her guest post about her experiences and advice on emailing wedding invitations. -Megan

In May of last year I launched our Wedding e-Promotion Campaign. Or at least, that is what it felt like. At the same time, we were launching an email self-promotion campaign a work, and the steps have been very similar.

Starting with that fact that about 95% of our guests have email accounts and use the internet enough to know how to use an online form, plus adding to it the expense of printing and stamping over 100 invites (with stamped RSVP cards too), and you get a good incentive to find a cheaper alternative using email. There are a bunch of online wedding related services (like "The Knot") out there that offer the ability to email your guest list, but after playing around with them, I found that they were rather clunky and limited in the ability to alter the designs to fit our more offbeat theme.

InviteCard_draft020209The thing is, I had already spent some time working on a fancy Save-the-date card, that turned into the invite (when I took too long fussing with it, to be honest), that was driving the entire design of the website and other potential printed materials, and wanted to still keep it a part of the invitation, even if it turned into electronic version (frankly, it looks better on screen than print anyway). You see, I work as a designer, so "branding" and "marketing" are a part of my every day life. Aesthetically, I like using the theme as much as possible, and the invites are a good way to introduce our guests to the nature of this offbeat wedding. I confess, I was attached to our "branding" and did not want to have a template drive the look of our email invites.

As it happens, my job was also looking for a way to announce our new blog and emailing our colleagues seemed the most targeting approach. Which is how I ended up learning about the variety of email services that are available online that assist you to send HTML email campaigns. And here is how I made our online invitations:

The three email services that I checked out were Constant ContactMailChimp, and Vertical Response.

They all offer the following:
• Free trial account that will allow you to send to about 100 unique email addresses.
• The ability to track who opens and who clicks through to your links.
• Templates that are customizable.
• The ability to create your own HTML email.

It turns out the Vertical Response won out because they have pay-as-you-go pricing that comes in at about .015¢ per email, but they all seem to offer similar plans otherwise, so choose which one you are more comfortable with.

At this point, I bet you are thinking "Why not just send an email with an attached image file?" or something similar. Well, like I said, I wanted it to be branded, but also I wanted it to be personal. Here is where the features offered on these services really help — By uploading a spreadsheet with the right information, I was able to create a custom email that stated not only the name of the guest(s), but how many in a household were invited.

Note: I recommend, even if you are only using a first name in the email, retain the last name information in each entry so you can track which David or Jennifer you are viewing the data for later.

I combined the names of all the recipients and put them in the {FIIRST_NAME} field, but I also renamed the "number of guests in household" field on my spreadsheet to the otherwise unused in email {POSTALCODE} so I could list the number of "tickets" we were holding for them (you can create a custom field, but I was being lazy here, and just borrowed what was already there).

When I uploaded them to my lists file on the dashboard, I was able to indicate which column of information matched up with which field.

Let's review what my spreadsheet needed; at least 4 columns: First NameLast Nameemail address and, any custom information you wish to use (in my case, number of tickets, but you could add a personal note easily enough as well). Easy! With the exception of my future husband's luddite family members, we had that info for everyone.

What does this look like? Well here is our preview email

And here is how the test looked in my inbox when I first opened it and after I allowed the images to show

For those that do not have a email client that accepts emails in HTML format, you can create a text only version of the email that will only be visible to those who need it.

By the way, even if you are using graphics, keep it simple! I tried using my original front STD design, but it did not lend itself to an email format. Remember that when most people first get html emails, the default is for most email clients is that the images are off, so that version was a bunch of blank boxes, and no content until you scrolled down "below the fold."

After seeing that mess I decided to make the email a way to drive people to the web site version of that "front" and instead, focus on the back of what would have been my postcard STD (if we had ever sent it out). Since that featured a white background, the type would show up nice and clear even when the images were suppressed, and we could focus on the personalization more.

After sending the e-vites I was able to see stats on how many opened the email and how many clicked through to the wed-site, and even which emails bounced so I knew who I needed to track down better email addresses for (and which friend was spacey enough to hit unsubscribe by accident).

So, the results? I was able to drive my guests to the online invite, and give them the password to my wed-site in a personalized way that also means they are at a computer and therefor are more likely to reply quickly.