Direct Mail Pro

e3 Software develops a mass mailing application called Direct Mail. Recently, e3 Software added a Pro version to its mass mailing product range. We reviewed Direct Mail 1.x last year as it was integrated with Marketcircle’s Daylite productivity suite. This year, we are reviewing Direct Mail Pro because it adds a long list of impressive features, which makes this mass mailing application elevated above far above its competition. In fact, Direct Mail Pro is not a spamming tool—which other mass mailers all too often are considered to be—but a real solution for newsletter distributors, and marketing people who love the integration (yes, that one works with Direct Mail Pro too) with Daylite.

Direct Mail was a simple mass mailer. It did a good job and had just enough features to make people with fairly simple needs happy. Direct Mail still does a good job. It has a couple more features in its current incarnation that makes it stand out, but it still is a fairly simple program. Enter Direct Mail Pro. That one will blow you away. Direct Mail costs 59.99 USD, while the Pro version costs 119.99 USD. That’s double the money, but if you can afford it, go for the Pro version. It is crammed with functionality.
If you want to compare Direct Mail to Direct Mail Pro and a slew of other mass mailing applications, there is an excellent comparison table on the e3 site. It’s fairly honest, and I can’t add much to it, except offer you my personal experiences and the reasons why I think Direct Mail Pro is worth the money. Before I go further: in the past, when I reviewed these mass mailing solutions, some people commented that I was promoting spam software. That is not the case, nor my intention. Although you can use programs like Direct Mail Pro to send spam, it’s first and foremost intended to make life easier when you’re sending out a newsletter to a couple of thousand subscribers, or to manage a mailing to a bunch of potential customers who have asked for a price quotation.

It’s not because you can use something good for a bad purpose, that the tool itself is bad as well. Having said that, I’ll start by summing up the less impressive features of Direct Mail Pro 2. Actually, I’ll be done soon because as far as I can see, there’s only one flaw: Direct Mail doesn’t provide for much formatting power. If you plan on using Direct Mail pro for RTF or HTML mailings, the best is to create the message in a good RTF capable editor or in Dreamweaver of Freeway, or whatever HTML editor you like, and copy and paste the resulting text in Direct Mail Pro.

Except for some basic text formatting, the application is really focussed on the mailing functionality by itself. The real power of Direct Mail Pro lies in the address list feature and the mail-merge capabilities. It’s in those two areas that you won’t find an equal to Direct Mail Pro.

MySQL SupportFirst of all, you will find the ordinary address import capabilities such as Address Book import in Direct Mail Pro. Not so ordinary is that you can create automated subscription groups which provide people with a web page that they can use to subscribe themselves to the group. Direct Mail Pro delivers all the tracking and tracing required.

A next power feature is the blacklist. Blacklists are addresses that you don’t want to send email to. In Direct Mail Pro, you can set up one blacklist and once an address has been added to that list, the address will be skipped in every list of subscribers that you have set up in Direct Mail Pro.

The most powerful feature in Direct Mail Pro is MySQL database support. For this to work, you’ll need a MySQL database to which you can give Direct Mail Pro access. If your database resides on a remote server, you’ll need remote access. If that is provided for, Direct Mail Pro will dynamically and automatically connect to the database and keep the changes to the local list and the MySQL list in sync.

To start with the last feature, let’s say you have a database of subscribers such as the database we are running here on IT Enquirer. It’s a MySQL database that normally only has local access, so the first thing you’ll do is make sure you open MySQL to your local IP-address—port-forwarding included—so that Direct Mail Pro can find your database and synchronise with it. I doubted if this would work, as I knew from experience that MySQL is not the easiest to set up for remote access.

If you’re lucky enough to be running cPanel, it’s actually a breeze to set it up. All you have to do is fill in your local IP-address and cPanel then manages the correct settings. You’ll have access only from that one specific IP-address. All you’ll have to do in Direct Mail Pro is enter your database name, user name, and password, and the application will immediately connect. As soon as a connection has been established, you’ll be able to select the correct tables from the database—you don’t have to enter any SQL commands at all; it’s all GUI-driven.

I found this so easy and effective that at first I couldn’t believe it was actually working. To make sure, I repeated the setup process a couple of time, and each time it worked like a charm. With every launch of Direct Mail Pro, the list is updated and you’ll have all your MySQL addresses right within reach.

Subscription Support With Delivery TrackingNow, we’re running IT Enquirer on top of ExpressionEngine and that CMS has a mailing list feature built right in. It’s powerful enough to handle many thousands of subscribers, but it doesn’t even come close to what you can do with Direct Mail Pro. But let’s first take a look at automated subscription groups.

The automated subscription group feature lets you build a list people can subscribe and unsubscribe to. The program will manage the list as if it were running on your server. The same applies to Direct Mail Pro’s tracking capabilities. In direct Mail Pro you can track the statistics for a mailing. This is a great feature, especially if you run your own advertisement server (OpenAds for example) that has newsletter ad tracking capabilities.

Needless to say Direct Mail Pro has a full-blown scheduler on board. Equally normal is its ability to incorporate images in messages. HTML messages are supported the easy way: you import a Web page into Direct Mail Pro through a menu selection. You can check your message body for junk mail level, and your mailing for bounced addresses. Direct Mail Pro supports sharing address groups with other Direct Mail Pro users, so it’s scalable to enterprise usage.

Unique are Direct Mail Pro’s mail-merge features. First of all, you get the usual tags that you’ll also find in competing products. The tags themselves are even formatted the same as in other bulk mailers. Extra information can be stored in extra fields which you can rename so they make sense to you.

The real power is Direct Mail’s support for PHP scripting. If you know PHP—even it’s only a bit—you can create conditional and other statements that allow you to personalise your mailing like you have never before. When I saw that Direct Mail Pro supported PHP, it reminded me of the now 2 years (or longer) defunct MailDrop 2, which was going to have this functionality as well.

I guess it’s obvious from the above that I’m very impressed with Direct Mail Pro 2. This is a complete mailing solution that will appeal to a lot of users who need to mail newsletters on a regular basis. Webmasters who want to add newsletter functionality to their online offering, will find Direct Mail Pro a breeze to set up and use. With its PHP capabilities, Direct Mail Pro 2 is more than just a comfortable fit because it enables you to create mailings that go beyond the simple personalisation functionality offered by every other mass mailer in the market.

You can download a time limited demo of e3 Software’s Direct Mail Pro.
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