Electronic vs. Paper: When is it Okay to Send an Online Invitation?
An invitation serves one primary purpose: to lure the recipient to an event. These might include a business lunch, birthday party, board meeting, friendly brunch, or other sort of bash.
Inviting guests is achieved through a variety of factors, including a snappy design, catchy message and appropriate details. But before your well-produced invitation can deliver invitees to your doorstep, you’ve got to deliver the message. How you send your call for guests may just determine your event’s success.
In today’s technological world, the email invitation has become an inexpensive, easy-to-deliver, design-friendly, go-to greeting for both businesses and individuals. If used incorrectly, electronic invites can get lost in the inbox, mistaken for spam, deleted, or simply go unseen and, ultimately, lose their value (There’s nothing more frustrating than spending time and energy on party preparations only to have no one show up).
So when should you hit send and when should you hit the post office? Here are a few guidelines to help you choose the best method for sending your summons:
What type of event are you hosting?
If no other factors (i.e., budget, timeframe, and design requirements) play into your decision to print or press send, the formality of your event should dictate your direction. For formal and ceremonial affairs, such as weddings, showers, and awards dinners, stick with the traditional printed pieces. Offering guests personal, by-mail invitations not only makes them feel special, but it gives weight to the occasion. If your gathering is a frequent and regular occurrence, such as a monthly board meeting or a more easygoing affair — like a Saturday afternoon barbecue — then opt for the casual email invitation, which sets a comfortable, casual tone.
Your guest list can also be key in the decision to go digital. When invitees are young, modern-minded individuals who understand the ins and outs of online communication, then by all means — speak their language. Targeting seniors, retirees, children, or another group that probably isn’t on email regularly? Go postal. If you have a mixed audience, consider sending both; with a little bit of design skill, you can develop an invitation to be printed for the older crowd and packaged into an email for the younger set.
How much time before the big day?
Sometimes the decision simply comes down to timing. If you’ve put off sending invitations because you couldn’t make up your mind or you’re pulling together a last-minute fete, then an email invitation can be created and delivered in mere minutes. Given the growing prevalence of smart phones with email applications, you might begin receiving RSVPs just as quickly. Snail mail invitations obviously take a bit more time to reach their destinations.
The typical rule of thumb here is to notify recipients of an event three weeks to a month in advance. This allows for any return-to-senders to filter back through the mail stream and gives guests sufficient time to confirm their attendance. Remember, no matter which route you select, if you need a firm head count, then be sure to budget time to track down non-responders. That means sending a reminder email (if you go digital, many online programs will do this for you automatically) or making phone calls.
Do you have the money?
As postage costs continue to rise, so do the potential savings associated with sending an online invite. But stamps aside, the cost to send a paper invite doesn’t have to break the bank. While the Internet certainly provides a free vehicle for carrying your message, it also widens your resources for inexpensive printing. If your budget has some wiggle room, then weigh the remaining factors on this list and go with your top option. If, however, you are pinching every penny to cover the cost of the actual event, then a no-cost email is warranted. There are many free e-invitation tools available; try Punchbowl.com, Celebrations.com, or PaperlessPost.com.
Do you have a specific vision for the design?
In the end, deciding between dropping an invitation in a person’s mailbox versus their inbox may come down to design. How do you picture your invitation? Is it something tangible, with various textures and a bit of heft? Will you opt to send an offbeat object that hints at a theme? Do you need to provide lots of important information (directions, menus, hotel options, business background, etc.)? An actual envelope might be the best way to package your presentation. (Send critical extras as part of an email invitation and you risk recipients not opening the attachments.) If your message can be delivered with some perfectly placed pixels and a bit of on-screen color, then save time and money with a well-designed email invite.
No matter which method you choose, remember that the best way to send a successful invitation is to think outside the box for something unique that will stand out inside the box — whether it’s an inbox or a mailbox!
Senior executive Anita Brady is the President of 123Print.com, a leading provider of a high variety of quality items like wedding invitations, fancy letterhead and other materials for small businesses and solo practitioners.