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Deciding to implement email marketing campaigns into an integrated marketing strategy is easy. Selecting an Email Service Provider (ESP)…not so much. With a slew of both large and small scale email service providers vying for your business, we’re here to help you sift through the smoke and mirrors. Read more to learn which ESP fits your business needs, which features to look out for, and what questions to ask.Why Email Marketing?Before we get too far down the rabbit hole, let’s revisit why you are comparing ESP’s in the first place. When designed with a particular goal in mind, email marketing campaigns allow for direct and personal communication on a large scale with your audience. They feel personalized and timely, like a social media post, but still professional and informative, like a website or brochure. The highly measurable nature of email marketing campaigns allows businesses to gain valuable insights about consumer behavior, giving you the knowledge you need to tailor the messaging to your audience’s liking. Add in that email marketing campaigns flawlessly integrate with other marketing channels, and there is little doubt that email marketing is a crucial tool for any business.Why an ESP?Successful email marketing extends beyond the message that appears in your customer’s inbox. To build a lead-generating and nurturing email marketing machine, businesses must identify customer trends, segment audiences, and test a variety of messaging to gather data and continually optimize their strategy. A strong partnership with a dedicated email service provider opens these doors, giving you the tools to succeed and creating a solid foundation for your business moving forward.Which ESP is Right for My Business?Now, the fun part: selecting an email service provider. When you find yourself knee deep in the mud of bells, whistles, and extra features, keep in mind the main purpose of your email marketing campaign is to drive and nurture leads and improve return on investment. Your email campaign should churn out new and qualified leads at a cost that brightens up your bottom line, and spending dollars on features you’ll never use isn’t going to get you there. Carefully consider which features you will actually take advantage of, and others that you might like to have but can be successful without. That being said, most every marketer is going to want to look at the functionality of Relational Databases, API’s, Deliverability Reports, and CRM Integration for an email service provider.
  • Relational Database – Compiling data from your campaigns is essential for segmenting your audiences and generating the dynamic content necessary for optimal lifecycle messaging. Determine if your ESP supports relational databases as a standard feature so that you can harness the most out of segmentation and personalized lifecycle marketing.
  • API’s – Understand the type of API’s available, and if your company can use them. Review samples and confirm that your developers can easily understand the language and documentation to integrate email marketing into your comprehensive marketing strategy.
  • Deliverability – Consider the ESP’s efforts to keep deliverability rates high. Ask if they monitor inbox placement rates (IPR), help with sending reputations, and provide authentication options and deliverability tools. Ask what type of deliverability tools are available as well as what sender reputation support is offered.
  • Reliability – Downtime can mean interruptions to your communications, which can in turn affect revenue. Check on their business continuity plan and discover how downtime is handled for updates.
  • CRM Integration – Data integration connects disparate systems so you can deliver the right message at the right time and in the right way for a particular customer. Determine if your email platform can work with web analytics, CRM systems, e-commerce engines, content management systems and custom reporting dashboards to get the most out of your email marketing.
As long as your email service provider can handle the above capabilities, you don’t need to go overboard with other non-standard options. Unless there is significant operational need, focus on staying within your budget and choosing a provider who is going to grow and develop alongside your business, as opposed to a top-tier ESP.Which ESP is Right for My Marketing Team?Speaking of growing and developing alongside your business, don’t forget about the people behind your email marketing campaigns – the marketing team! Focus your efforts on finding which ESP is going to be a tool to increase productivity and profitability, while weeding out options that are clunky or difficult to navigate. Five attributes to consider are User Interface, Reliability, Scalability, Testing, and Analytics.
  • User Interface – An easy to use, intuitive and well organized interface will ensure that your marketers can do their job efficiently and effectively.
  • Scalability – Choose an ESP that fits your needs now, but that will scale with you as you expand your business. Consider send volume, segmentation needs, and customer service now and in the future.
  • Testing – Testing is one of the most important elements of email marketing. Ensure that the ESP has A/B and Multivariate testing functionality, and that is it easy to execute and act on results.
  • Analytics  Having the right set of reporting and analytical capabilities helps you to digest information quickly and accurately so that you can act on it and make real-time optimizations. With an analytics tool that presents data in a visual way, marketers can do in minutes the kind of analysis that used to take hours or even days.
  • Marketing Automation – Marketers should choose a system that allows them to automate repetitive tasks and create journey flows that deliver relevant, timely content. Marketing automation encompasses marketing campaigns across all channels and includes common features such as email marketing, landing pages and forms, campaign management, engagement marketing, prediction and scoring, customer lifecycle management, CRM integration, social marketing capabilities, mobile marketing capabilities and marketing analytics.
Before solidifying your partnership, make sure that the ESP has the features you need but in an easy-to-learn and easy-to-execute format.Which ESP is Right for My Customers?As with any marketing tactic, at the end of the day your customers will decide whether or not you reach your goals. As you zero in on your partnership with an email service provider, confirm that they provide your business with a full tool belt to meet your customers’ needs. Customers no longer are surprised to see personalized content. In fact, they expect all communications to be tailored to them and relevant to where they are in their lifecycle. Take note of your ESP’s ability to personalize the content of messages, segment by user behavior and demographic information, and automate email marketing to your customer base to maximize their engagement with your campaigns. Customers also are wary of sharing personal data, for fear of online identity theft. Your ESP’s ability to provide data security and legal compliance should be a high priority during the selection process. Identify which security tools are in place to protect your customer’s privacy, as well as your business reputation. Finally, customers today expect a seamless multichannel experience. Email should be integrated with web, social media, mobile, and offline channels to offer a convenient customer experience, and to give your marketing team even more touchpoints to connect with your prospects.
  • Social Media – We’re talking about far more than a Facebook Like button here. We’re talking about true integration that brings your email and social media marketing together like never before.
  • Mobile and SMS/MMS Marketing – In addition to optimizing mobile email marketing, marketers should consider SMS marketing and in-app integrations as well for the ability to send push notifications at the right time to the right people.
  • In-App Integration – While push messaging lets you send a message whether or not a user is using your app, in-app messages appear only when the user is using your app, and are therefore more contextual.
Picking the Right PartnerAs email marketing continues to grow and innovate in coming years, you need to trust that your email service provider is going to be at the front of the pack, giving you every opportunity to bolster your business. Choose a partner that you want to be part of your business growth, and ensure that they are equally as dedicated to helping you reach your goals. Know what kind of customer service and support you need, and determine what training you can expect at the outset and ongoing. Build a rapport with your email service provider, and continue to enhance your email marketing capabilities.