When choosing an e-marketing service, it’s important not to get carried away with all the extras. Instead, stick to the basics.
“I would say the most important piece of advice which applies to all marketers in all vendor-selection decisions is to make sure that the vendor can actually solve the problems you need them to solve for your business,” advised Shar VanBoskirk, principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc.
But be warned, many vendors may be adept at redirecting your attention. “Most vendors will want to highlight their favorite features of their product. But those features don’t matter to the marketer unless they help solve their greatest challenge,” said VanBoskirk.
To help you narrow the list of vendors you need to test, it’s important to have a handle on the precise nature of the problems you want to solve. This information will define the service you need.
“Specialization and focus are the biggest attributes that the email-marketing company brings to the table,” said Suresh Vittal, another principal analyst at Forrester Research. “By working with these vendors, marketers can outsource the nitty-gritty of deliverability, operations, execution and program management for one single price. This allows them to focus on strategic issues like message relevance, go-to market strategy and contact cadence.”
VanBoskirk agreed and added that outsourcing email marketing to an email-service provider has a few distinct advantages:
Subject Matter Expertise: Email, although not difficult to send, is difficult to send relevantly. Most marketers, however, don’t want or need to hire an internal staffer to stay current on every possible best practice for email.
Bandwidth: Sending high volumes of outbound email messages off of internal servers can slow a company’s entire infrastructure. Outsourcing guarantees messages go out under dedicated IP addresses, with no slag on internal bandwidth and no concerns over subscriber data privacy.
ISP Relations: Sending messages to large consumer ISPs continues to be a challenge for marketers. And frankly, ISPs listen much more to email-service providers who represent hundreds of marketers and billions of emails than they do to a single marketer trying to advocate just for its own email program.
While this keen focus on email marketing is generally helpful, it can also be too limiting.
“Although Acxiom, Epsilon, and Responsys are expanding their offering [sic], email-marketing specialists, by definition, focus narrowly on email messages. This challenges marketers to own the coordination and cross-channel strategy themselves,” said Vittal. “But when marketers give up control of one channel — email — they have to work harder on cross-channel initiatives to ensure the message resonates.”
Loss of control is a significant downside, but not the only one. “The cons anytime you outsource is that you lose an element of control of the program. Marketers who outsource will have less direct control over how/when their program is managed,” said VanBoskirk. “Of course, the other cons vary by vendor. A marketer can get into a bad relationship with a poor vendor who can cause them deliverability issues, poor strategic guidance, bad creative. But these are not issues with the decision to outsource as much as they are results of a badly chosen partner.”
Don’t forget that data has to move, so it’s prudent to check on that process as well before you commit. “Working with external vendors, you’ll need to move your data and content from one system to another which elevates the need for integration,” explained David Daniels, vice president and research director at JupiterResearch LLC.
Vittal said the leading email marketing specialist companies, in no particular order, are Responsys Inc., e-Dialog Inc., Acxiom Digital, Epsilon Data Management LLC., YesMail and ExactTarget whereas Block named Responsys and Silverpop. VanBoskirk said Responsys and e-Dialog lead the pack, and Daniels sorted the leaders by size of company served.
“Each year JupiterResearch does an ESP (email-service providers) buyer's guide where we evaluate over 30 vendors on over 600 attributes. This year the top three vendors in the full-service ESP category were e-Dialog, Cheetahmail and Epsilon. In the enterprise category the top three were Responsys, Silverpop and ExactTarget. In the mid-market category the top three were EmailLabs, Subscribermail LLC and iPost,” said Daniels.