As the years progressed, email marketing became more than an ordering notification system or a customer service response systems. Many specialty application sprung up. Some came from the data world and had specialized applications supporting very data-intensive needs. Some came from the Web services world and were relatively easy to use for fundamental delivery needs. Some from the software world provided better integration in and out of their systems.
Warp forward to our world today and we have a wide variety of options to support email marketing and service functions for our companies. I typically categorize these email companies into four categories: small business, specialty applications, enterprise solutions and then marketing automation.
The small business applications are the ones you know and love: cheap, easy to use and all available through hosted systems. While they won't work in a high volume production world and aren't supported well if you have heavy data or integration needs, they will solve problems for 70% of the marketers in the space.
The specialty applications are those that are designed for niche industries such as not-for-profit and call center support. Their value is predicated on wrapping the email automation functionality in a subset of services that support niche needs: fund-raising, managing ecommerce, managing call center inbound/outbound requests, inbox queing, routing.
The enterprise space is the one most on this distribution list know well. They are set up to support larger organization with heavy data needs, providing high volume sending, advanced personalization and more advanced workflow/production environments. They offer both hosted (Saas models as we like to call them) and on-premise solutions (or licensed software).
The marketing automation space is what is most intriguing to me these days. The emergence of the middleware Enterprise Marketing Management (EMM) space is merging to support email operations on both a systematic way (event-driven, lifecycle-driven and workflow-driven), but also opening up their interfaces to support full campaign management controls; cross channels. They are merging into the Interactive space to support the need to rapidly deploy forms and Web pages, manage digital assets and provide campaign control that supports print, mobile and email, along with e many other core functions. These systems rely on heavy data management for targeting and rules-driven programs. They've invested heavily in aggregating data from the Web, commerce, retails systems, third party data and providing real-time analysis (modeling) that helps make marketing decisions.
What's prevented these companies from really making a dent in the enterprise email marketing space is the lack of infrastructures to support deliverability and the lack of a user interface and workflow engine that is intuitive and flexible enough to support a high-production email environment.
Why I get so excited about this space is, these companies are investing in building out these tools and even though they aren't as efficient to use in a production environment, the value they bring in campaign management (cross channels), access to data and multichannel analysis will bridge this production gap over time. There will be no need to have data in dual data environments, no need for various APIs for feeds in and out of third-party delivery systems, and they will ultimately get it right and build scalable delivery networks and services to support deliverability that the email space values so dearly.
I'm excited to see some of these advances. The space began as an enterprise CRM world, and then evolved into what I call a world of point solutions, solving disparate business needs with many applications. All the indicators are there that dictate a shift in the market. Not sure if the Microsofts, SAPs, Unicas, Siebels, Aprimos make the commitment to bridge these gaps or if the Alterians, Eloquas, Neolanes of the world will capitalize to take market share from these enterprise companies, but I do believe it will shift how you look at email tools and platforms in the next few years.