First on the shopping list is a tool from fellow E-mail Insider Bill McCloskey: E-mail Analyst. I recommend you get a demo. I've used it for a year now to snoop on competitors' e-mails--what they are saying and when, how much they are offering, how they are positioning offers to different customers. It helps me see both competitive and market-specific e-mail creative, and the subsequent landing pages.
E-mail Analyst allows you to pull by market sector or by company, and see the individual e-mails. It's been predominately used for acquisition and monitoring networks for list management practice, but it has so much more potential. We've even begun to explore segmenting by high-value and low-value customers, to see if messaging varies by frequency, type, tone or offer. There aren't any other applications out there with the library of lists, e-mails and indexing to pull it all out. It will require a bit of seeding in order to fit your particular business (unless you happen to be one of the sectors that is already built out) but the effort has paid dividends for me in presentations, competitive analysis, and for the sake of having a visible comparison to what's happening in my space. I've only seen one other tool that provides this capability, and it's U.K.-based from IPT.
Second on the list of most-wanted toys for the summer are the visual rendering tools from the likes of Lyris, PivotalVeracity, and ReturnPath. You are probably seeing increased response from regional and national broadband provider domains (RoadRunner, Charter, Comcast, SBC, etc.) but do you even know what your e-mail looks like in all the viewing permutations of these environments? Gone are the days of seeding 14 different e-mail accounts and opening them all up to test campaigns. The new tools will render e-mail campaigns in 25 to 35 different e-mail clients from one interface.
This very graphical view of your e-mail creative will do more in helping you design to an optimized user experience than any review cycle. Show the creative team how the creative work looks as it's rendered by different ISPs, and I bet they'll have a new appreciation for design optimization. Not to mention, it will save you tons of time in quality assurance checks.
The final great toy of the summer comes from some up-and-coming companies who are building solutions that will enable you to view your deliverability reputation (read: a score) and compare it to a market sector and/or a competitive brand. For example, you could ask if IAMS dog food does better than Pedigree in getting e-mail through to the audience and managing SPAM complaints.
While we often talk about the value of deliverability, you will certainly put people to sleep when talking about how good or bad you are at getting e-mail through. But if you have a baseline to compare to, you are golden, because you now have a context and an ability to take action from that context. You might find that you're the sector that suffers during seasons when acquisitioning or couponing is high, or during slow seasons when marketers are more aggressive with sales techniques. But the bottom line is that this toy will get you miles ahead in justifying additional fees for deliverability services. At the next trade show you attend, stop in on a few deliverability service organizations and I'm sure you'll see this offering on their menu of services.
All three of these toys will help you move the needle, bring more visibility to your efforts and make your life much easier. E-mail is a very sophisticated practice if done well, yet can often be senselessly killed by one bad creative execution. When you stop being judged solely on your creative execution, you will be at the point where you can justify these tools.