Email Focus: As You Like It

Email service solutions aren't always obvious 

Some in the industry argue email is recession-proof. And while no channel truly is, email does have all the attributes to survive even in rough times: It's inherently measurable and economical, accounts for a relatively modest investment (typically 3% to 5% of the marketing budget), can be managed effectively by small teams, and is one of the most efficient communication vehicles an organization has at its disposal.

According to MarketingSherpa's Email Service Provider report, over one-third of marketers use an internal delivery technology for all their email marketing. The rest either completely outsource delivery through hosted ASPS or use a combination of messaging systems. Over 40% of marketers will go through a formal RFP process in the next two years and evaluate a handful of the 100 vendors providing platforms and technologies for delivery. It can be a confusing landscape, but there are a few things to look for.

A point solution can provide many advantages, such as real-time interaction management - if it triggers site events, life-cycle events, content-driven events, response handling and systems that are aligned with very specific goals. These systems usually have an email delivery and management component and, in many cases, will get the job done for delivery of simplified newsletters, baseline reporting and simple management of content. There is no denying the value of this type of system for certain industries, but again, the more sophistication you require in the platform, the higher the probability you will lean toward using an email service provider that specializes in email marketing services and technology. There are a variety of options in point solutions. Some are hosted applications that are accessible via the Web, and some, such as ATG Outreach, can be licensed and used as a server-side product.

Email service providers or specialized systems offer many advantages to the marketer. They provide deep views into email response behavior, campaign management, segmentation, and dynamic assembly and delivery of messages. But they also have a few downsides. Data transfer and api-dependence for trigger messaging can be unreliable. The provider's database is often subservient to the organization's master database (few companies rely on the email database for anything beyond transactional communications). But the specialized features designed for marketing are compelling and quite robust, comparatively.

You have several hosting and licensing options, depending on the size of your business and the volume and complexity of the messages your organization delivers. Starting at the simplest level, you have the basic hosted email system, perfect for a small business or small group in a business that wants to do a newsletter but doesn't have a great deal of resources. These systems are relatively inexpensive (at under $100 a month) and can be used by nontechnical staff. You also have server-side products that range in scale.

The Weather Channel is a prime example of the present-day email environment. It uses in-house email systems to deliver the bulk of its product, notification and commerce messages. The system is also tied to its ad-serving solution. However, it opts for a hosted email system for marketing-related messages, which demand more capabilities in reporting and flexibility in user management.

Whomever you choose should provide you with a road map of what you'll need three years down the line and continue to update it. Otherwise, you'll join all those who have to look for alternatives every other year or so. Your decisions will evolve in the future and must take into account RSS and mobile email. And since 30% of smartphone users answer email on their mobile devices, optimizing to this 3-inch screen will become a requirement of the email and campaign management system.

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