Every email platform available today can accomplish the basic tasks required for email marketing; namely, send email, track opens/clicks and report back the results. Of course, there are many layers of complexity within these email basics, and any growing organization should understand all of the features available before choosing a platform.
When considering what email platform to use for your organization's email marketing program, first you should understand the tools that are available.
At the most basic level, any growing organization will want to have the following features:
Unique URL tracking at the individual level.
This allows a marketer to know what individuals clicked on a specific URL. This data is very powerful when considering a follow-up campaign or to better understand what content/offers resonate with certain segments of your database. Many smaller ESPs don't offer this feature and as a growing organization it is paramount that one understands what segments and content are performing and which are not.
Ease of use when uploading lists and content.
Getting your HTML creative and mailing lists ready for deployment should be a simple task, with a logical workflow. Navigating across numerous screens or jumping around the interface is not a good use of time, and something may be missed when deploying a campaign.
As well, ask your ESP if there are any charges for data storage, as fees associated with storing data can escalate quickly if growth is not considered at the onset of a relationship. If the ESP charges premiums for storing profile and response data evaluate other options, such as offline storage, and determine which alternative has the best cost/benefit ratio.
When you are growing, so does your database. Be certain costs will not deter you from storing everything that is necessary to be a great marketer.
Ease of personalizing the email with database information or dynamic content.
For any organization it's important to be personal and be relevant. In addition, one size does not fit all when sending email marketing. Tools within your email platform should encourage personalized email communications.
At a minimum, you should be able to insert any database field within the email - for example, First Name.
Even better tools allow you to insert entire segments of content based on the user's profile - for example, If State = CA, then insert California resident offer.
If these are not available from your ESP, don't walk away - RUN - and as fast as you can.
Dedicated IPs and branded URLs.
Most small ESPs share IPs across many companies as a means of reducing their costs. However, when you deploy email on a shared IP, you are at the mercy of every other mailer that deploys from that IP address. Therefore, if another marketer on your shared IP is spamming consumers and gets shut down, then your email will face the same fate.
Deploying email from your dedicated IP means you control your own email destiny, as the IP's reputation is measured against only your marketing efforts.
To add to this piece, having the ability to deploy tracked URLs with your company's URL is a great branding tool and offers greater legitimacy to your email. For example, email that comes from email.yourcompany.com/tracking?code=43434 is a better customer experience than a URL that does not reference your company at all. This is especially true when there are phishing or SPAM concerns.
Ease of use when reviewing reporting and ease of use for follow up campaigns.
The reporting component of an email platform is perhaps the most important piece to consider, so be sure to understand how reporting works when looking at possible ESPs.
As a growing organization you will want to focus efforts on what's working and remove resources from areas that underperform. That said, reporting should immediately allow a marketer the ability to see what campaigns performed well.
Furthermore, the reporting interface should allow you to select users who clicked on a specific message or URL and target those users for a follow-up campaign.
This process of finding users for follow-up is essential for you to remain relevant and top-of-mind for your customers, and as such, this has to be easy to execute.
How does the tool manage and report Unsubscribe requests and Abuse complaints?
Unsubscribe requests are a fact of life to the email marketer. There is specific legislation that mandates unsubscribe requests to be honored within 10 business days. Most platforms have some form of unsubscription management functionality, but great tools will also provide data specific to Abuse complaints.
Ensuring those who request unsubscription, or complain to their ISP about your email, are removed quickly is paramount. There is nothing an ISP hates more than repeatedly bouncing or filtering your email because you are not cleaning your lists as you should. Remember, when you send email, it costs the ISP money to manage the processing of that email. You definitely do not want to get on the bad-side of an ISP - it could ruin your email marketing.
That said, any good email platform will report and process both unsubscribe requests and Abuse complaints. Aside from being required by law, the data that you can garner from unsubscribes and abuse complaints is enormous. With this data, you will be able to determine if a specific offer drives people away, or if unsubscribe requests are a function of frequency, content or a combination of both.
Are there tools that facilitate the automation of email deployment?
Many emails are automatically sent as notifications of specific activity (such as a purchase, or a Welcome email when first subscribing). As a growing organization, you know what these automated touch-points should be and you can't spend time each day ensuring these emails go out.
As such, any ESP you consider should have tools that allow for the automated deployment of certain email messages. Whether the email is sent on timer, an API call, or based on user activity, the methodology of setting up the email needs to be clear, as you can't spend time figuring out how to create these automated mailers each time you need one (and you will need more than one!).
The Proof of Concept
Many ESPs promise the sky, but the sky begins to fall once you try to execute your marketing plan. Once you have established than an ESP has the tools you need to deploy better email marketing, it is essential that you request a "proof of concept" and walk through the interface as you would normally.
When you are using the ESP's platform in the proof of concept, you want to evaluate the following:
Positive answers to these questions means you will have a much better time with your email marketing, and it will be as stress-free as possible. If the ESP fails your smell test on these questions, it may be time to consider another vendor. For example, if your email database takes hours to load, that is a lot of lost time over the course of a year.
As a growing business you need to be agile and fluid; you can't spend time waiting for your platform to complete tasks, even if it has every bell and whistle under the sun. For you, time is everything, so the ESP needs to perform to your specs.
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