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Selecting an Email Provider

Quick.  Look at your email inbox, right now. Go on do it. How many marketing emails do you have? Our inboxes are a smorgasbord of emoji-filled, heavily- punctuated, compelling alerts that tell you all about super-exclusive “only for you” deals that are within a touch to unlock. We have come to accept it and also expect it. Since the days of the early internet, email marketing has continued to evolve and grow.  According to some estimates, this industry is expected to reach US$22.16 bn by 2024.  There is no denying that in this world dominated by social media, email marketing is still relevant and offers marketers the ability to craft a unique personalized message for a singular customer and deliver it directly on their preferred device.  There is power in that.

What is the best way to harness the power of this medium?  There are two parts to this answer.  Both are equally important.  The first part is your specific business.  And the next is the Email Service Provider or technology you select.  Let’s address your needs first.  Are you looking to start email marketing or are you trying to replace an existing provider?  In either of these situations, you should always consider what type of emails you would like the new provider to send out.  In general, you can classify the emails based on their messaging into the following groups:

Transactional Emails – These provide updates on a transaction. Examples: 

  • Your order is shipped. 
  • Your appointment is confirmed.

Promotional Emails – These provide updates on current or forthcoming promotions. Examples: 

  • Shop Big at our Spring Sale.  
  • Mark your Calendar! Concert Tickets on Sale in 3 Days.

Informational Emails – Provide alerts or updates related to a situation. Examples: 

  • Modified School hours due to Weather-related delays.
  • Important Changes to your Credit Card Rules.

Every business will have some ability to communicate with its customers via email based on the technology you use to run your business.  Within the e-commerce industry, platforms like Magento and BigCommerce have in-built email templates and tools to send out transactional emails.  If your goal is to supplement these transactional emails with targeted marketing/promotional messages crafted for specific target audiences, then you will need an Email Service Provider to help you achieve your marketing goals.  The first question to ask is, will this new provider support the type of emails you want to send out.  If the answer is yes, here are some important attributes to consider.

Key attributes to consider when selecting an Email Service Provider

Compatibility

One of the first things to consider when selecting an Email Service Provider is its compatibility with your existing technology stack.  While most top-of-the-line providers will offer easy integrations with leading e-commerce and CRM platforms such as Magento, Salesforce, and Zapier, it’s important to make sure that all your customer data can be securely and seamlessly shared in near real-time.  Time lag to sync data between two applications is an important attribute to consider, especially when some campaigns will require you to send out marketing emails within a few minutes of a triggered action.

Secondly, pay attention to what data points will be shared and stored within the application.  Ideally, you should migrate all relevant data points that are decision drivers, or triggers for marketing campaigns.  Spend some time thinking about what aspects of customer data will drive communication strategy in the future and ensure those data points are migrated to the new application.

Core Features

The first and most important feature is the ease of creating an email template.  Any novice user in the application should be able to create a campaign with a few easy steps.  Adding images, links, embedding files, and customizing the look to match your brand should be easy things to do with drag and drop editors.

All providers should be able to support the standard promotional emails such as targeted emails for a specific segment, cart abandonment, browse abandonment.

An application adds tremendous value if you can divide your customers into cohorts of users based on their demographic or purchase profiles.  Each one of these cohorts can then be targeted to craft unique custom messages, with their templates.  While the majority of the applications will have this ability, what sets the best apart is how easily you can automate the segmentation campaigns and messages.

These automation workflows are lifesavers and can be leveraged to create a robust campaign driven by rules that can cover a variety of attributes like segmentation, purchase data, and delivery timelines.  For example: if you plan on introducing a welcome email campaign based on your Customer Journey Mapping,  you need to validate that the application can support identifying new leads, adding triggers based on specific actions, and sending out the appropriate messages with delivery timelines.

Additional Features

Do explore the additional communication channels offered by the application even if you do not currently use them.  Leading Email Service Providers offer additional services like SMS, Pop-Ups, Chat, and Retargeting.  Even if some of these are not on your radar or in your marketing mix, it’s a good idea to go with an application that provides these additional services that can be added in the future.  Features like retargeting allow you to share data across channels which expands your omnichannel presence.  Don’t just think about what you need the application to do right now, but consider all the ways you can build a seamless marketing experience for your customers.

Another very useful additional feature that can be leveraged in multiple ways is geographic targeting.  Can you send out a special message to customers in a specific geographic area?  Think about our latest natural calamities.  As an insurance company,  I would like to reach out to all my customers in the affected area with a special message crafted for their situation.

Compliance 

Compliance adherence is very important if you want to continue sending out email marketing campaigns into the future without being blacklisted.  Making sure that your customers have opted-in, can unsubscribe to messages, and being white-listed on major email providers are all important aspects of being compliant.

Does the application provide you with suppression or validation services that ensure that your contact list is clean, reliable, and safe to send? Do they guide you on how to improve your reliability score?  Data verification is your responsibility but having access to these tools helps you keep it clean.

Support 

One of the most important differentiators is customer support.  How easy is it for you to get in touch with someone to get answers?  This is super critical when you are in a middle of a workflow update and you get stuck.  Does the application provide customer support via chat?  Do they offer a training program?  Do they have a good library of training resources?  Are there limits on accessing training videos?  Do not forget the importance of a robust onboarding program crafted for your needs.  It’s really important to get the support of someone knowledgeable who can help you strategize on your approach to get maximum return on your email campaigns. Do not forget technical support.  Training and technical support for your exact technology stack are extremely valuable.  Especially if this support is offered pre- and post-on-boarding.  This could mean faster and error-free implementation.

In conclusion, enjoy your buyer’s journey to find your new Email Service Providers.  It’s like buying a new home.  It can be exciting and scary at the same time.  Hopefully, the pointers above help you in your buying journey.  If you find the right solution, it can mean many years of happy customers. Enjoy shopping!

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