How to Find the Right Email Marketing Service Provider

Looking for a sophisticated platform to optimize email campaigns and marketing communications for your small business? Industry experts offer proven advice on how to choose the right provider to meet your business strategy.

By Vangie Beal
Mon, April 09, 2012

CIO — An email marketing platform is the foundation of modern business marketing, but you must look beyond the basic function of "create and send" to be more than simply competitive.

Choosing an email service provider (ESP) or email marketing software is not an easy task—you have to find a solution that meets your business needs today and also make sure that your future marketing goals are attainable.

Choosing the Right Mode: Managed, Hosted or In-House?

Before you look at features and options, you have to decide what software model is best-suited to your business. There are a number of different email marketing optiomns to consider regardless of whether you are a first-time buyer or looking to upgrade existing software.

Email marketing platforms can be a fully managed service where you contract with the vendor to develop and send your email campaigns. SaaS (software-as-a-service) or ASP (application service provider) is another popular choice. This is a contract with a vendor to use its Web-based email interface and bandwidth, while you keep control of the data. There are also in-house solutions to consider. With an in-house solution, you develop and purchase (or license) the software and the hardware is installed and maintained on-premises.

Aliya Zaidi, a research manager at Econsultancy, said the key decision in choosing between different types of platforms will largely depend on your experience. "With fully managed [services] you'll have a lot more input from the email vendor, whereas SaaS lets you have more control. If you want something in-house, the hardware requirement is an issue you have to consider," Zaidi said.

A fully managed service is a good choice for businesses with little email marketing experience. It's typically offered on a pay-as-you-go (or cost-per-email) basis, but provides the least amount of control because the vendor handles the business strategy, campaigns and data management.

When choosing a SaaS platform, you have access to Web-based tools to create and deliver campaigns, while the vendor takes care of the back-end integration and bandwidth. SaaS email marketing will provide you with more control than a fully managed service, but understand that you'll need experienced marketers to manage the campaigns.

In contrast, in-house systems, which give you the most control, require you to maintain the hardware, software and bandwidth, in addition to the email marketing strategy.

The Email Service Evaluation Process

Lora Downie, digital analyst and email marketing specialist for Catalyst, provides strategic guidance to clients when it comes to email services and integrations. The process that Catalyst uses offers helpful insight on how to find the best email service provider for your business.

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