At first glance, the market for email marketing solutions can appear to be a bit unclear but an overview can be provided with only a few basic considerations that can shed light into the jungle of different technologies, pricing models and service packages. According to appropriate requirements the most suitable provider or ESP (e-mail marketing service providers) can then be found easily.

At the beginning of any search stands the question of requirements. Even though many are tired of hearing the mantra again, but before looking for an appropriate service provider the objectives should be defined clearly.
It is important to consider how significant e-mail marketing is for the company and how it should be integrated in the existing marketing mix, what goals it wants to achieve as well as not to forget what budget is really available.

Then, from the answers to these questions, derive the requirements for the ESP. Should the ESP for instance act locally or globally? Does the ESP have sufficient internal resources available to oversee projects optimally? Should the ESP be well grounded in special industry knowledge or even industry-specific solutions?

What different types of providers are there?

One of the most important decisions derives from the question to what proportion e-mail marketing activities should be handed over to an external service provider. That is very decisive when it comes to finding the appropriate provider.

In general, there are four different categories of e-mail marketing solutions that are on the market: The in-house variant à la do-it-yourself, licenses, ASP solutions (Application Service Providing) and the full implementation by the ESP.

The in-house solution requires only its own resources and gets mainly by without external service  providers; in the full-service version the ESP takes over the entire operational implementation of the e-mail marketing program to the point of strategy and planning. Each option offers some advantages, however, in recent years, a trend has emerged: in-house systems are increasingly losing importance, while ASPs and full-service providers are seeing considerable customer growth.

This trend can be primarily explained by two factors: on the one hand, the ASP solutions are legally and technically always up to date, so that the client is on the safe side; furthermore, most ASP providers maintain good contact to various Internet service providers, check email on spam suspicious elements and thus ensure their deliverability. All this requires expertise and resources that most companies don’t want to or cannot provide permanently in-house so that this solution is often eliminated very early in the selection process.

What service do providers have in the portfolio?

Besides the internal resources a company can spend, it is also necessary to clarify what services and products for e-mail marketing measures are concretely needed. Some providers limit themselves to the dispatch technology, others bundle packages of direct marketing measures - from the technology for the newsletter dispatch to media and lead generation campaigns.

Even the scope of operation of the dispatch solutions varies widely, for example with the reporting options in real time, the possibility of integrating dynamic content in the newsletter or when creating interfaces to existing systems. Which functional range and what services are ultimately relevant depend on the complexity of the e-mail marketing activities.

If however, besides pure customer loyalty measures, attracting new customers and sales-oriented campaigns are on the wish list, it can certainly be helpful to count on a vendor that can demonstrate extensive experience - especially in the field of e-mail campaigns.

The decision

Once all requirements are clarified, only those providers listed that meet and can fulfil all of them should of course be considered. Then quotations are solicited and selection interviews conducted as well as technical details clarified. Even a reference list that states in which organizations or projects the supplier is involved (for example, institutions such as DMA or IAB) can be helpful for making the right decision.

By Daniela La Marca