2nationsWhen selecting a cloud-based e-mail marketing tool, data protection issues must be observed, but reporting capabilities and integration with existing systems also certainly matter.

Email marketing is the pioneer of cloud computing

On second thought, cloud-based services / application service providing is de facto already a standard in the e-mail marketing industry for several years.

The reason for this is primarily the fact that it is not worthwhile for most businesses to go through the necessary certification processes (whitelisting) themselves. Whoever wants to send tons of mails nowadays should rather authorize an email service provider for proper delivery, such as eCircle, Inxmail, Artegic or Responsys which have their own contacts to email providers and can guarantee a good service. It probably pays off only for large companies to do the work on their own, as their mail volume is huge enough to justify this.

Thus, the application service provider (ASP) concept is already common practice in the email marketing industry: The customer delivers email content and address list; and the service provider operates powerful mail servers and sends the emails the customer wants to see delivered. This means that customers don’t need to install any software on their computers, but simply have to open a website. Indeed, the cloud is actually nothing new for e-mail marketing providers who could be regarded as the pioneers in cloud computing, as the deployment of the software on the internet is exactly what today is called “Application Cloud Service”.

Scalability in the foreground

Users of ASP solutions already know the benefits of cloud computing: the customer must neither buy software nor hardware; doesn’t need to worry about licenses, upgrades and patches, not to mention that they don’t have to convince a dozen email providers that their 50,000 emails sent per month aren't spam - as in the case of e-mail marketing.

Therefore for small and medium enterprises the outsourcing of e-mail delivery is probably the best solution, whether it is labeled ASP, Software as a Service (SaaS) or cloud service.

This gives greater flexibility and scalability, in addition to reducing costs and having better cost control. But a true cloud service is still more than an e-mail program with web interface. The idea of cloud computing describes a complete data center environment that disappears physically and is mapped to the servers of the cloud service provider on the Internet. This may include the customer database as well - a thought that many companies are not comfortable with. In reality it means the more confidential the data that must be processed is, the harder it is to make the decision to outsource processing to systems of which we do not even know the location.

Understandably, the decision to outsource mission-critical data to the cloud has to be considered carefully, not to mention possible data protection issues. Therefore, it is advisable to demand written information about the location of their servers from from potential cloud service providers.

Another problem could be that opt-ins from customers lose their effectiveness when general conditions no longer apply under which they have been determined. If a company has promised to customers in its privacy policy that their data will not be passed to third parties, the transfer of data to an external cloud service provider could rock the boat.

As said, when selecting cloud-based e-mail marketing tools, you should also keep the integration into the existing IT environment in mind. And it’s a fact that reporting is a problem area in many email marketing suites. Big corporations, with high expectations of their company's own reporting, often can’t cope with turnkey solutions from the Web.

Besides, an approach that enables e-mail marketing to outsource the whole CRM into the cloud should be considered critically, because while for e-mail standard marketing solutions are often useful, a successful CRM system usually needs to be tailored for each company.

Last but not least, keep in mind that the selection of an appropriate marketing tool is a challenging task that is possibly easier with the help of an agency, because the market of web-based email marketing solutions is, as said, very confusing.

By Daniela La Marca