Although a successful email marketing campaign relies on having a good offer and communicating this effectively, having the right tools to manage & deliver your campaigns is also essential. But what should you consider when choosing your email marketing system? In our experience there are a number of key factors
- List Management – How easy is it to build & manage contact lists within the tool
- Template System – Will it allow you to build emails that match your corporate identity
- Statistics – Can you track the effectiveness of your campaigns
- Deliverability – Can you control key deliverability factors, and does the system have a good reputation for deliverability
- Integration – As your campaign develops, can you integrate the emailing system with your primary database and other elements of your marketing mix
- Technical Support – Is help available when you need it
- Cost – Does the tool have a cost structure that will allow you to develop a sustainable campaign
Email marketing needs to be targeted. To target your messages effectively, you need to be able to profile & segment your target lists. With this in mind, the ability to add supplemental data to your lists (in addition to basic info like name & email address) should be a must-have feature of any good email marketing system. You should also be able to embed this information within the body of the email, and to use it when deciding who to target. In more advanced situations (e.g. where you are running an e-commerce website), it can really help if you can tie your emailing data in with customer data in other areas. In these circumstances, keeping your lists in sync is essential, but more of this later in the series when we talk about integration & API’s.
Templates & Email Design
The emails that you send out should re-enforce & support your brand identity. Any email marketing tool you are considering should allow you to tie the design of your email to your wider corporate identity. Many good tools will give you simple drag & drop design functionality which is great for getting up and running quickly, but ideally you should also have the ability to design your templates using an offline editor & then import the resulting HTML into the system as a template This will give you much greater flexibility when trying to fine tune your template design. When considering template design however, always bear in mind the particular issues surrounding email template design. You will find more on this subject in our recent post on email template design.
Although it is perfectly possible to manage email marketing campaigns using Outlook, I can give you many reasons why you shouldn’t! Pretty near the top of the list will be the lack of statistics. An intelligent email marketing campaign will use feedback gathered when you send emails to help fine tune and direct future communications. For example: You send out a newsletter with links to a number of services that you offer. By tracking who clicks through for more information on which services, you can get valuable insight to help decide what follow up information to send out, and to whom. Knowledge of what your markets find interesting can also influence the content of future newsletters. As a minimum, your email marketing tool should offer the following statistical feedback:
- Bounces – Number and identity of emails that are “returned to sender”
- Opens – Number and identity of people who open your email
- Click throughs – Number and identity of people who click links on your email
- Unsubscribes – Number and identity of people who request removal from your lists
- Forwards – Details of anyone who the email has been forwarded to
A word on statistics: The way email marketing systems track statistics – particularly message ‘opens’ – is not foolproof and depends on the configuration of a user’s email client programme. Typically an email tracked as opened will have appeared in the user’s inbox though there is no guarantee they have actually read it! This said, email stats are particularly valuable to track trends and opinions. If you see the percentage of emails being opened going up this is reliable and good! Equally if your email contains 2 links to different news stories and Link A reports twice as many clicks as Link B, this is strong evidence that the subject of Link A is of more interest to your market. It is also very useful to be able to trigger additional emails based on the feedback above. For example, to send an offer on a particular product to someone who click on a “more info” link for that product.
Deliverability is probably the most important consideration when selecting an email marketing tool. There is little point in engaging in an email campaign if most of the messages are not getting through to their intended recipients! There are many factors that influence deliverability and this is not intended to be a detailed discussion on the subject. However some of the most significant are: Email content & design – most desktop spam filters use content filtering & pattern matching so it is essential that you design your emails so they don’t trigger these spam filters. Good email tools will have spam filter simulation tools that will help to identify issues & help you to address them. Server location – more sophisticated spam filters will also consider location of the sending server. If you are primarily sending your emails within the UK, having a system that sends your email from a UK based server can improve deliverability. This is particularly something to consider if you are planning to use one of the web based tools like mailchimp, campaign monitor, constant contact etc. Although these are all very capable email tools, they are all US based & will send campaigns from US servers. This can impact deliverability, especially when you are targeting corporate or public markets. Server Set up – This is getting a little more involved, but there are a number of configuration factors that can be applied to servers & sending domains that can improve deliverability. Whilst not going into detail here, the ability to custom configure the mail server is a very useful tool in maximising deliverability. Whatever measures you take, monitor deliverability by tracking open rates & bounce statistics (good systems will give reasons for bounces, one of which will be that they have been rejected by spam filters)
This may not be something you are concerned about in the short term, but once your campaigns are established and you are looking to develop them, the idea of integrating your campaigns with wider marketing activities will become an issue, and you will not be wanting to switch providers at that point. In the short term, you will want to make sure that you have the facility to put a signup form on your website, which feeds directly into your email list. In the longer term, you may want to consider the availability of an API (Application Programming Interface). If your chosen tool offers one of these, it should facilitate integration with other systems like an e-commerce website, so it is worth considering:
- Does your system offer an API
- How much technical know how will it take to use it
- Is access to the API a chargeable extra
Whether it is help to get your template looking exactly how you want it, support in getting your list into your email system in a usable format, or a fresh pair of eyes to look at your email and give suggestions, it is support that tends to differentiate the different email system offerings, and you very much get what you pay for. Free offerings usually come with only on-line and email technical support, whereas more expensive services will offer full on-line, email and telephone technical support, as well as in some cases, Marketing support as well.
The cost of emailing systems vary enormously from free to £100s or £1000’s per month. Things to consider are:
- Does the charging structure fit with your objectives in terms of frequency of messages & the number of people on your target list.
- If they are free, why are they free. None of these systems are run by charities, so even free systems must have a commercial angle. In many cases, free systems will tag all emails with a “Powered by….” link at the bottom, so all your emails are advertising their service. You may think this is a small price to pay, but also maybe you would prefer it if wasn’t there!
- Are their charging structures flexible & will they allow your campaigns to grow at a speed that you dictate.
The right email marketing system for you will depend on your objectives, so bearing the factors outlined above in mind, the best strategy is to clearly understand what you are trying to achieve and then to research the offerings to see which best meets your criteria. To get you started, here are a few providers to help your research: BSA-Emailworks – Our offering, provides all the features outlined above, and we offer a 1-month free trial. BSA-Emailworks comes with full marketing & technical support as standard – Uses UK servers Constant Contact – Probably the biggest provider on the market, inexpensive for small lists, and do offer telephone support, but the system is US based, as are the servers Mailchimp – Offers a free option, but all support is on line -US Servers Campaign monitor – Another US based low cost offering, but all support is on line and US based -Again US Servers