- Traditional paper marketing collateral has been largely replaced with email marketing over the past number of years.
- Businesses of all sizes can benefit from email marketing if they know how to engage their subscribers and convert them to paying customers.
- ESPs, or email service providers, allow anyone to create and send compelling and sleek emails to their distribution list, and to collect data that can help inform their marketing strategies.
In its simplest terms, email marketing is the process through which businesses send marketing information and identify prospective clients, via email. It’s used by companies to establish an authoritative voice, solicit sales, send direct advertisements for specific products or services and increase revenue through the smart application of communications technology.
Email marketing has been around ever since the advent of electronic communication in the late-1970s and has developed alongside e-mail technology in the commercial sphere to incorporate various sales and marketing functions that are viewed as essential components of modern-day marketing pushes and advertising campaigns.
We’re going to explore email marketing as a concept and take a look at some of its key features, before identifying the major industry players and how they differ from one another as all-in-one email marketing providers.
How does email marketing software work?
Email marketing platforms – also known as Email Service Providers (ESPs) – allow you to draft sales emails, either from a template or as a custom one-off email, and send them to groups of email addresses known as a ‘distribution list’.
Most providers offer an intuitive ‘drag and drop’ interface that allows you to easily create emails based on numerous style variables, font sizes, colours and images that are tailored to your branding requirements. This provide a unified look and feel, in conjunction with your standard product offering.
ESPs can offer advice on the legal requirements attached to sending out mass emails to multiple businesses, and help companies improve their emails’ ‘deliverability’ and ‘open rates;’ – i.e. how many emails from a given mailshot actually reach their intended recipient, and once they’ve arrived in an inbox, whether or not they’re actually opened and viewed.
What are the common features?
ESPs make use of a wide range of features that encompass formatting, data analysis and cross-platform integration.
Emails are triggered by certain actions taken by prospective or existing customers and tailored to the buying process. A common application of message automation is to send a welcome email to a customer when they sign-up to a website or sales offer, containing basic product information or advice on upcoming offers and promotions.
Almost all ESPs offer the ability to compose emails in HTML format, allowing companies to craft highly detailed, branded emails that also incorporate cascading style sheets (CSS) and complex layouts.
Built in compliance tools
The ‘Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing’ (CAN-SPAM) Act of 2003 governs the sending of commercial emails and grants the Federal Trade Commission rights of enforcement. ESPs make sure that their clients stay on the right side of the law and offer advice on prevailing legislation.
A transactional email is an email that is sent to a recipient following a commercial transaction, or specific action, such as a purchase or a password reset request.
What are the drawbacks of email marketing platforms?
There’s no getting away from the fact that most end users view unsolicited email as spam (the very term came about in the 1990s to describe any form of unwanted electronic communication) and most people are pre-ordained to either mark unsolicited email as junk or ignore it entirely.
Having said that, there are steps that you can take in order to increase the chances of your email being opened by the recipient, such as imaginative headers, snappy and descriptive pre-headers and populating your distribution lists with the right people and the right email addresses.
There are also design complexities to consider. People read emails on everything from their desktops and laptops to mobile phones, tablets, or even from their car’s central console. Your email’s layout needs to consider all of these variables and more, and provide a relatively uniform aesthetic across multiple recipient platforms.
How can email marketing be used to increase sales?
Gone are the days of printing, sealing, and mailing out individual letters, flyers and other physical pieces of marketing collateral. Despite the drawbacks, email marketing can be a powerful tool within your company’s sales arsenal that has the power to reach thousands of customers for the small price of an ESP subscription.
Email marketing platforms play a vital role in developing and nurturing sales funnels, building customer relationships, maintaining an accurate list of prospective clients and allowing your company to show off its aesthetic appeal through sleek, customized marketing content.
All of this helps to build an authoritative voice and increase brand loyalty. You can use the data you receive from email marketing campaigns to inform sales tactics elsewhere in your organization, and with each campaign you undertake and each email you send, you get to learn a little bit more about the sentiments and buying habits of your customers.
Top Email Marketing Platforms
MailChimp is the go-to ESP for thousands of businesses all over the world, from start-ups to SMEs and enterprise-level organizations. The platform offers an intuitive, drag-and-drop interface that is perfect for beginners while offering a broad range of customization features and additional coding functionality.
MailChimp adapts to a wide variety of email formats and even allows for the sending of different email templates within the same campaign.
- Free: Up to 2,000 contacts
- Essentials: $9.99 per month (500 contacts)
- Standard: $14.99 per month (500 contacts)
- Easy-to-use interface
- 24/7 email and chat technical support
- A broad range of pre-configured templates
- No Slack integration
Best for non-marketing staff
MailerLite sells itself on being the easiest to use ESP on the market. It benefits from a stripped-back, concise GUI while maintaining a healthy bank of pre-configured templates from which to kickstart your email campaigns. Though the platform suffers from a lack of CRM integration and minimal plug-in support, it’s remained a popular choice for businesses that don’t require complex marketing tools and just need to be able to send customized emails to their customer base.
- Free : Up to 1,000 subscribers, 12,000 emails
- $10: Up to 1,000 subscribers, unlimited emails
- Variable costs based on number of subscribers and number of emails required
- Step-by-step tutorials
- Video to GIF conversion
- Image editing can be difficult
HubSpot Marketing Hub
Best for cross-channel marketing campaigns
HubSpot is a cloud-based CRM provider who also offer an ESP service alongside their standard SaaS product. HubSpot’s major selling point is the ability to collate all marketing interactions into one concise dashboard – including email campaigns, social media activity, Google Ads and more.
- 1,000 contacts – $50 per month
- 2,000 contacts – $1,000 per month
- Extensive cross-channel functionality
- Social media and landing page integration
- An ‘email health’ tab to monitor delivery rates
- Very expensive at higher tiers
Best customer service
If it’s automation you’re looking for, ActiveCampaign stands head and shoulders above most of the competition when it comes to producing customized campaigns on a subscriber-by-subscriber basis. The platform benefits from helpful, friendly support staff and a range of integration tools across over 300 third party applications.
- Plans begin at $7.50 per month for 500 contacts and rise incrementally to $252 for 100,000 contacts, across several pricing tiers and product packages
- Graphical automation tool that allows users to visualize automation
- Excellent customer service
- Create dynamic lists based on the behaviour of a contact
- Occasionally offer promotions and discounts
- The number of pricing plans can be confusing
Best free option
Moosend’s free email marketing plan has the distinction of containing most of the core features of most other ESP paid plans, without compromising on usability or front-end functionality. Whilst the platform offers limited third party integration, there is still widespread support for custom data fields and a useful set of automation tools.
- Free plan available for up to 1,000 contacts
- Incremental pricing increases from 1,000 to 200,000 contacts
- Option to pay only when an email is sent
- Cheap for the range of features
- Very easy to use
- Limited integrations
Choosing the Best ESP
When it comes to email marketing, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Each company has their own set of requirements based on how they interact with their customer base, the nature of their product offering and how diverse their CRM/eCommerce operation is to begin with.
Before you set about choosing an ESP, sit down with your staff to find out how many contacts your company has and if they’re grouped into customer behavior types. Try and gauge the level of technical expertise held by your marketing teams, and what level of support they require in drafting templates, crafting HTML emails and managing distribution lists.
Email marketing software is what you make of it – from sending simple one-off plain text emails, to accommodating multi-channel sales funnel activities that make smart use of data and draw on the successes (and failures) of previous campaigns.