Sending email in bulk is a science not luck. Selecting an email marketing broadcast platform can be a tricky exercise. There are a plethora of services in the marketplace and there are a number of things you need to know before you can go ahead and start email marketing to the nation!
First off, this isn’t some sort of sales or pitch document; I’m going to cover the basics and the most important things that we looked for when seeking an email broadcasting platform, and this is primarily from a commercial point of view more than a technical one. Essentially, email broadcast services are a commodity situation. The vast majority of tools will offer you all of the basic functionality that you require in an email broadcast platform, but you need to be sure that this includes the following:
1) Unique URL tracking.
This allows you to find out who has clicked, where and when. This is vital information which enables you to do all sorts of ‘clever stuff’. This can range from retargeting those individuals who click on similar offers, to removing those people who never open, click or react. When you’re paying for email broadcast (in most cases) on a cost per thousand (CPM) basis there is very little value in having an email list full of non-responsive individuals.
2) Data manipulation.
Assuming that you don’t have a heavy hitting DBA in house you need a platform that allows you to be flexible with your data. If you are not super data savvy then the platform needs to allow, most importantly, easy upload, download and selection of data. Most platforms now have decent GUI’s which allow you to select, target and send the data you require simply and without the risk of targeting the wrong demographic with the wrong offer. If you are looking for ease, the best bet is a system that will allow you to keep your data stored in the same environment as you broadcast from. Whilst this makes things simpler, this also comes with the potential of extra costs.
If you have a lot of data, that obviously needs a lot of storage space and like everything that costs money. The Email Service Provider is unlikely to pay for the privilege of storing your data, so that cost will of course be charged to you. Ensure you look fully at the small print for the cost of storing your data. Every broadcast you make will create more and more data, valuable data, which you need to look at on a cost versus potential gain basis.
3) Data cleansing – unsubscribe, complaints and abuse processing.
Keeping your data clean, up to date and accurate is of the utmost importance and you need a platform that does this for you. You can’t realistically be expected to manual de-dupe or hold opt-out lists for every client or campaign, so you need a platform that does this for you. Make sure you enquire and understand about how the system handles unsubscribes and bounces in particular.
If you handle these poorly then your ‘reputation’ as a sender of email suffers and you won’t be able to get your messages delivered. No message delivered means no sales, registrations or traffic. So ensure your ESP is 100% on top of the latest regulations and recommendations in this area.
4) Uploading content. How much time and resource do you have?
If you have someone dedicated to your email marketing campaigns and this is their full time job, then this is not as important. However if you are looking for a system that takes the legwork out of HTML email broadcasting then be sure that uploading content and creative is quick, easy and accurate. You need ease of image hosting and finally multi-browser testing.
The way people receive email is changing all the time, from browsers, where we see Google Chrome, Safari and Firefox now sending over 50% of web traffic, through to the rise of mobile handsets and smart phones. If your email doesn’t look right, it won’t be trusted. If it isn’t trusted you won’t get a response. Therefore you need to be sure that when you upload content you can view how it renders in multiple browsers and you don’t have to recode for each one!
It’s not brain science... addressing a communication to someone by name or relating it to their personal circumstances means you are far more likely to get a response. Will your platform allow you to easily personalise your communications? The minimum requirement in this area is the ability to insert a database field into the email communication e.g. first name.
Cleverer tools will allow manipulation of the data based on all manner of fields, for example, postcode allowing you to populate a closest store of county etc. The greater the personalisation of the message the higher the chance of a response.
If the platform doesn’t allow this very simple functionality then don’t allow it to become your email broadcast platform!
6) Dedicated IP’s and branded URLS.
Don’t want to be associated with spam and spamming? Then don’t let spammers associate with you! Many of the smaller ESP’s will share IP addresses for smaller mailers. This means that essentially, no matter how good your practices are, if someone sharing that IP to broadcast email makes a mistake or decides to send to a dirty list full of hard bounces then your delivery is going to suffer.
Your IP address could be the most valuable asset you have... so don’t let yourself be left to the mercy of the practices of other companies and individuals. If you don’t have a dedicated IP then that email that was just sent promoting a certain good marketed by Pele is, in the eyes of the ISP’s, from the same company that just sent that lovely branded, personalised and targeted offer.
Don’t leave yourself to the mercy of others.
7) Reporting. What do you need the platform to tell you?
The reporting functions should allow you to link campaigns and do follow up campaigns; you need to give different messages to those that respond with a click to those that just opened. You need to easily remove the non-responders as every time you mail them it costs you money.
Finally, at the end of the day are you going to become a data guru or do you just want to gauge response s and optimise campaigns? Don’t be suckered by pretty graphs and how things look. Data is data and if you can export the results then making the pretty graph yourself in Excel is hardly worth an extra £1000 a month management fee!
First off... do the maths. Just because you have a load of email data (all legally acquired with opt-in details, registration dates, times etc) doesn’t mean it will make you money. NEVER sign up to a long term commitment until you are sure that your data asset is effective and provides you a decent return on investment.
Most decent ESP’s will let you have a short trial, check out the tool, get to know what it does and how and whether it is right for you. If it is right for you then look at negotiating... and negotiate hard.
Email broadcasting is a commodity, there is little to differentiate the big players so factor in how important email is to your strategy and ensure you push on all areas from CPM broadcast rate to SLA’s and notice period should you decide after a while you need a change.
In conclusion, it is always worth remembering that no email platform can turn leads into gold. If the data you have collected is of a poor quality and the message is not up to scratch then quite simply all the time you spent selecting your platform goes out the window. A successful email marketing campaign is multi-faceted. Yes, the platform and everything that we described above that accompanies it is very, very important, but without clean, accurate data, a compelling message, great subject line and decent creative, a platform can only get you so far!