If we had to sum up email marketing in one word it would be “potential”. It is estimated that there are currently 3.9 billion email users—that’s almost half of the population of the entire world—and a number that’s expected to continue to grow. Unlike other forms of marketing that can be unpredictable and subject to the whims of an ever-changing algorithm, email can consistently provide your business with a means for connecting with customers.
No matter the size of your business or the industry you work in, you can’t afford to lose out on the incredible revenue-generating potential of email marketing. The first step to getting started is choosing an email platform, these can vary by price and range of features. In this article, we’ll explore how to choose an email service provider and the essential features to look for in a platform.
What Is an ESP? An Overview of Email Marketing Platforms
ESP is an abbreviation for email service provider. These include familiar platforms such as Gmail, Ymail (previously known as Yahoo Mail), Outlook (previously known as Hotmail), and Aim (previously known as Aol). However, using a consumer-based email address doesn’t always lend to a professional appearance, which is why other marketing platforms like Mailchimp, were created.
These email marketing services are a kind of software that gives businesses greater control over email outreach from branding and design elements to a customized “from” name. There are over 450 types of ESPs and they can vary greatly by pricing, features, and customizability.
As ESPs have become increasingly sophisticated over the years, many have expanded their offerings and have the capability to integrate with a wide variety of other platforms. E-commerce, CRM, you name it. This added functionality has enabled email marketing to work seamlessly with the other aspects of running a business.
Features to look for in an email platform (and how to use them)
A well-designed email campaign can strengthen the user experience and lead to better customer retention with minimal resources.
Drag & Drop Email Builders
At its core, email is visual marketing. Your email should be visually appealing while providing a cohesive brand experience (i.e. it needs to match your website’s aesthetic – don’t have a website? We can help). Crafting beautiful emails can be a time-consuming process, and even if you have the design wherewithal, as a business owner you likely have plenty of other matters that require your attention. Enter: drag and drop email builders.
Drop and drop email builders allow users to customize emails to their unique needs quickly and neatly. Many are comprised of specific “blocks” that users can customize and resize as needed. These blocks are specialized for specific types of content and typically include text, videos, images, call-to-action buttons, and social media icons. Many ESPs also offer templates for specific kinds of emails which can be a great jumping off point for getting newbie email marketers up and running.
Must-have feature: Responsive emails — this ensures your emails will resize so that it looks attractive on any device it’s viewed on.
One size most certainly does not fit all, and there’s perhaps no better example of that than with marketing. Segmentation allows you to send specific content to specific people. You can target groups of people based on the demographics (age, gender, or location), their interests, or their engagement/behavior. Relevant content equals a much better user experience and a lot fewer unsubscribes (pro tip: it’s much more expensive to acquire new leads than to nurture existing ones).
How granular you are able to be in your segmentation will depend on the email platform. Additionally, how much you actually need to fine tune your audience may vary depending on your business model and industry type. Here are some basic types of segmentation that are universally useful across all businesses and industries:
- Email subscribers who did/did not open the previous email
- New email subscribers
- Inactive email subscribers (those who haven’t opened a single email)
- Subscribers who opened an email but did not convert
Closely related segmentation is the ability to sort and manage your subscriber base. This is particularly useful when it comes to sorting your leads or categorizing your users into the appropriate stage of the customer life cycle. Audience management and segmentation work hand in hand.
There are several ways in which audiences are usually managed in ESP platforms: tags, lists, and segments. Together, these create the building blocks for targeted and highly-relevant email campaigns.
Tags — These are useful in assigning qualitative values that extend beyond what a standard signup form may ask for such as their name, age, or birthday. For example, if a subscriber opens an email about weight loss, you may want to note it so that they are included in all emails about that topic. The application of tags are limitless and can play a big role in the development of lists and segments.
Lists — Lists are groupings of subscribers that are created based on a set of chosen criteria. These are often the starting point for the creation of segments, however, lists can be used on their own as well.
Example: Subscribers who made a purchase in June.
Segments — These are dynamic groups of subscribers that can combine multiple sets of criteria in multiple ways. Segments allow marketers to add conditions into base criteria (a list or tag), thus providing the greatest amount of control over an audience. Audience segmentation is most important if you have a highly diverse customer base or dissimilar product offerings.
Example: Subscribers who made a purchase in June AND had an order value of over $500 AND are interested in weight loss.
The best kind of marketing campaign is one that you can just sit back and ignore. Automations, also referred to as drip campaigns, are a set of workflows that performs actions when certain conditions are met. Here are a few examples of some common automated campaigns:
- Welcome Series: Sending an email to new subscribers verifying that they have successfully joined the email list
- Retargeting: Resend an email to those who haven’t open an email within a specific timeframe
- Abandoned Cart: If a subscriber allows tracking of cookies, your ESP can automatically trigger an email if they left items in their cart during a browsing session
- Birthday: Send a coupon to subscribers at a certain time of the year
These are useful for guiding subscribers through the buying process or nurturing them once they hit certain stages. It can also remove subscribers from receiving certain content once they’ve performed a particular action, preventing redundant emails. Depending on how sophisticated your ESP is will determine how specific you can be in your workflows.
Not Sure How To Get Started?
Businesses both large and small have nothing to lose (but everything to gain) with email marketing. This cost-effective method of outreach can be fairly hands-off once it’s set up, making it one of the most efficient sources of revenue. Even better, email marketing doesn’t require a lot of money upfront to get started, in fact, services like Mailchimp will allow you to use their services for free (with limitations of course).
If you’re wondering whether email marketing is a good fit for your business, give us a call and we’d be happy to help. We can assist with template building, automation setup, and of course, the very first step of how to choose an email service provider.