Email marketing is one of the best ways for SMBs to establish loyal relationships with customers. These guidelines will help you evaluate your options and find the best email marketing solution.
Marketing products and services is an essential part of business success, but the process can be difficult and frustrating. In fact, for many SMBs, marketing strategy is an afterthought, considered only after perfecting their products or services.
It doesn't have to be that way. Dozens of reputable services and applications are available to help your small business conduct a measurably effective marketing campaign. For SMBs, the most successful campaigns are likely to be centered around email marketing services and software and preexisting customers. Email marketing, when done right, leverages established customer connections and creates mutually beneficial customer relationships.
The best email marketing services can help with developing the proper campaign for what your business is trying to accomplish. They can also offer access to automation tools that can make the process easy and efficient. The tools offered by these services should include metrics to measure effectiveness and even artificial intelligence to further hone the marketing campaign's reach.
Comparing and pricing the various services, features, and tools offered by email marketing services and software vendors requires a systematic approach to manage your research. These guidelines will help decision makers in your organization evaluate available services and software.
Note: Our premium sister site, Tech Pro Research, offers this article as a PDF download, along with a tool to help you document your research.
Why use email marketing?
While social media marketing tends to garner most of the headlines these days, email is still a widely used and effective way to connect with customers. The general benefits of email marketing include:
Effective. Published studies in 2019 estimate the number of active email users worldwide to be around 3.8 billion. And, in the United States alone, the latest surveys show some 85% of adults use email daily. Email is so common and entrenched in our culture that it is practically ubiquitous.
Inexpensive. Some email marketing services and software can be acquired at zero cost with the capacity to reach thousands of customers.
Customizable. Email campaigns can easily be automated to address individual customers by name and tailor their experience to topics of particular interest to them.
Actionable. Emails can be constructed to achieve a specific action, ranging from answering a survey to making a purchase.
Measurable. Using tracking metrics, email services can report on how many customers opened, read, clicked, or blocked your marketing email.
Accessible. Email is now commonly viewed via mobile devices as well as on personal computers. The best services and software should create emails with this behavior in mind.
SEE: 10 books every small business entrepreneur should read (free PDF)
Know why you want to market
While email marketing can be effective, it is most effective when the campaign is well designed with a specific result in mind. Before reviewing features and toolsets offered by vendors, decision makers should develop a strategic plan that explains why they want to perform an email marketing campaign, by asking questions like these:
- What audience are you trying to reach? All customers? Specific customers? Active customers? Inactive customers?
- Why are you conducting an email marketing campaign? Customer retention? Customer acquisition? Customer education? Promotional advertising?
- What do you want to accomplish through the campaign? This is closely related to why. Do you want to increase sales? Increase the number of customers? Increase affinity membership? Establish a loyalty program? Better educate customers in anticipation that it will increase future sales? What do you want to actually measure with metrics?
- When will the email marketing campaign take place and for how long? One week? Two weeks? Until a certain number of responses is obtained? Is there a definitive time limit regardless of success?
- How much is the organization willing to spend on its email campaign? Is the budget limited and set in stone or is there flexibility?
- Will the organization be running an A/B marketing campaign and comparing results to measure relative success?
- Will the email marketing campaign be limited to an internal list of preexisting customers? Will the organization purchase an external list of potential customers? Who vetted the external list? Will there be different campaigns depending on what list is used?
- Will the email marketing campaign be tied to a social media campaign? Will it be tied to an advertising campaign? A membership campaign?
- Does the email marketing campaign need to integrate with existing CRM systems?
There are numerous features to consider when choosing the best email marketing service or software vendor for your business. The overall importance of each feature to your ultimate choice will vary depending on why you are undertaking your email marketing campaign and what you plan to accomplish.
Depending on the size of your business, you may not want to choose a vendor that limits the number of emails you can send for each marketing campaign. If you need to send an email to one million customers, you need to send an email to one million customers.
If you have neither the time nor the inclination to create your own email campaign, it may be possible to rely on prewritten email templates provided by your chosen service. Some vendors offer a wide variety of professional templates designed to accomplish numerous tasks.
You shouldn't overlook the value of a large array of stock imagery and photographs you can use freely and without worrying about copyright infringement.
Whether it is a request to be removed from the mailing list or a request for more information, you'd better have a ready and effective response prepared. The best services and software will allow you to customize responses to match every potential request received.
Arguably the most important feature for any email marketing vendor is the ability to effectively track, report, and analyze a campaign during its run and after it is over. The more comprehensive and detailed the analysis, the better.
In many small business situations, there will be more than one individual working on an email marketing campaign. The best services should allow for multiple users of their service or product.
If the purpose of your email marketing campaign is to increase membership in a loyalty or other affinity program, the service or software vendor should be able to provide templated signup forms.
If the purpose of your email marketing campaign is to conduct a customer survey, the vendor should have an array of customizable survey applications available.
To measure the effectiveness of a marketing campaign, it is often necessary to test different versions of an email. A/B testing can help you determine the most effective strategy for an email marketing campaign before you commit to a full run. It should be a standard feature for all vendors.
Another vital part of customization is the ability to tailor emails to specific customers. By segmenting the message, you can increase the effectiveness significantly, and any service or software vendor worth consideration will offer this feature as part of its standard package.
Spam filter tools
Practically all email services have spam filters of some kind. The best vendors should offer tools and templates that are designed to pass the hurdles presented by standard spam filters. Your email marketing campaign will fail if your emails never reach the inbox.
Opt-in and Opt-out procedures
Every email in your marketing campaign should allow customers to opt out of future marketing emails. In addition, there should be options to opt in to specific marketing emails that the customer prefers over what they are receiving currently. Vendors should make such tools available and they should be highly customizable to meet your business needs.
SEE: Feature comparison: CRM software and services (Tech Pro Research)
Spam filter and opt-in/out tools are vital parts to overall legal and regulatory compliance. Email marketing campaigns use private and sensitive customer data and therefore fall under the jurisdiction of several worldwide privacy regulations. The best vendors should be able to offer written assurances that their services and software meet compliance standards.
Businesses with established CRM systems may have to restrict their choice of vendors to those that support integration with existing systems.
As part of the customization and template toolset, the best email marketing services and software vendors should be able to preview what an email will look like when received by a customer.
Social media integration
For many small businesses, an email marketing campaign will be coordinated with a similar social media campaign. Vendors should be able to offer tools and features that help you integrate and coordinate across all forms of communication media.
Many of your customers, regardless of your business or industry, will view your email marketing campaign on their mobile devices. Email templates should reflect this reality by being platform responsive. This should be visible through the preview tools mentioned earlier.
While artificial intelligence in the email marketing space is relatively new, it may be an important feature to consider for the future. Deeper and more precise customization and segmentation may become AI dependent before long, and vendors who are committed to that level of service may warrant additional consideration.
Ease of use
An email marketing service or application is effective only if your employees can use it. The best vendors will offer intuitive interfaces that are easy to master. Your employees should be concentrating on the marketing campaign and not on how to get the application features to work correctly.
Telephone support 24/7 should be standard for all vendors, The differentiator is how well the vendor responds to requests for technical support.
Real-time support via chat application is another differentiator to consider.
Some vendors may offer a limited moneyback guarantee for failed email campaigns under certain conditions. This is a definitive plus feature worthy of consideration when making your vendor choices.
Some vendors offer a free trial period or free initial marketing campaign. This is an excellent way to test whether a vendor is right for your business and should be taken advantage of when available.
Some vendors may offer a free tier of service that lasts beyond a trial period. You can use this feature to thoroughly test their services and products before deciding whether to commit to them full time.
Pricing for email marketing services and software vendors varies wildly depending on the number of emails sent for each campaign. Small campaigns of 250 customers can range from free to $10/month, while 10,000 email customers can range from $20 to $200. Email campaigns numbering in the millions may have to be priced on an individual basis.
With such pricing variations, it may be best to spend your time developing a list of vendors offering the features you need for your business first. Once that list is complete, you can eliminate candidates based on your budgetary constraints.
- How to calculate depreciation on computer hardware: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
- 10 books every small business entrepreneur should read (TechRepublic Directory download)
- SMB security pack: Policies to protect your business (Tech Pro Research)
- How to backup Gmail: The ultimate guide (ZDNet)
- Best cloud services for small businesses (CNET)
- Best to-do list apps for managing tasks on any platform (Download.com)
- Tech tips for small and medium businesses (TechRepublic on Flipboard)