E-Mail: Do It Yourself or Outsource?

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So you've decided to integrate e-mail into your marketing mix. Next decision: How will you distribute the e-mail, maintain your database, manage and measure responses, report on results and nurture your customer relationships?


If you're in a company supported by information technology resources, you may choose to evaluate available software to produce campaigns inhouse. Or if your IT department is stretched to the limit by other enterprisewide concerns, outsourcing offers a viable solution. On the other hand, outsourcing can get expensive. After months of using an outsourcer, you could have paid for an inhouse solution.


There is much to consider. Let's break it apart and look at both options.


A look at inhouse software. If your company is committed to e-mail marketing, an inhouse solution offers the flexibility and availability required to support your efforts.


An inhouse solution is cost-effective and works extremely well for companies that have relational databases. You also retain complete control over your customer database of e-mail addresses and demographic data. The more e-mail campaigns you deliver, the more cost-effective the software becomes. When evaluating software solutions to run inhouse, look for these features:


• Open architecture. Your software application should be able to run on whatever platforms you have on-site.


• Easy to integrate. The software should integrate easily with your infrastructure, allowing you to make use of your existing computer hardware and applications.


• Open database support. You'll want to use your own relational databases to data mine for targeted campaigns. Look for software that supports a variety of database brands.


• Comprehensive installation, training and support. Make sure you have access to these important resources. Ask about the length of installation and training.


• Easy to use. Look for software that can be used from a Web browser so it can be accessed from anywhere.


• High level of functionality. Make sure you have the ability to do message personalization and conditional content. You will want the ability to insert redirect URLs into the contents for tracking results. You will want to have a strong query tool to enable you to segment your clients for campaigns. Check on your ability to remarket to existing recipients or to people who have clicked through in response to a campaign.


• Strong results tracking and reporting. You should be able to track click-through results for your campaigns, as well as compare campaign and click-through statistics easily in real time.


• Unlimited scalability. Make sure the software can easily grow as you add new customer records and e-mail servers.


• High-level technical support. Ensure you have access to efficient, top-notch technical support resources from the software provider. Ask for a technical support call before you buy. This will give you an excellent insight into the level of service you'll get after the sale.


Maybe you should outsource. Outsourcing is a logical solution for companies that are testing the value of e-mail marketing, have a small customer database or limited resources to support an inhouse investment. Service providers offer specialized marketing, technical and distribution expertise that can help you develop an overall e-mail marketing strategy. When you are looking for an outsourcing partner, consider these key factors:


• Technical expertise. Managing a large, growing database requires specialized know-how. Outsourcing gives you access to the professionals who understand how to set up and manage your database, while delivering your e-mail messages efficiently.


• Customer service. Expect quick accessibility, knowledgeable technical support, personal contacts, scheduled backup, security and regular reporting from your e-mail marketing partner.


• Proven ability to deliver. Find referrals and get their endorsement. Learn about their experiences and get their feedback.


• Ability to build your own list. Building your own database of customers and prospects who have opted to receive information is much more valuable than purchasing lists from brokers. Ensure that the service provider allows you to use your own database and provides a mechanism to continuously keep it current.


• Reporting capabilities and practices. Team with an e-mail marketing provider that can track URL click-throughs, set up an auto-responder to manage e-mail responses and help you identify your most important customers through reports. This information helps you refine your messages and your e-mail marketing strategy. Make sure you can access this information in real time through the processing and evaluation of your campaign. n


Whether you choose to bring a solution inhouse or outsource your e-mail marketing program, you can find a full list of e-mail marketing software vendors from the Direct Marketing Association or the Association for Interactive Media. Either way, working with a provider who shares your company's marketing and technical vision helps to make your e-mail marketing program a success. n


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