Good e-mail marketing doesn't have to break the bank

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E-mail marketing, in its current form, is not built to last. Savvy consumers are changing how they view e-mail and are becoming harder to reach. Their savvy is outpacing e-mail service provider (ESP) functionality, casting doubt on e-mail as a long-term, relevant direct marketing tool. The problem is that e-mail marketing tools are stuck in quicksand. Online marketing experts say that to do e-mail well, it simply costs more money. Given our current economic environment, are we supposed to accept that good e-mail marketing becomes impossible because of shrinking budgets?  No — e-mail marketing has to evolve.

Traditional ESPs are vanilla. Many of them provide the basic tools necessary to do e-mail marketing – like delivery assurance, high-volume throughput, and segmentation tools. However, the definition of e-mail marketing has expanded to include supporting campaign elements like landing pages and microsites, optimization and integration with Web analytics platforms. Because of the original approach to the construction of the e-mail marketing software itself, these emerging elements are not native to the platform design. Instead, these supporting services require additional development.

Since more development takes a long time and is expensive, the ESPs have traditionally adopted a different approach. As is most often the case, the ESP purchases these additional functions in the form of a different software platform, attempts to build a stable integration between their original platform and the new one, then markets it as a complete solution. However, anyone that's used this collection of software, this software stew, knows it is a clunky system fraught with unnecessary complexity. It begs the question: Is it fair to expect a system of inconsistent software platforms to deliver consistent marketing messages?

The worst part of this systemic fragmentation is that each additional layer of functionality has cost the e-mail marketer more money. Adding a landing page is an additional fee. Slap on a couple of more fees for a microsite and optimization tools. Integrating with a Web analytics provider for next generation e-mail marketing capabilities like event-triggered messaging and deeper message relevancy may require an integration fee and additional personnel to manage the increasing complexity. At a time when the economy is less certain and consumer confidence must prove its resilience, e-mail marketers are looking to spend less and get more. This is the climate for evolution.

Non-traditional ESPs are ready to emerge. A holistic approach to the consumer is the first step. The e-mail and the supporting elements of an online campaign should have one cost. Targeted, event-triggered e-mail should not cost more. That is simply how e-mail should be done. The same is true of optimization tools, landing pages and such. They are not costly add-ons available only when the budget permits, they have become necessary assets to reaching the increasingly savvy consumer. E-mail marketers cannot afford to pay more; however, they must begin to expect more.

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