To outsource or not to outsource e-mail

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Ryan Deutsch
Ryan Deutsch

According to Jupiter Research, mastering an e-mail strategy is an e-mail marketer's top concern, which isn't surprising given that e-mail marketing has emerged as one of the most cost-effective and targeted ways to reach customers.

Although most companies have realized that e-mail marketing is an important part of a complete marketing arsenal, the way that each handles its promotional e-mail efforts differs. Many organizations pay big dollars to outsource their e-mail programs to specialized agencies or to larger integrated agencies (that then sub-contract deployment to these specialized agencies). Others have chosen to manage e-mail marketing in-house through ASPs or on-premise software solutions. So, what is going to work for you?

Analysts and other industry experts used to recommend that both small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike outsource their e-mail marketing efforts unless they had a fully trained, dedicated staff of in-house experts who could successfully manage the scope of an e-mail marketing campaign. Today, however, things have changed. Technologies have come a long way in a short period of time, allowing companies to do more in-house with less resources and maintenance than was required before.

Many industries (financial services and healthcare in particular) impose stringent guidelines on how and where customer data is stored. As e-mail marketing programs become more relevant, they leverage more specific personal information about the recipients. Often time these compliance concerns will require that e-mail marketing solutions be brought on premise and go through the same security due diligence as other applications. If you do outsource, how familiar are you with your vendor's data security policies? You need to ensure that your organization is not at risk as a result of their data centers not being up to the same standards as your own.

Is e-mail a critical part of your business? Many organizations that rely on the online channel for revenue generation and customer acquisition consider e-mail to be a core component of their online strategy. As e-mail effectiveness relies heavily on an organization's ability to deliver mail to the inbox, these companies are investing heavily in developing a sender reputation that maximizes delivery. Internet service providers and corporations are using sender reputation as one of the key factors to determine what mail gets to the inbox and what lands in bulk. If you outsource e-mail deployment, do you own your own reputation or do you rent it? If you changed providers would that reputation you invested so heavily in move with you or will your organization be starting over?

Do you have the means to accurately measure the success of your e-mail campaigns and the subsequent impact on your business? Does your e-mail marketing firm provide relevant and actionable reports that give you needed visibility into all aspects of campaign performance to measure your e-mail success? There are many options in the market for you to review. As you look at the reporting capabilities of the various systems, ask yourself if you have access to the data that really matters. Many marketers are so focused on click-through rates that they gloss over the more important details around e-mail failures and the reason for those failures. Managing bounce data effectively will reduce list churn, complaints and reputation issues — all directly impacting the top line of any serious e-mail program.

Many e-mail campaigns are no longer deployed by a user sitting in front of a campaign management system and pressing send. Marketers are realizing that automation can drive more timely and relevant messages. Do you have the ability to act on real-time events online purchases, password resets, requests for information, etc.? Do you have access to key customer data sources to trigger lifecycle campaigns based on changes in these databases? Access to systems and data will help you dynamically build and deliver highly personalized and relevant content for better response rates and more effective one-to-one connections with your customers.

Ryan Deutsch is director of strategic services, StrongMail Systems

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