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Which ESPs Give Email Marketers ESP?

Marketers love email marketing for its many benefits—including its impact on revenue. Just ask the 37% of the more than 350 marketers surveyed by The Relevancy Group for its report “The Relevancy Ring: ESP Buyers Guide 2015” who attribute more than 20% of their revenue to email marketing.   

Even with those results, marketers aspire to improve their email marketing ROI. And they’re planning to go about it in a variety of ways over the coming year. The top priority among 35% of the marketers surveyed for increasing email marketing ROI in 2015 is improving segmentation and targeting. This is followed closely by using real-time data (33%) and bettering their use of analytics to optimize communications (33%). Other top priorities for 2015 are to improve email inbox delivery of marketing messages (30%) and to centralize customer data and make it actionable (29%).

The question is: How well can today’s email service providers (ESPs) help marketers achieve these goals? The report aims to provide answers.


Use versus satisfaction

Not surprisingly, marketers use a mix of services and providers to manage their email marketing. Nearly half (49%) outsource to a cloud-based ESP. Forty-seven percent say they use an in-house solution; the same percentage of respondents uses a packaged vendor solution deployed on premise. Additionally, 43% use a combination of cloud ESP and on-premise solutions, and 23% use multiple cloud-based ESPs. The majority of marketers use ESPs for a variety of services, including creative (67%), strategic (65%), integration (65%), production (64%), and deliverability (61%). On average, nearly a quarter of those surveyed plan to begin using those services over the next year. About 13%, on average, have no plans to use those services in the next 12 months.

Why aren’t more marketers utilizing ESP’s plethora of services? Some think they can do it better themselves. Indeed, 35% say they know their market and clients better than an external provider, 26% claim they have adequate in-house staff and knowledgeable resources, and 18% don’t see the value. Additionally, 21% have an executive mandate to conduct all marketing in-house, and 20% lack the budget to fund services initiatives. Nearly a third of respondents (31%) are concerned with ESPs’ security, while 22% say their ESP only offers a self-service option.

Although not every marketer is interested in using the full spectrum of what ESPs have on offer, most are very satisfied with their ESPs. Nearly three quarters (72%) say they’re satisfied/very satisfied with their ESP’s product innovation, and 69% feel that way about the technical and customer support they receive. Sixty-seven percent of respondents are satisfied/very satisfied with their ESP’s integration, and 66% feel the same about their campaign execution. Additionally, 60% say they’re satisfied/very satisfied with their ESP’s omnichannel marketing. About two thirds, on average, are satisfied/very satisfied with their ESP’s technical, production, strategy, and creative services.

Happy but challenged

Even with all this satisfaction, many marketers surveyed aren’t doing as much with the tools and data available as they potentially could. Only 32% currently use dynamic content, just 31% target based on life stage, and only 30% target based on website behavior. Surprisingly, just 30% conduct A/B testing for their email marketing, 27% use multivariant testing, and a mere 20% measure lift versus control.

Why not do more with their email initiatives? Marketers surveyed cite numerous challenges that inhibit their efforts when developing email campaigns.  For example, 25% point to creative content development as a top challenge, while another quarter says that deliverability is a major issue. Twenty-three percent claim they get inadequate support from IT for the marketing applications; 22% say the same about data extraction. Nearly a quarter (23%) finds analyzing campaign results to be a challenge, and that same percentage of respondents cite coordinating campaigns across channels as a significant issue. Even with the many tools available, 22% still find it challenging to automate their campaigns.

Considering marketers’ goals and challenges, it comes as no surprise that 44% of those surveyed cite business intelligence analytical reporting tools as the most important product feature from an ESP. Thirty-nine percent cite each of the following as tops: social marketing features, data security, and the ability to generate custom reports. These priorities are followed closely by CRM/database integration (37%), send optimization (36%), and mobile marketing features (36%).

So, what do marketers look for when selecting an ESP? For a third of respondents, expertise in their industry is a top-ten priority. Thirty-one percent of marketers surveyed consider vendors’ track record of data security and reliability, while 30% cite reputation as a top priority. This is followed by ESPs’ email deliverability features and services (29%), and by their reporting, analytics, and measurement capabilities (28%).

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