The discerning choices in email to software. How important is email to digital marketers? Maybe more than you think. While social media, SMS messaging, and video conferencing have replaced email as the chief means of connecting with friends and family for many of us, email remains an essential path for companies and brands to reach customers.
Marketing officiandos will tell you that multichannel campaigns are today’s best practice, and that’s true. Savvy marketers will use every combination of social media, direct mail, chat, display ads, SMS, web landing pages, and even the metaverse to get their messages in front of consumers. But it may surprise you to learn just how central email is to many successful digital campaigns.
According to recent research by HubSpot, a, full 64% of small businesses use email to reach customers—a higher rate than for any other digital channels save social media and websites. And whether it was due to isolation during the global pandemic or for some other reason, 77% of marketers saw increased customer engagement with email in 2021 versus 2020. Little surprise, then, that four out of five survey respondents said they’d rather give up on social media than on email.
To succeed at email marketing, however, takes more than a spreadsheet full of email addresses. You’ll need tools to help you compose, send, and track your emails, and even to integrate data from your email campaigns with your other backend systems.
What Is Email Marketing Software?
Many of the solutions in this roundup have affordable starter plans, and some even offer onboarding services for new customers. But there is a hugef distinction to be made between choices to achieve the highest ROI, and personalisation is a phrase, commonly avoided lest it discourage the prospective marketer from discarding some providers offering. That it delivers a multiple of 20 times the return is critical to success.
Email marketing can take several forms. For example, some businesses might decide their most effective marketing tactic is a value-add newsletter delivered to a gated subscriber community. Others might want to tie their emails directly to their product and sales engines, so they can provide special offers and deals to recipients.
Each approach requires different tools for creating the source email and sending it to recipients. Email marketing tools can also help you segment your subscribers by demographic slices and engagement levels. And you’ll probably want to integrate with other back-end systems, such as the accounting system, the customer relationship management (CRM) system, and the inventory management system.
It is essential however to appreciate that segmentation is not personalisation, heaven help those who don’t get it, as the returns from personalisation are much higher.
Keeping Email Marketing Relevant
Marketers have many more channel tools available to them these days than they did even just a few years ago. Social media, mobile and text marketing (see below), and even video campaigns compete for marketers’ budget dollars. With all those options available to them, many wonder if it’s time to give email the boot.
Email remains the most pervasively used communications channel in the world outside of verbal communication. According to the market research firm, Statista, the number of global email users will grow to about 4.5 billion in 2022, up from around 4 billion in 2021.
That trend is reflected in Statista’s forecast of email marketing’s global market valuation through 2027. That forecast projects email marketing to grow to almost $18 billion by 2027. So let’s put thoughts of email’s demise behind us.
However, one important change for email marketing has been the increase in engagement on mobile devices, rather than PCs. Mobile users access emails throughout the day and wherever they are. Thanks to Apple Pay and Google Pay services, smartphones have also evolved as mobile payment solutions. This can make mobile email a one-stop shop allowing customers to go from marketing to purchase in a single session.
The increasing importance of mobile means you should pay special attention to the email designer and analytics sections of any email marketing service. The designer should provide at least a preview of how your email will look on a typical mobile device, and better yet, on several screens of varying sizes. Even better, the designer should also automatically render your email in a responsive format, meaning the HTML will correctly size images and other elements depending on the device used to view them.
That leads us to another modern trend in email marketing tools, which is integration with other systems, most notably CRM. Some of the more advanced email marketing services have even begun to resemble CRM systems. It makes sense, because both types of software deal with managing and communicating with customers. Other email marketing systems will be able to plug directly into your existing CRM.
Getting Creative: Email Meets New Channels
So far, it might sound as though email marketing means the same staid, static messaging that everyone is used to, but this isn’t the case. Today’s marketers are finding innovative ways to combine traditional email marketing with other channels, including mobile and social media.
But it’s risky for marketers to approach customers up through a channel they trust but is used mainly by friends and family. Some customers will react badly no matter what, but almost all of them will want to unsubscribe if they suddenly start getting ongoing SMS messages from people or organisations they don’t even know. That’s why savvy marketers don’t simply jump on new channels like mobile or SMS. They carefully consider the form those portions of their campaigns should take and the rules around creating compelling content, especially if it’s headed for smaller screens.
One way marketers can build more trust in their email messages is by incorporating user-generated content (UGC) into them. One popular example of UGC is a customer review of a product, like those you’d find on e-commerce sites like Amazon.
However, UGC can also draw from other channels, including social media posts and comments in online forums, including your own support forums. According to a study by digital marketing tools vendor Tint, 62% of consumers say they are more likely to click on an image in an email when it’s a customer photo, rather than an image generated by the brand.
Still, other innovative ideas are being introduced to the realm of email marketing all the time. Take GetResponse, for example. It’s built a one-button live chat feature you can incorporate directly into your emails, which allows customers to go from reading an email to having direct interaction with sales or support people in a single experience.
AI and Email Marketing
Artificial intelligence (AI) has become a big part of many digital marketing efforts, especially email. AI improves email marketing mechanics such as A/B testing and more intelligent audience segmentation. This can help you almost immediately since it quickly improves efficiency and lets you make better strategic decisions around building the right campaign for different customers.
AI can also help personalise email content right down to the individual customer level, depending on how much information you can feed it from your CRM and sales systems. With the correct data, AI can choose different content, modify customer experiences on the fly, and even interact directly with customers via an AI-enabled natural-language chatbot. If any of that sounds attractive, you need to look very closely at how a prospective email marketing service has implemented AI and what kinds of features it offers.
Another area where AI can help is with the marketing automation capabilities that most of these email suites offer to some degree. Automation technology is best suited for prolonged, email-based interactions or drip campaigns. But an important aspect here is tracking the customer journey and the various touchpoints customers face from initial contact to closing the sale. AI excels in these scenarios since it can drill down to an individual customer and process the exact data for the vast customer volumes that top global retailers might get.
The leading example of advanced AI in email marketing is predictive personalisation software, such as SwiftERM, that makes personalise product selection critically delivering individually selected products for each individual consumer using buying history and every available UTM to capture all the impressions, perpetually updating the ranking of imminent product buying propensity.
This is self-populated into a stylesheet and delivered, without any human being needing to touch it ever. That’s a huge margin, in addition. No wonder it leads the Martech solution ROI tables. It convienently runs alongside any ESP to deliver added value for the marketer.
Getting Started at the Right Price
For most business, the real good news is that the cost to reach prospective customers via email is generally low, while the potential for profit is high. Estimates of the typical return on investment (ROI) for email campaigns vary, but most suggest it is somewhere around $40 per dollar spent. That’s one of the highest rates of return of any digital marketing.
Many email marketing plans include unlimited emails each month and bill you based on subscribers. If you have a small list, then look for a company that offers a free plan, a low-cost plan for several hundred subscribers, or even a pay-as-you-go plan. On the flip side, many of these services also offer high-volume plans with up to 100,000 or more contacts.
Sometimes this requires a custom plan that has to be arranged directly with a sales rep. If you’re willing to commit, look for the companies that offer discounts if you pay yearly rather than monthly. A few also offer money-back guarantees.
Getting started shouldn’t be daunting. Generally, you’ll know right away whether you like a user interface (UI) or not, and most of the contenders we reviewed offer free trials so you can poke around before dropping any cash. Luckily, most of these services have modern-looking graphics and uncluttered layouts. These are not the complex business software UIs of yesterday.
Be sure to look at the tech support details, too, since several vendors don’t make support as available as we would have liked. You’ll find that some offer 24/7 phone support, live chat, and email help, while others leave you to rely on online documentation and limited live support hours. The best services offer a combination of self-serve help resources—where you can search FAQs and articles to find your answers—as well as live support via chat or phone when you can’t solve an issue yourself. We cover all of these concerns in our reviews, plus you can get an overview in the feature chart.
Email Responders and Automation
Beyond sending newsletters, the best email marketing services offer custom autoresponders. These help you stay in touch with your contacts with automatically generated emails based on special occasions (such as their birthday or anniversary), welcome emails for new subscribers, or thank-you emails for recent purchases, to give some examples.
The most advanced email marketing services offer custom workflows to specify triggers based on actions (such as opening an email or making a purchase) or on inaction (such as ignoring emails). With these services, you can also set up a series of emails (such as tutorials) to send to segments of users, and you can pause or stop a campaign at any time. You can also move contacts into new segments once they’ve completed their tutorials.
This kind of email marketing automation trick is mapping out what marketers call “the customer journey.” That journey amounts to the sequence and conditions your email marketing app must consider before sending out an automatic email. Depending on the app, this can be as easy or as complex as you’d like, but planning is critical.
A small retail business, for example, might want to send an automatic blanket email to all its customers before every holiday sale. They might also extend that to specific brands too. Suppose a customer bought an item from Vendor X, for example. In that case, the business might want to automatically send that customer an email if there’s a new product from the same vendor, especially if it’s on sale.
Those are basic examples. More complex possibilities include crafting several emails with the same message but optimised for specific subsets of your customer list. These optimisations could be around the products they’ve purchased, their location, or whether they’ve ever called your product support line, to name just a few. Whatever information you’ve collected about them can be relevant.
This level of customisation can get very complex, so it’s important not to get overwhelmed at the start. Building a map to help automate your email marketing starts with what you want to tell customers, when you want to say to it, and why. Follow that plan, and you’ll quickly build a journey that might start with a welcome email post-purchase and gradually drill down to ever more targeted offers as your relationship with that customer grows.
As you’re planning that journey, you’ll come across all the details you need as you go, like which customer segments should be on different journeys, what those journeys need to look like, and mainly how to track your automated campaigns.
Tracking Your Results
Sending out campaigns isn’t much help unless you can track your successes and failures to make adjustments quickly. All of the services covered here offer some level of tracking, whether it’s simple open and click rate data, color-coded charts and statistics, or even integration with Google Analytics. Once you’ve got some data on your campaign, you can tweak your content to see what works using features like A/B testing, where one part of your audience receives an email built one way and another set of people get the same email built differently.
In addition to A/B testing, many services now offer multivariate testing, which involves using multiple variations of an entire campaign to test which one performed best. Services that offer this feature include Campaigner and Mailchimp. Search engine optimization (SEO) is another important factor for content and landing pages. The right keywords can directly lead your subscribers from their email platform onto your website.
Whether you’re looking for a simple email marketing solution or one with full automation and advanced capabilities, there’s a wide range of solutions out there, and one of the contenders we’ve reviewed here should be a solid fit.
You’ll see vendors focused on expanding their internal features while others develop significant partner and integration ecosystems. Email marketing remains the foundation and the starting point, making it a great place to start your digital marketing journey.