ellipsis flag icon-blogicon-check icon-comments icon-email icon-error icon-facebook icon-follow-comment icon-googleicon-hamburger icon-imedia-blog icon-imediaicon-instagramicon-left-arrow icon-linked-in icon-linked icon-linkedin icon-multi-page-view icon-person icon-print icon-right-arrow icon-save icon-searchicon-share-arrow icon-single-page-view icon-tag icon-twitter icon-unfollow icon-upload icon-valid icon-video-play icon-views icon-website icon-youtubelogo-imedia-white logo-imedia logo-mediaWhite review-star thumbs_down thumbs_up

Help for Choosing ESPs

Dawn Anfuso
Help for Choosing ESPs Dawn Anfuso

Earlier this month, JupiterResearch released its 4th annual Email Marketing Buyer's Guide, a detailed evaluation and ranking of 30 vendors. Jupiter evaluated each vendor in the categories of client references, product demo, financial stability, services expertise, application features such as usability and functionality, partnerships, and technology integration. The company then based overall value, suitability and breadth on the distinct needs of six types of marketers -- small business, service-oriented, low-volume promotional, low-volume newsletter, high-volume promotional and high-volume newsletter.

iMedia: Why does Jupiter do this report?

Jupiter: JupiterResearch clients look to us to help them make strategic buying decisions and email marketing vendor selection is one area that we get a lot of inquiries. The annual report itself is also a tremendous resource for the vendors themselves as it is the most comprehensive research on this market sector.

iMedia: Has the evaluation criteria changed over the years or stayed pretty much the same? How did you choose those criteria?

Jupiter: The evaluation criteria has expanded over the years and includes among other things an extensive vendor questionnaire and a demo scenario that requires the providers to assemble and send a mailing based on data and content assets that we provide them. We collected approximately 360 data points on each vendor. The criteria are largely based on the input of the email marketers themselves. We do a survey annually that collects vendor selection information from email marketers. This year we made the buyers guide persona based, creating a JupiterResearch evaluation constellation for six different email marketing personas, which was based on the different needs we have discovered in these surveys. 

iMedia: One of the key questions you ask in the report is how have ESPs' offerings matured during the past 12 months? Can you summarize those findings?

Jupiter: There were few revolutionary product developments as many ESPs still struggle to include the basic and mission-critical compliance features, such as testing and CAN-SPAM support, which were found in only 66 percent and 63 percent of the applications respectively. While some have made big strides in the area of application usability and adding interesting functionality such as more robust template support, there are still a good number of providers that have done little to improve their offerings over the past few years.

iMedia: What makes criteria for the six types of marketers so different? In other words, what are some key differentiators between what a small business marketer and a high-volume newsletter, for example, would need in a vendor?

Jupiter: Marketers have told us that they place different emphasis on things, for example small business newsletter marketers are more concerned about the providers' delivery tools and reputation where as high-volume business-to-consumer newsletter marketers put more emphasis on the vendors' strategic and tactical services. We are not suggesting that these things are not important to both types of marketers; it is just that the emphasis they place on these items is different. Another example is application features such as the ability for the solution to integrate into other systems and the way content and data is moved into the system. For smaller marketers that don’t have complex mailings, it is completely reasonable to move content elements one at a time into the application, but that approach would obviously be far less useful for say a retailer or travel provider that has thousands of content elements and dozens of customer segments. These are the types of differences that we highlight in the way we approach the providers in this space.

iMedia: What traits do the vendors you rank as leaders share? What makes them standout?

Jupiter: They all scored very well with their reference clients in terms of satisfaction and service responsiveness. Additionally, they all have rather usable applications, which in our opinion transcends the ease-of-use aspects of the application to specific functionality such as segmentation, dynamic content and the organization of the assets within the application. It is amazing how many vendors still lack basic foldering support to organize lists and content elements -- for example, only 40 percent have folder support that is consistent across the application.

iMedia: How should marketers use your report? What diligence beyond the report should they be doing to evaluate their best ESP partners?

Jupiter: Marketers should use this to jump-start their selection process. It should help companies reduce their list of prospective vendors down to the top three or five. There is a concept report that we released in conjunction with the buyers guide titled “How to Select an ESP” which includes our 10-point guide to vendor selection. Some of the items discussed in that research are to investigate the providers' data orientation in order to determine if it is list oriented or if it is a relational database, as well as the ease at which response data can be interrogated. Marketers should use what we have found as a map when they take the prospective vendors’ application for a test drive.

iMedia: You also ask in the report about what attributes marketers should question. Any insight you can provide on that?

Jupiter: There are many, but one area would be how to understand how the ESP calculates its metrics, such as email delivery. There are many different methodologies to calculating this metric, which makes a true comparative assessment of delivery rates across providers hard to ascertain. Another one is to look closely at custom reporting, even in what are characterized as “self-service” applications. Marketers need to look at reporting, specifically custom reporting and the ability for the marketer to easily generate those reports or rely on a fee-based approach where the vendor does this for the marketer.

iMedia: Any trends you see developing within the space?

Jupiter: Despite the consolidation that this market has seen, there are still many viable standalone ESPs. The report goes into great detail regarding the growth patterns of consolidated mixed media ESPs and those that are standalone. It is clear that there is still a market for standalone ESPs despite the land grab by many of the offline marketing services providers. We also see marketers placing much more emphasis on the ability to use website click stream data in their email marketing targeting. 

iMedia: Anything more to add?

Jupiter: As marketers increase their sophistication and gravitate to more targeted marketing tactics, they are demanding a more comprehensive set of tools. ESPs must increase their product development endeavors, as the top request for improvement from their reference clients is to increase the speed at which new product enhancements are developed and rolled out.

Additional information:
Get information on how to order the buyers guide here.

 Dawn Anfuso is editor of iMedia Connection.

You're at your desk sitting in front of your computer with a stack of business cards. What's the next step?

Immediately after the event enter your business cards into your contact manager. Personally, I use CardScan and then export everything to Outlook. Then take your cards and divide them into piles. The two piles I use are (1) people who I want to do business with right now, and (2) people who I don't want to do business with right now.

Send out emails to everyone, regardless of what pile their business card is in. I like to use LinkedIn for this purpose. I have a generic email message that will go out to the pile of people that I don't need to follow up with letting them know that I enjoyed meeting with them and requesting that they join my network on LinkedIn.

For the people that I do want to follow up with, I customize and personalize each LinkedIn invite. Depending on the conversation I had with each person, I may also send them a Facebook invite. The tool you use depends on your personal preference, but I've found LinkedIn and Facebook to be easy-to-use tools that are effective and widely used, especially in the interactive marketing community.

Now, it's time to take a deep breath and follow up on your stack of opportunities! 

You're at the conference at a networking session. Don't spend the entire night hanging out with people you already know, especially if you already work with them.

Plan on spending at least 60 percent of your networking time talking with people you don't know. Look at name tags and strike up a conversation with anyone from a company that looks interesting to you. Remember that everyone is in exactly the same boat as you. I typically walk up to someone and say, "Hi, I'm Sean Cheyney from AccuQuote. What do you do with ?"

Some of these conversations result in business and others will not. Either way, it's important to remember that networking is about relationship building. Some of the best business relationships I have are with people that I don't do any business with, but met at an event.

As an example, at the iMedia Brand Summit, marketers show up 1½ days before the main event begins, spending dinner and the entire next day together networking and sharing what's working and what's not working for them in their business.

While I'm not transacting business with my fellow marketers from a media-buying standpoint, the relationships and networks I've built are my most valuable. Besides truly enjoying spending time with all of these people, I know that if I'm starting a new initiative, I know exactly who has done a similar initiative that can provide me with some insight and warn me about potential pitfalls. It's these types of relationships as well as simply enjoying being around these fascinating and fun people that keeps me counting down with anticipation each day until the next big event.

The key here is to talk with everyone. If you have a tendency to be shy around new people, muster up the intestinal fortitude and take the first step. If all else fails, use the "act as if" principle. Sure, it sounds corny, but it can help put you in the right mindset. Before heading the networking sessions, look in the mirror and picture yourself as a natural people magnet that everyone wants to talk with. Think of someone like OMG Digital CEO Sean Finnegan, who is always surrounded by people at any event he attends.

Whatever technique you decide works for you, do whatever it takes to break out of your shell, have a good time and walk away with newly formed relationships.

Before any conference, ask yourself, "What are my networking goals?" Are you looking to meet a certain number of people and pick up "X" number of business cards? Are you shooting for a particular dollar figure in sales or media buying from contacts you meet at the event?

At many events, you can find the list of attendees ahead of time. When this is possible (iMedia has this available for its events through the People Connection) put all of the attendees in Excel and sort them by company. At this point, use a color-coding system to help set your goals. Feel free to develop your own coding system, but here is the one that I use.

  • Green: People I already know and want to talk with at the event.

  • Yellow: People I already know but don't need to talk with.

  • Blue: People I don't know but want to meet at the event.

Go through your list of everyone you want to speak with at the event and reach out to them via email. Take the people who are the highest priority on your list and schedule one-on-one meetings with them at the event. The time at events often flies by faster than you anticipated, so being organized as well as disciplined with your time is vital. Use your calendar and fill the time gaps whenever possible.

At the end of every day while at the event, refer to your spreadsheet and check off the names of the people you were able to have conversations with. Identify the people remaining on your list and seek out the ones with whom you don't already have a pre-scheduled meeting.

Maybe it's just my social nature, but I love networking at business events. It's by far my favorite aspect of attending trade shows, but this wasn't always the case.

When I started in marketing, I was extremely shy. At my first event, I stood by myself for about 30 minutes at the networking session in the evening. Finally, I gave myself a gut check and forced myself to start talking to people. Although a little uncomfortable at first, I started simply by just walking up to someone, introducing myself and engaging in a conversation. By the end of the night, not only did I have a great time, but I ended up with a stack of business cards and a tremendous amount of opportunities requiring follow-up.

It's important to realize that business and fun go hand-in-hand. It's not a coincidence that most networking events typically involve cocktails, food and some sort of entertainment. Networking in general is a fun social activity. When you go into it with this mindset, it becomes much more productive.

At my first iMedia event, we started the Marketers Only meeting by going around the room of about 75 people sharing a small bit of personal information that most people wouldn't know about us. For example, I shared that I had run my third marathon a month earlier. It was an activity that really helped let down everyone's guard and served as great conversation starter throughout the week. I use this idea now throughout every event when I'm talking with people for the first time.

The interactive media industry is full of fun and interesting people, and conversation doesn't always have to revolve around business topics. Enjoy yourself and get to really know each person you talk with.

When you build the relationship, the business will follow.

Analytics-driven decision-making

"It used to be that you'd have to remind companies to install Google Analytics. Now everybody has it installed, but they don't go past the dashboard. Obtaining data these days is easy; the problem is, not many are tracking their goals properly nor do they know how to read the big data when they do have it in order to make proper decisions from it. Knowing how to set goals, track them, and evolve your marketing is key."
Chuck ReynoldsLevers


Email marketing

"Email is not dead! While much attention is paid to the sexiness of social media marketing, email remains one of the best ways to acquire and retain customers. We have a hard time filling our email marketing positions because marketing talent is too focused on glamorous new technologies."
Joel HollandVideo Blocks


Social media

"The greatest lack of marketing talent we are seeing is social. While social marketing seems fairly transparent on the surface, we are finding it hard to get talent that truly understands how to convert fans and followers into trial users. In addition, we're finding it hard to get talent in place that understands how to create engagement and community on the various social networks."
Dave Nevogt, Hubstaff


Direct mail marketing

"We are still in the catalog business -- yeah, can you imagine that? Catalogs have gone the way of the horse/buggy -- well, at least that's what every business magazine will tell you. Because of that 'hype,' it's very hard to find good, creative talent that has experience or wants to work in catalog/direct mail marketing."
Tim McHughSaddleback Educational


to leave comments.