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3 tasks you should outsource to your ESP

Christopher Marriott
3 tasks you should outsource to your ESP Christopher Marriott

Many of the companies with whom The Relevancy Group works are handling the majority of their email campaign production with in-house teams these days. An industry trend over the last six to eight years of introducing more user-friendly user interfaces and drag-and-drop features seems to have accelerated this trend toward doing things yourself. That's not to say that there isn't still a large demand for outsourced campaign production services -- whether to the ESP itself or a third party -- but the reality is that a good in-house team can certainly execute email campaigns as well as anyone else, and sometimes with a lower turnover of trained campaign resources.

Does this portend a diminishing need for ESPs to provide marketing services to their clients? On the contrary, we see a growing demand for other services provided by them. And these findings are backed up in the ongoing research we routinely conduct with marketers in our survey panel. There is a growing recognition that certain tasks involved with today's highest performing email marketing programs are best handled by their ESP partners. Here's three that we see most often.

Deliverability and ISP relations

There's a reason that some of the best-known names in email marketing are the deliverability folks at the big ESPs; their reputations carry a lot of weight at the various ISPs. Getting blocks lifted isn't a question of some kind of technology fix. It's usually the result of a direct communication from your ESP to the right person at that ISP. So you need to know who that person is, and -- equally important -- that person needs to know who you are before he or she is going to listen to the reasons why the block, or throttling, should be lifted. Marketing organizations don't have these people on staff, and it wouldn't make sense for them to do so. It's as much art as it is science.

The deliverability teams at the top ESPs watch over all of their clients' campaigns, looking for signs of potential problems, and usually fixing them before they blow up into something more serious. They are there to protect the reputations of the ESP's clients, as well as that of the ESP itself (if your ESP has a bad reputation with the ISPs, your campaigns are going to suffer no matter what you do). And because of the large number of ESP clients that they monitor, they are in constant contact with the ISPs to build and maintain trusted relationships.

And if your company is self-service, their role is that much more important. Email production teams at the ESPs are watched over like hawks by the deliverability people to ensure they don't break any rules or ignore best practices. They don't have that same ability to watch over your in-house team. So when (notice I didn't say "if") you get blacklisted by spamhaus, do you want Joe from your IT department, moonlighting as a deliverability guy, to get you out of trouble? Or do you want a respected and widely recognized industry expert to handle things?

Multi-channel campaign management

Everybody wants to be doing this. In fact, most marketers will say they are doing this, but the fact remains that internal obstacles thwart many marketer efforts to engage in true multi-channel marketing. In a recent survey, we asked marketers, "What are your greatest challenges when developing email marketing campaigns?" For a large number, the bigger issues revolved around managing and/or coordinating marketing messages across channels and across and organization's various departments. For companies using enterprise-level ESPs, lack of proper tools was a distant last as an obstacle. There's a great reason for that: Most of the leading platforms have introduced strong capabilities in multi-channel marketing over the last several years. It's table stakes these days.

As the ESPs having been building these tools the last several years, they've also been building up their expertise in this area. They've gotten much better at integrating other tools, platforms, databases, etc., into their platforms. They've developed more sophisticated reporting tools. And they've developed the servicing teams to provide the insights and recommendations to optimize your programs and to bring your various stakeholders into the conversations. Silos are always easier to break down when the catalyst is coming from outside your organization.

Creative and design

It's important to remember that creative teams are embedded in almost every ESP these days. The ESPs either went out and bought an entire agency (e.g., Epsilon, Responsys), or they built one organically (e.g., Yesmail, Acxiom, Experian, ExactTarget). Regardless of path chosen, these creative and design teams are at the forefront of creating the templates and layouts that enable your content to be optimized for viewing on any platform, browser, and device (and at the same time follow your branding guidelines). No matter how many campaigns your company sends out, an in-house team simply cannot get the depth and breadth of experience that your ESP team has developed over time. They deal with hundreds of clients.

That's not to say your team isn't really good; it's just that there are certain times you should definitely be bringing in your ESP's team. Building templates is at the top of that list. So is multi-channel campaign development. As you do more multi-channel campaign work, your ESP's creative team is a critical component as the folks creating the common look and feel for messaging that appears in email, push to app, retargeted display, and even social. Sourcing all of this work internally, or via the ad hoc services of several different agencies working with different stakeholders, will quickly bog down your best intentions and efforts.

Multi-channel (and email) marketing is becoming increasingly effective, while also being increasingly complex. The leading marketers in this space are making smart decisions on what they are handling themselves and where to bring in teams from their ESPs. And ESPs without strong marketing services offerings are going to find themselves sitting more and more on the sidelines when the biggest brands go to RFP.  And to see how the various ESPs ranked in delivering these services to their clients, go to MarketerQuarterly.com. Here you'll have access to an excerpt of our buyers' guide.

Chris Marriott is the vice president of services and principal consultant at The Relevancy Group.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


to leave comments.

Commenter: Heather Gately

2014, April 15

Unfortunately, I needed ESP to know what an ESP was here.