email marketing service providers

How to choose the right email marketing service providers

  • What are the challenges of email marketing in 2019?
  • What to look for when choosing an email marketing service provider
  • Who are the leading email marketing service providers?

In 2019, email marketing remains a fundamental part of a successful digital or inbound marketing strategy. No other marketing strategy allows you to speak so directly to your customers. But like any inbound marketing strategy, it requires the right tools to get started. This is where email marketing service providers come in.

On the face of it, email service providers all essentially do the same thing – allowing you to send out emails in bulk to all, or parts of, your marketing list. In truth, the reality is more complicated – and there’s a significant variation in capabilities depending on the provider you choose. It’s important, therefore, to get the right trade–off between price and functionality. To help you make this decision, this blog weighs up the pros and cons of four well-known email marketing service providers.

The best email marketing service providers in 2019

In the early days of inbound marketing, email campaigns usually took a ‘spray and pray’ approach; meaning emails were sent out to the largest possible audience of contacts. This was based on an almost folklore-like formula that, on average, about 25% of emails would be opened, and somewhere between 10 and 20% would result in click-throughs. Logic therefore dictated that the more emails sent out, the higher number of click–throughs, and thus leads would be generated.

Regardless of how effective that strategy was, it’s certainly not the way things are done in 2019. Since then, several factors have forced email marketers to change tack. From shopping to online streaming, we increasingly live in a world governed by personalisation. For better or for worse, today’s customers expect their digital experience to be closely tailored to their tastes and preferences. Emails that broadly appeal to a large demographic have never been less effective.

If email marketing by bulk was already on its way out by 2018, then the implementation of the GDPR in May that year marked its final days. The regulation forced companies selling in and to the European Union to delete all contacts that hadn’t given express opt-in consent. By definition, the bulk approach to email marketing relied on large mailing lists, which virtually overnight had been deleted. But the upside of such a drastic change was that the resulting marketing lists, though much smaller, were more targeted, focused and higher quality.

Today, to appeal to these vastly different marketing lists, content must be eye-catching and most importantly, personalised.

In 2019, the best email marketing service providers take these changing requirements into account. When choosing the right provider for your email marketing campaign, there are a number of important factors to consider:

Audience segmentation options

Users should be able to break down their email marketing list into subgroups, by product usage, demographics, and historical interaction with the company. This allows them to better target emails towards focused demographics.

Simple user interface with easy functionality

Creating an effective, eye-catching email shouldn’t be time-consuming – and it shouldn’t take a professional designer to effectively manage it. Marketers looking to save money should look towards simple tools that create professional looking emails using simple drag–and–drop functionality.

Third-party integration

To target email contacts effectively, email marketing requires high-quality data. Larger organisations will, therefore, require a tool that integrates with customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, most notably Salesforce, so they can easily take advantage of existing customer data.

Automatic category updates

Effective marketing lists should adapt to changing circumstances. Categories should be able to change automatically if users perform a certain action, like clicking a link or downloading a content resource. Users that have already opened emails should be sent different kinds of emails to those who haven’t.

Taking these factors into account, here’s a look through the pros and cons of some of the most well-known email marketing service providers.

1. Mailchimp

Founded in 2001, Mailchimp has remained one of the most popular email marketing platforms virtually since its inception. For many people, this is the first and only port of call. Its popularity in the market is largely thanks to its simple user interface that allows users to easily build and edit professional looking email templates. In particular, it’s known for its simple drag–and–drop functionality. As well as this, it’s a comparatively cost-effective option, making it a popular choice for marketers or organisations with smaller budgets.

Mailchimp also performs respectably in other categories, such as strong integrations with third party platforms. These include Salesforce, Typeform, OptinMonster, and most importantly, Google Analytics.

Where audience segmentation is concerned Mailchimp runs into difficulties and doesn’t compare as well with some lesser known alternatives. Segmentation is possible but is generally achieved through a process of manual tagging, which can be time consuming. It doesn’t support functionality for automatically editing categories based on user actions. Though this is possible it can be a long-winded manual process that requires plenty of maintenance over time.

Mailchimp pros and cons

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Strong integration capabilities
  • Most cost–effective option

Cons

  • Limited email segmentation functionality
  • Difficult to achieve bulk dispatches
  • No user category automation

2. ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign is a more specialised email marketing tool than many, with a specific focus on automation. ActiveCampaign’s focus is enabling you to set parameters that will divert emails to specific people, based on a wide range of factors. Audience segmentation is naturally a winning feature of the platform; users can easily curate a customised user journey, adding categories that change and adapt depending on what actions the contact has previously taken.

The automation tool is designed using an easy–to–use flow diagram that establishes clear parameters for which emails a user should receive. Actions such as ‘new order placed’ and ‘customer abandons cart’ are easy to follow up with the relevant email template. It also comes with a range of email process templates that make it easy for users to get started.

The main place where ActiveCampaign runs into difficulties, however, is when we consider integrations. The software doesn’t natively integrate with any third party tools, meaning users have to go out of their way if they want the platform to interact with Salesforce, Typeform, OptinMonster and others. Though integrations are possible, they require going through alternative applications or tools to combine capabilities, which can be both difficult and time-consuming.

Active Campaign pros and cons

Pros

  • Intuitive interface that makes automated flows simple
  • High automation potential
  • Impressive resources and customer support

Cons

  • No native integrations
  • Email template builder could be easier to use

3. Drip

Drip defines itself as an ECRM, or ecommerce customer relationship manager, sitting about halfway between a traditional CRM and an ecommerce platform. On Drip, email marketing is one feature within a wider package of capabilities that aim to integrate the whole spectrum of customer relationship management tools into one place. However, email marketing, with a focus on automation, remains an important part of the platform.

By its nature, combining ecommerce, CRM and marketing automation lends Drip to a specific type of business – larger retail businesses with a need for marketing automation. Within its niche it works well, but it’s more expensive than some of its competitors, and its email automation capabilities aren’t as seamless as they could be. One frustration is that email automation flows can’t be edited after they’re published, which makes it difficult to tweak and improve automation as your business scales.

Because of its particular qualities, Drip isn’t suited to everyone. If your business requires an all-inclusive integration of customer relationship platforms, you’ll find in Drip a solution uniquely tailored to your needs. If you’re looking for is an email service provider without the bells and whistles, however, you’re probably better off considering the alternatives on this list.

Drip pros and cons

Pros

  • Impressive native integration capabilities
  • Unique combination of ecommerce, CRM and email marketing services
  • Includes capabilities for nurturing and managing leads

Cons

  • Workflow automation could be better
  • A more expensive tool than some
  • Published automation flows can’t be edited

4. Hubspot

Like Mailchimp, HubSpot is one of the biggest names in the digital marketing sphere – though not just as an email service provider. They offer ‘a full stack of software’, include marketing, sales and customer service tools. One of their most well-known offerings is the HubSpot CRM – a completely free tool with a fair offering of CRM capabilities.

To get the email marketing capabilities, however, you’ll have to go for the marketing hub software. Compared to Mailchimp and ActiveCampaign it can actually be quite expensive because it combines email marketing with a variety of other digital marketing tools and capabilities. The clear benefit from an email marketing perspective is the ability to integrate its capabilities within your wider digital strategy. It also integrates well with tools like Salesforce, Typeform or MailChimp.

The platform is easy to use, and designing emails is simple for non-professionals to get started with. Automation potential is available, but the tools aren’t quite as sophisticated as competitors on this list, like Drip and ActiveCampaign. For email marketing alone, HubSpot probably isn’t the best value choice on this list. But if you’re looking for something that can support you at every stage of your digital and inbound strategy – it’s certainly a good place to start.

HubSpot pros and cons

Pros

  • Strong insights into your audience
  • Potential to align all inbound marketing on a single platform
  • Includes an impressive social media management tool

Cons

  • An expensive choice
  • A more expensive tool than others
  • List management and email automation functionalities could be better

Which email marketing service provider is right for me?

The features and benefits of each of these email service providers mean that there’s no single platform that stands out from the crowd. Different organisations will have different requirements from their email strategies. Choosing the best provider will require careful consideration of the offerings and capabilities available, the price and the individual requirements of your organisation. Getting this right is the key to creating a successful email marketing strategy.

Alternatively, the email marketing experts here at Fifty Five and Five can design and maintain a specialist email marketing campaign tailored perfectly to the requirements of your company. Get in touch with us today to find out more.

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Matthew Rooke

Matthew Rooke

Matthew specialises in grammar and syntax, making sure each sentence packs the most meaning into the least possible space.