Tools to Reach the Inbox of the Contemporary Consumer
Every $1 spent on email marketing investment returns an average of $44.25. (Experian)
Email Service Providers
Sending email is still believed to be the most effective form of marketing for most businesses. As companies develop from their initial phase, they begin to outgrow the impulsive desire of blind CC’ing all of their contacts in an email from an Outlook account, but rather adopt a more robust, efficient means of distributing email and managing contacts. Like in all areas of marketing strategy, baby-step entry is important. So diving into a multifaceted marketing automation platform isn’t always the ideal route. Many early-stage functions will start with a more basic email service provider (ESP) to begin their email strategy, build up lists, establish some basic-level workflows and track results, later to scoop up and migrate over to something more robust when the time comes. Where these tools used to require a bit of a learning curve for beginners and non-marketers, many have become more intelligent, effectively making the experience of using tools simpler without the need of an expert designer, advanced email specialist or even writing one line of code.
MailChimp has done a nice job in becoming somewhat synonymous with basic email marketing, providing 6 million people with solutions to create, send and track email marketing communication, according to their homepage. Across the board, the plethora of ESPs available to adopt are, for the most part, the same. The bare bones of each product offers the same solutions and broad functionality, but the ones that are optimal come down to the small percentage deviation from the rest. In MailChip’s case, it’s the user experience.
The user interface of the MailChimp platform offers an impressively intuitive experience for even novice users. MailChimp know that many of its millions of users are not email marketing experts, nor are they designers or analysts. That understanding has translated into the design of the simple UI design and the ease of functionality to perform tasks, such as ability to drag-and-drop content blocks when designing emails. The platform holds the user’s hand through the creation of new email, right through the list building, execution and tracking analytics.
Campaign Monitor is a recent up-and-comer in the ESP landscape. Like MailChimp, Campaign Monitor stores contacts and provides solutions to create and execute mailings, but with a focus on newsletter marketing. Within the email marketing strategy, newsletter approach plays a big role. Newsletters keep a constant rapport with a business’s network of existing and potential customers – providing updates on what’s going on with the business, industry as well as other valuable content and thought leadership. This helps to organically grow a database of contacts as website newcomers may sign up, and recipients share with their peers who may also register.
The Campaign Monitor UX is also incredibly user-friendly built with beginner users in mind. The design studio offers simple templates or ability to fully-customize content. Where Campaign Monitor goes above and beyond others in its clas is it’s surprisingly intelligent offerings, like personalization ability, social sharing links and even dynamic content to really cater a newsletter’s content to the recipient. The platform also attacks integration, which is becoming imperative in a market of so many technology tools – many with very focused specialties – that could work together to play into each other’s strengths to help marketers construct an effective, customized ecosystem that powers their marketing. Tools are embracing integration with third-party as a result, and Campaign Monitor is a great illustration of that.
The ecosystem of integrated tools that Campaign Monitor offers is more advanced than many ESPs I’ve encountered. The tool has seamless open syncing ability with a smattering of CRMs from smaller CRMs up to Salesforce.com; to eCommerce tools like Shopify, FoxyCart and MoonClerk; to analytics providers like Informly and Google Analytics; to content management systems like WordPress; to much, much more.
Marketing automation tools (MATs) are often thought of as ESPs on steroids. While they do enhance the email marketing experience, which makes the statement true, they also open doors to even more abilities to revolve around email marketing and a contact database core. MATs also do more than the name implies. Automating repetitive manual tasks is simply one of the facets that evolving marketing automation tools offer marketing departments. MATs are quickly becoming the central hub where marketers live and manage all aspects of marketing operations, from database management, to outbound and inbound marketing, to analytics monitoring, lead conversion and ROI tracking.
Like with ESPs, there is a large and growing population of providers to choose from and, even with the more robust nature of these tools, still the different solutions broadly are virtually 85% the same across the board; however, the 15% deviation of each encompass the substance that makes them either qualified or unfit for a given marketing departments overall strategy.
Marketing strategy could be thought of as an engine, and automation tools the fuel that makes it run without manual labor. And different engines require different types of fuel. Much is the case in marketing. Hubspot provides solutions to marketers across the board, but in my opinion, where they really shine is in the B2C space and among businesses in the early stage of dispersing their brand. Using marketing to turn strangers to a customers involves a series of stages in between. Marketers must lead strangers to gaining awareness, to earning interest, to consideration, to taking action, to making a purchase, to retaining loyalty. This cycle is the way I like to view it, which expands on the traditional AIDA philosophy. Hubspot has mastered the first two pieces, arguably better than anyone else.
Hubspot has pioneered adding definition to the concept they have coined to the widely-used term “inbound marketing.” Inbound marketing strategy, also sometimes called “permission marketing,” differs but compliments its opposite “outbound marketing.” While outbound strategy involves the longstanding method of approaching target audiences with promotion and content, inbound strategy involves making a business more discoverable to target customers. The popular short summary for inbound is often: “Get found, Convert and Analyze.”
The Hubspot platform does a great job in combining the methods of inbound marketing with outbound communications broadcasting to cast a wide net in the market and pull in interest. Hubspot offers robust email marketing, tracking and automation capability, social media management, SEM functionality and other solutions that push content out and pull customers into appropriate areas that motivate an action. Where Hubspot differs from some others is in the ability to really drill down into those people they are pulling in to qualify and define them. In the B2B space, converting interest to action often involves more finesse and a personal touch when compared to B2B. For this reason, highly advanced lead conversion middle and bottom-of-the-funnel solutions are needed to turn a lead into a marketing qualified lead (MQL) or sales qualified lead (SQL) for delivery to sales.
Marketo is doing a great job of supporting the entire marketing foundation. Marketo tends to cost more than most of its competitors – and far more than basic-level ESPs – so early-stage marketing often eases its way into Marketo to walk before they run. The platform draws in interest using inbound and outbound solutions, then allows users to drill into contacts to pull up a myriad of data on their demographic and behavioral features. As a result, more insight is added to leads which helps push them to their appropriate place, like to sales or back into the nurturing cycle. Building the frameworks to complete those intelligent workflows and have them run automatically is a difficult procedure using any tool – requiring immense analysis, tweaking and testing different approached – but that tedious process is made relatively seamless using Marketo’s intuitive UX.
Marketo has a robust ecosystem of third-party integrations, supports most any marketing channel and syncs with Salesforce.com better than any other marketing tools I’ve seen. If there is one tool that will make huge strides in bridging the divide between the sales and marketing functions, Marketo seems to be a big contender.
Crawling before you run is important in marketing, and walking in between is important too. Marketers should not get ahead of their abilities, but also not adopt tools that involve fancy, advanced features they’d be paying for but not use. I consider Act-On to live in the middle of basic ESP and advanced MAT. As a marketing function develops, it needs to make the leap to something better; and in that sense, change is good. After delving pretty deep into the Act-On software, I’ve realized that they offer just about everything Marketo offers, just in a bit less advanced way.
Act-On is in its early-stage and, like others in that phase, it has a few quirks in functionality. As the software develops and irons out the slight wrinkles, it will do a great job of fulfilling the middle-ground solution between a MailChimp and Marketo or Hubspot. Many companies require just the basics in automated inbound and outbound marketing. Also an advantage to developing companies, Act-On contains a pricing model I haven’t seen with other providers. Some MATs charge based on emails sent, which is a bit of an antiquated method since many are using these tools beyond just email. The tools are also attempting to move away from their “email tool” reputation among most to more of a universal “marketing tool.” Most other platforms charge based on the number of contacts that exist in their database, which makes a bit more sense in that simply having contacts exist in a robust database tool offers advantage to the marketer.
It sounds financially inconvenient, but as marketers rely on continuous email marketing, the CPM (cost per thousand emails sent) model hits a point where it becomes less economically-friendly than a fee based on the database size with unlimited email. Act-On offers a bit of a combination of the two, as they charge based on the contacts in the database, but just the contacts that have been actively emailed. Each month, the number resets. So a slow email month will result in a lower fee. How this differs from a CPM model is that an unlimited amount of email could be sent without hitting the point of overspending. Whether each user actively emailed gets one or a hundred emails (not recommended) within a month, the cost would be the same. Business still evolving their email strategy, who might hit some slow months, might find this model a reasonable fit.
Which tools do you believe are supporting major transformation to ultramodern marketing?