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The ultimate guide to choosing the best ESP for your brand

A staggering 89% of marketers use email as their primary channel for lead generation.

Choosing the right ESP is one of the most important steps in your marketing strategy, but choosing an ESP is not a straightforward process.

Email marketing software is a competitive industry, meaning that sifting through the different options, marketing messaging, and sales pitches can be overwhelming.

Worry not, as we have you covered with this guide. Read on to learn why your brand will benefit from an email service provider, steps to choosing the best ESP, and the features you shouldn’t miss out on.

June 12 - 2023

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A staggering 89% of marketers use email as their primary channel for lead generation.

And that’s understandable. Because email marketing generates $36 for every $1 spent, meaning that it boasts an impressive ROI of 3600%.

So, it may come as no surprise that in the modern marketing stack, email service providers (ESPs) are an essential addition.

But that doesn’t mean choosing an ESP is a straightforward process. Email marketing software is a competitive industry, meaning that sifting through the different options, marketing messaging, and sales pitches can be overwhelming.

Worry not, as we have you covered with this guide. Read on to learn why your brand will benefit from an email service provider, steps to choosing the best ESP, and the features you shouldn’t miss out on.

  1. 5 benefits of using an ESP
  2. 7 steps to choosing the best ESP for your business
  3. Functionality to consider when choosing an ESP
  4. Working with the experts

5 benefits of using an ESP

Email service providers play a crucial role in the marketing mix; providing businesses with essential tools and infrastructure to effectively manage and execute their email marketing strategies.

So, let’s delve into the specific benefits of using an ESP. Prepare yourself, because there are a lot.

Protection from blacklisting

If not done correctly, email marketing can put your business at risk of being blacklisted and identified as a spammer with major ISPs (internet service providers). Effectively blocking all of your future email communications.

However, by utilising an ESP that is recognised as a reputable sender by ISPs, you will immediately benefit from healthier deliverability rates and practices. Ensuring your communications are getting into the inbox.

Compliance with email legislation

Email service providers ensure compliance with important email legislation, such as the CAN-SPAM Act.

By using an ESP, you are required to adhere to the same compliance standards, this includes obtaining proper consent from subscribers, disclosing your identity as the sender, including opt-out options, and much more.

By following the ESP’s requirements, you can ensure legal compliance and maintain a positive reputation as a responsible email sender.

Easily manage data

Manually managing subscriptions and unsubscribes can be a resource-intensive and error-prone task.

ESPs offer powerful tools to automate list management processes. For instance, unsubscribes are handled seamlessly, with subscribers being automatically removed when they click the unsubscribe link.

This saves considerable time and resource, and avoids mistakes that can quickly snowball.

Review and improve results

Good ESPs will provide tracking and analytics tools to monitor and analyse campaign results.

This data helps you assess the effectiveness of your campaigns and make data-driven decisions to optimise future email marketing strategies.

Additionally, ESPs provide information on subscribes, unsubscribes, and bounce rates, offering comprehensive insights into campaign performance.

Create impactful campaigns

Of course, the creation of impactful campaigns is essential to engage audiences and stand out from competitors.

ESPs provide user-friendly tools and templates that enable businesses to create visually appealing email campaigns that grab subscribers’ attention.

These templates and editors save time and effort, enabling you to create visually striking emails that may not have been possible using your regular mail client.

7 steps to choosing the best ESP for your business

With so many solutions to choose from, it’s important to take a systematic approach to selecting the best ESP. This will ensure that you make an informed decision that works for your business in the long-term.

To achieve this, follow our step-by-step process to guide you through the selection process:

Identify your requirements

Start by clearly defining your email marketing goals and requirements, as well as the goals and strategic focus areas of the wider business.

This will help you to determine the specific features and functionalities you need from an ESP.

Consider factors such as the size of your subscriber list, the frequency of your email campaigns, automation needs, integration requirements, and any other unique needs specific to your business.

We will go into this topic in more detail later on in the guide.

Conduct research

Next, research the market and create a shortlist of potential email service providers that align with your requirements.

There are lots of resources available for you to explore: industry publications, review sites, and forums will all help you to gather information about each ESP’s reputation, performance, and customer satisfaction.

And if you’re feeling a little lost in research, consider focusing on the ESPs that specialise in businesses similar to yours.

Ask for recommendations

Peer-to-peer recommendations can be worth their weight in gold.

Because real-world experiences can provide valuable information that may not be readily available through official documentation or marketing materials.

So, reach out to your professional network, industry peers, or online communities to gather valuable recommendations and insights.

Evaluate features and functionality

Once you have a shortlist, review the features and capabilities of each ESP.

Consider factors such as deliverability rates, list segmentation, automation tools, analytics and reporting, integration options, and ease of use.

And ensure that the ESP’s feature set matches your requirements and offers room for future growth and scalability.

Again, our list of recommended features and functionalities later in this guide will help at this stage.

Stick to your budget

Now, let’s get down to costs.

Be sure to evaluate the pricing structure of your chosen ESP to ensure it aligns with your budget and requirements, without any hidden costs.

Consider factors such as the number of subscribers, email volume, and additional features or add-ons that may incur extra costs. Remember to consider how your business and email marketing may scale in the future. And if there is room in your tariff to accommodate this.

Review support options

Customer support is crucial when selecting an email service provider, so look for an ESP that provides responsive and reliable customer support.

Evaluate the availability of support channels, such as live chat, email, or phone, and check customer reviews and testimonials regarding the quality and timeliness of support provided.

Take advantage of free trials

Most email service providers offer free trials or demos of their platforms, so take advantage of these opportunities to test-drive the ESPs on your shortlist.

Use the trial period to explore the interface, experiment with the features, and assess the user experience. Or, if you feel a little lost, ESPs will always be keen to offer you a one-to-one demo to walk you through the platform and answer any questions before you make your final decision.

Functionality to consider when choosing an ESP

When it comes to functionality, it can be easy to be seduced by the flashiest looking tools or the most innovative-named feature.

However, this stage in your decision making process requires careful consideration of several key areas of functionality.

Let’s explore the significance of each and how it can guide your decision-making process.

Deliverability

Deliverability is critical as it determines whether your emails reach your subscribers’ inboxes or end up in spam folders.

A reliable ESP will boast a strong reputation with internet service providers (ISPs), employing best practices to maximise email deliverability rates.

Look for features such as authentication protocols, bounce handling, and spam filter testing to ensure optimal deliverability and reach a higher engagement level with your audience.

Scalability

It’s important to consider the scalability of an ESP to accommodate your growing subscriber base and evolving email marketing needs. Scalability is particularly crucial for businesses that anticipate significant growth or seasonal fluctuations in their email marketing activities.

Ensure that the ESP can handle increasing volumes of email campaigns without compromising performance, or adding any nasty hidden costs further down the line.

List segmentation

For many businesses, segmentation is the first step in their personalisation journey.

Any good ESP will provide advanced segmentation tools that enable businesses to create dynamic segments based on demographics, purchase history, engagement levels, and much more.

This simple tactic will quickly support businesses in uplifting their email campaigns, sending highly targeted communications without the need for advanced data.

Personalisation

For many businesses, the next step in their personalisation journey is utilising advanced personalisation tactics and dynamic content.

ESPs should offer tools that enable businesses to personalise email content by integrating with their data, alongside dynamic content blocks so that automatically populate emails with relevant information such as names, locations, or purchase history. Without the need to create multiple email templates.

Automation

Automation features allow you to streamline your email processes and send the most advanced email sequences that cannot be achieved manually. It is a feature that really is crucial for effective marketing to modern audiences.

Look for an ESP that offers robust automation capabilities, such as triggered emails based on specific user actions, behaviour-based segmentation, and workflow automation.

Analytics

Sending out great emails is all well and good. But are they actually performing?

Comprehensive analytics and reporting capabilities are crucial for tracking the performance of your email marketing strategies and campaigns.

Look for an ESP that offers detailed metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, conversion rates, and subscriber engagement.

Additionally, clear visualisation of data through graphs and charts can help you gain insights into campaign effectiveness, identify areas for improvement, and make data-driven decisions to optimise your email marketing strategy.

Integration capabilities

Consider the ESP’s integration capabilities with other marketing tools and systems that your business utilises.

Seamless integration with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, eCommerce platforms, and marketing automation software enables data synchronisation, streamlines workflows, and provides a unified view of customer interactions across channels.

Customer support

Often overlooked is the importance of strong customer support and account management.

So carefully consider the level of support provided in your pricing tariff.

This could include the availability of technical assistance, access to resources and documentation, and responsiveness to inquiries.

Prompt and efficient customer support can be invaluable when you encounter issues or require guidance on maximising the ESP’s features and functionalities.

Implementation and onboarding

Similar to customer support, the implementation and onboarding process can make or break an experience with an ESP.

Review what the email service provider’s specific process is and how hands-on they are willing to be. Some ESPs or pricing tariffs may only offer ‘self service’ onboarding, which may suit more experienced businesses. However, if you are new to email service providers or don’t have the experience in house, consider a more tailored approach.

Working with the experts

Choosing the right ESP is one of the most important steps in your marketing strategy.

But, we appreciate there’s a lot to consider. From functionality to costs, support to implementation.

If you’re struggling to make the right choice, or want the management of an ESP taken off your hands completely, then we can help.

Why not get in touch with us to explore how we can support your ESP decision making? As a specialist email marketing agency, we can offer a wealth of experience through a variety of support and management options.

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