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Choosing your marketing email sender

In days of old you would have simply created a big list in Outlook ’98 and bashed out your promotional emails willy nilly. Usefully, the world has moved on and for good reason and it’s a good deal simpler to manage.

I should point out, sending bulk email from scraped or bought-in lists to unwitting consumers is both illegal and bloody annoying. Slightly different rules apply when sending email to businesses but similar etiquette applies.

Lets start with the big elephant in the room, spam – making up 70% of email sent around the globe. However, ISPs, companies and pretty much everyone in the industry is committed to wiping spam out so much of it gets trapped along the way. The definition of spam is any email that is not requested so adhering strictly to the rules we’d see very little promotional email sent, but most bend the rules.

The second trigger for looking to use a proper email service is down to tracking and control. It’s good to be able to see how effective your emails are and track visitors back to your website. This information allows you to better tailor the next email shot, or how you follow-up the current one. Tracking, furthermore, gives you a measure by which to record return on investment, this is vital is todays date-driven marketing world.

To further narrow the subject, we’re going to focus on mass-market promotional email, including B2B, designed to generate early interest and curiosity. The purpose of these emails is to start the end-user on a journey. Transactional email, which is not covered here, is designed to drive “already-engaged” people down the sales funnel or back to repeat purchase.

Types of email sending service

There are a number of approaches, broadly broken down into:

  • Self-hosted solutions: Designed to manage either very small lists that don’t justify spending £50 a month for or very large solutions where you might be sending 10s of millions of emails every week and the saving you make running your own service justify the sky-high setup costs. I’m not going to talk about this solution here. Even for small list, I’d recommend using a service, there are freebie ones around.
  • Enterprise-grade solutions: Designed primarily for super-massive lists these services include the whos-who of the database and sales automation world. With these high-end services and features comes a combination of a large price tag and, frequently, too much complexity and power to be useable by the average marketer. I’ll talk about these solutions another day as they’re often overkill
  • The mid-ground providers: These solutions sit in the sweet spot for most UK companies. You won’t get a dedicated account manager, you won’t get all the bells and whistles but what you will get is a good solid service that’s reliable, well-priced and easy to use. If you’ve not got a dedicated email marketing manager then this is what you need.

Who are the big players

These are dominated by cloud-based services and on your shortlist you should already have Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor but it would be wise to consider some of the lesser well-known services such as SendGrid, dotMailer, Constant Contact and Emma Mail.

The similarities are greater than the differences

Amongst the popular services they really are very much of muchness when taken at face value, from price to features. For example, pricing for a 10,000 sized database sending, say, weekly is staggering similar: MailChimp $75, Constant Contact $75, Emma Mail $85, SendGrid $90 and Campaign Monitor at $130.

In terms of features, they are also very similar, offering: segments/groups, good reporting, testing, responsive templates, spam-checking, standard templates, real-time information and mobile-optimised apps.

So you could just choose based on price, or the colour of the logo and you’d not go far wrong. Except, there are some small and possibly crucial differences that might swing it for you. Each service has some best bits, they make it worth using.

MailChimp Best Bits

Campaign Monitor Best Bits

  • A simpler interface, faster delivery of solution
  • Roll-your-own design, great if you know a bit of HTML and CSS including a fab in-line CSS tool
  • Powerful API to talk to other third-party systems
  • Great for managing multiple companies, so ideal for a white-label agency solution

Don’t forget to check out the others, SendGrid, Constant Contact and Emma Mail.

Summary

Don’t sweat, the differences are small.

Most of the choice comes down to price (Campaign Monitor is more expensive), whether you like getting into the guts of design (MailChimp is weaker than Campaign Monitor) and how important integration is and with what third-party services.

Choosing another of the players would require a (small) leap of faith as you are likely to have to plough your own furrow in terms of support, enhancements and community.

We use MailChimp and we love WordPress – the tie-ups seem much closer than other offerings.


Disclosure: We are fans of MailChimp and tend to recommend it to our clients. We don’t receive any payment, reward, credits or recognition. We do have clients that use other services and we support them, maybe not as well.

Summary
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Find a good marketing email sender
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For most companies, they are sending from a few thousand to maybe half a million emails per month - this is the audience this article is written for.
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