How to Choose an Email Marketing Platform in 2020

Andrew Bonar

Andrew Bonar

Andrew is the founder of emailexpert and the Deliverability as a service concept is his. Essentially bringing together contacts, people and the experience gained managing deliverability for leading brands as an employee of email vendor platforms and making it accessible to multi-tenant senders irrespective of their platform or tech stack.
Choosing an Email Marketing Platform

Choosing the right email service provider, literally dozens of blogs have been written on the subject, hopefully this post provides a fresh perspective for 2020. I was ready to post when an old friend and veteran Inbox Expo panelist Dennis Dayman announced his latest Email Unplugged Podcast was going to be on the self same topic. Considering the guest was none other than email marketing vendor selection guru Chris Marriott from Email Connect, another old friend and an InboxExpo keynote, I felt had little choice but to hold back on posting until I had the opportunity to listen to what they had to say on the topic.

Before the Podcast almost every post on the subject that I could easily find had been written by a representative of an ESP. None were factually incorrect but they tended to all be skewed as might be expected to what that particular ESP had to offer. 24 hour support in 8 languages might be essential to some, however if it is bundled with the service maybe you are subsidising a service you don’t need. If you are making the decision based on a few quick sales calls then maybe you are not being fully informed. As Chris Marriott of EmailConnect says:

I mean, there’s never been a salesperson who has ever met a requirement that his platform couldn’t handle. And, and so if you listen to salespeople and listen to the analysts, you come away with the impression that they all are pretty much the same. And nothing could be further from the truth.

Chris Marriott, EmailConnect on EmailUnplugged Podcast

You may be getting pressure to make a decision quickly, but it pays to invest time in selecting the right vendor.

In writing this post the only goal is to try and make your life a little easier. OK so the post should make you think, and probably put a little more thought into your email vendor selection process than you may have otherwise but this should save you time, money, stress and potentially the halo effect of a poor choice.

A good question to ask before we begin..

Why is there so much content about choosing an email marketing platform?

Because “how do I choose the right ESP?” or “what is the best ESP for me?” and similar are extremely common questions being asked online. They are good questions, because the wrong choice can prove painful to say the least. Just refer to the quotes from Dennis Dayman below.

Noting that there are over 500 email service providers in the email marketing vendor space the task of whittling down the choices for the average marketer or business owner is daunting, and even the experienced email marketer and emailgeek finds themselves drawing a deep breath at the thought of selecting a new email marketing platform.

With such a wide array of choices, pricing plans, features and services available in the space it is no surprise therefore that so many people have so many questions.

Even for your industry or vertical you are likely to find anything from a handful through to dozens specialising in your chosen field. Posts like this serve to simplify the process of choosing your next email marketing platform.

And even now, today when you’re looking at an ESP and the change out into an ESP,  like choosing the right life partner, right. You don’t want to rush into it, but you also don’t want to regret later as a wrong decision…. And again, today choosing that sound, it was really easy. Like you just choose it, you just kind of move on. But again, the repercussions of selecting the wrong one is kind of depressing when you look at it. And the process for shifting from,  one email service provider to, or not is a tedious process today. Not just because of pricing or uploading an email list, but because of all sorts of the technical issues that are also a part of that changeover. And that cost aspect isn’t just also about money. But it’s also again in those resources. And really if you make the wrong choice as a marketer or as a brand, right that can also look bad upon you.  

Dennis Dayman, Host of EmailUnplugged Podcast from Netcore

Price & Free Email Service Providers

There are a number of ESPs that offer free limited use version of their product. They tend to restrict the features available, the number of subscribers you can have on your list and the number of messages you can send per day. Even paid plans will often come with restrictions or optional extra features on premium plans. So whilst price will factor into your choice it should not to be your only consideration.

There are several other questions that should be taken into consideration when you are looking at price.

How will your email volume and contact list grow in the future?

Most email marketing platforms charge their users based on email volume, the number of contacts in the account or some combination of both. When you sign up for a new platform, nobody will ask you how you expect those numbers to grow, but it’s one of the most important questions to consider. A common practice is for a platform to charge very little when your email list is small but to ratchet up the fees when your list grows. Prices can vary dramatically across platforms once your email volume and subscriber numbers grow. When you do a cost comparison, look at how much the platform costs now and how much it would cost once you’ve achieved your growth goals. Finding an email marketing platform that you can grow with is key

Should I use a free ESP plan for my email marketing?

If you run a very small business, do not plan to do any complex email marketing beyond sending the regular newsletter and occasional update to less than 1000 subscribers there are certainly a number of options available to you that would be more than suitable for your requirements.

If however you foresee the potential for more than 1000 subscribers or have complex requirements it is unlikely any of the free plans will suit your needs. If however you belong to the group of small business owners who never plan to grow beyond 1000 subscribers the congratulations on being so invested in your email marketing efforts that you are reading this post. Head on over to find free email marketing platforms to look through what is available.

Remember done well a newsletter can very quickly grow at an exponential rate so you might want to take into account what costs would look like if your list does outgrow the free plan

Which is the best free email marketing platform?

There are dozens of Email Service Providers and Email Marketing Platforms offering free plans. Whilst they are useful for evaluation if the platform seems to meet your email marketing requirements, free plans are unlikely to meet the needs of many serious business.

Your first question should probably be which ESPs meet my requirements and only then is their a free plan? If not reach out most ESPs will provide a free trial if asked by any serious marketer.

Click here to view a selection of email marketing platforms with a free or freemium plan.

Which email marketing platforms provide a free plan?

Dozens of email vendors offer a free plan and we provide information about many of them. The trend was possibly started by MailChimp, however PepiPost, Moosend, Aweber and many others now have free plans available. Go to our directory and filter by ‘freemium‘ plan for more details.

However it is worth remembering that not every email marketing platform is the same, nor is every platform right for every business. Choosing the right platform from the beginning will save you from a great deal of trouble down the road. Changing platforms once you’ve established your email presence is time-consuming and generally causes some interim negative deliverability impacts. Find free email marketing platforms

Taking the time to research the best platform for your specific needs is an investment that will pay dividends for a long time to come. One of the best email marketing decisions you can make is to choose the right platform and tools early.

The Law, Compliance & Privacy

Not every business or brand has the same considerations. Depending on your location, that of your clients, the vertical you operate will all have some part to play in answering whether you have special requirements.

What are your requirements in respect of data and privacy compliance?

For example you may have very specific requirements due to your industry and type of data you will be storing about your users. As a result of the recent ruling in respect of Safe Harbor many business in Europe are concerned about where their ESP stores their data, or you may be focused on other jurisdictions. Using the emailexpert platform selection tool you can filter by any number of features.

Including whether they offer the option for European only data storage.

Where can I find a list of email marketing software that hosts data in Europe Only?

You can filter the email marketing platforms on emailexpert by any number of options, including whether they offer the option for European only data storage.

Features, Features, Bells & Whistles

Because email marketing platforms offer such a variety of different features, it can be difficult to determine which one is right for you. The questions below will help you formulate your requirements and needs and take some of the pain out of finding the right platform.

What features are essential in an ESP?

Identify which features you absolutely need, those are the features and services you require at an absolute minimum would not be able to and those that are nice to have, cannot live without and resist the temptation to get caught up in the non-essential features.

The software you choose will come with features that may be nice for others but are not essential for you. Focus on what you need now and what you might need in the future and forget the rest. Before investing a lot of time evaluating a platform, first, be sure it offers each of your essential features. If something is missing, cross the platform off your list of candidates and move on.

There are a myriad number of filtering options on our marketing platform vendor search. You should also read this post with ten things to consider when choosing an email marketing platform which covers some of the most commonly requested features in an ESP or marketing automation platform.

How easy is it to use and how hard is it to master?

What level of expertise do you have in-house to use the platform?

A tool is only as useful as the skill of the person who is using it. Every platform has some level of a learning curve, and it’s important to determine just how steep that learning curve is.

What training is available to you and your team, how much is needed? How is that delivered? Many marketing platforms have geared up for local in person training, in these post COVID-19 times is that still appropriate for your business?
Do they have the same level of personalised training available online? Also consider whether the platform charges a fee for learning how to use the product.

If the learning curve is too steep or the cost of training too high, or the location impractical consider other options.

How easy is it to get answers to your questions?

During your test drive, ask the customer support team for help using the product.

Use whatever method of contact you would normally use. Take into account how much time it takes for you to receive a response, how knowledgeable the support team seems and how you felt about the interaction in general. Also take some time to pursue the platform’s help articles. Once you’ve purchased a product, you’re bound to run into problems or have questions.

How well a company has structured its support can be almost if not as important as how well the platform itself performs.

Choosing the right email marketing platform is a large undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.more Asking yourself the five questions above will help take some of the pain out of shopping for an email marketing platform. There are many factors to consider, but choosing to invest the time before making a decision will pay dividends far into the future.

How did the test drive feel?

Always ask for a trial account so that you can test the platform and make sure those that will use the platform try it out too. If you are going to invest your time and resources into a new platform, you must be certain that it is a good fit for your business before you pay for it. Never sign a contract before actually using a system to make sure it is a good fit for your company. A platform may have the right features and pricing on paper, but if you find it difficult to use, keep looking

During your test drive, ask the customer support team for help using the product. Use whatever method of contact you would normally use. Take into account how much time it takes for you to receive a response, how knowledgeable the support team seems and how you felt about the interaction in general. Also take some time to pursue the platform’s help articles. Once you’ve purchased a product, you’re bound to run into problems or have questions. How well a company has structured its support is almost as important as how well the product performs

Does it play nice with your other tools?

How important is it that my ESP has an API?

If your organisation has technical resources and developers in house or access to the an API can many times seem like the answer to all your prayers. It mights seem almost anything is possible using the API and any manner of integrations is possible.

Woah. Hold your horses, ask those people you will expect to do the heavy lifting to review the API documentation, resources available and ask them what they think. What would be involved in getting them to deliver on yoru vision of what is possible with the API. It may be cost, time or otherwise prohibitive. Or you may find that poor or barley any documentation at all makes using the API impossible without paying for custom dev time from the platform.

How important is it that my ESP integrates with …?

Well this depends on you, your brand, your business and your aims, who is currently present in your tech-stack and what it will look like in 12 to 18 months time. What are the other core tools you use in your business? Where are you planning to use your ESP? For what purpose? Is it for sales, pre-sales? Marketing and customer

What are the other core tools you use in your business? Where are you planning to use your ESP? sales and marketing and customer

Trust, Reputation and Business Practices

You are spoiled for choice when it comes to your email service provider and if ethics and morality are important to you then this is the perfect opportunity to vote with your wallet. Many ESPs have charitable and community programs, ask about them and see if they align with your company and brand values.

Moving forward into a new decade as marketers your customers will be looking to you to be making informed choices, and choosing vendors that are not only aligned with your values but show socially responsible practices. That might mean purchasing locally (which is why we still enable the option of a World Map of Email Companies) with a small minority owned business.

With larger corporations you may want to make more probing questions. You may want to enquire about the Gender Pay Gap for example and the representation for B.A.M.E individuals. For more on this topic “Marketing is Color Blind” from Dela Quist from Alchemy Worx for Campaign Monitor is essential viewing.

What Next?

Where can I get help choosing an ESP?

You have many options. There is the recent podcast from Netcore that we mentioned. You can also browse experts that specialise in Email Vendor Selection.
The team at Red Pill have been putting together an Email Vendor Guide for many years.

What other help is available online for choosing an ESP?

Check back on emailexpert soon where we will be providing you the full keynote on the topic from Chris Marriott at Inbox Expo!

Choosing the right email marketing platform is a large undertaking, can be complex depending on your requirements, but it doesn’t always have to be difficult and never has to be impossible.

As a small to medium sized business asking yourself the questions above and having them answered will set you on the right path. For larger and enterprise organisations asking where to start in their email marketing platform selection you may start to appreciate the value in having an ally on board that has some experience in the vendor selection process and hire an agency for the purpose.

Regardless of size asking yourself the questions above will help take some of the pain out of shopping for an email marketing platform.

There are many factors to consider, but choosing to invest the time before making a decision will pay dividends far into the future. Whether to do that alone or with the help of a consultant will depend on your size, scale and experience.

But before you decide too quickly that you are ready, you may also want to have a read at: Think you are prepared for an email vendor selection process? Think Again!

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