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by Craig Borowski,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: August 8, 2016

Email marketing is one of the most popular marketing techniques around. In fact, if measured by volume alone, it’s probably the most popular marketing method of all time! So what exactly is email marketing, what does it accomplish for businesses and why is it so popular? We answer these and other questions below.

Many describe email marketing as the online version of direct mail marketing. They’re similar, since both help companies reach out to customers with their marketing message. They’re also similar because both are relatively cheap and so can be sent in large quantities. This lets companies reach larger and wider audiences with greater frequency and lower expense.

While there are some similarities, it’s not until we look at the differences between the two methods that email marketing really begins to shine. Most significantly and unlike direct mail, emails are trackable. This allows marketers to see which recipients are engaging with their content and, in some cases, how they engage with it. Mature email marketing efforts use this information to refine future marketing efforts, whether by email or other channels.

Email marketing software is the tool that businesses use to run and automate common email marketing tasks. The software is also used to measure the engagement and impact of each email marketing campaign and to help companies find better ways of segmenting their customers and audience. (While it’s theoretically possible to engage in email marketing without dedicated software, the vast majority of companies need the automation that email marketing software provides in order for it to be a profitable strategy.)

This guide will help you learn more about email marketing software systems and their range of functions. With this information you’ll be ready to make the right purchase decision and put email marketing to work for you. Here's what we'll cover:

What Is Email Marketing Software?
Common Email Marketing Software Functionality
Key Considerations

What Is Email Marketing Software?

In general, email marketing software is used to create, launch and track email campaigns to promote a company’s marketing message. It uses email as the primary vehicle for ''keeping in touch'' with leads. Its goal is to nurture the leads and keep the brand’s solution top-of-mind, until the leads are ready to convert into paying customers. These systems are designed to improve efficiency by automating the more common activities of email marketing, of which there are many. They can also provide insight into the success rate of each individual campaign. Additionally, they help companies generate and maintain more consistent messaging across all email marketing communications.

Specifically, most email marketing solutions include tools that help companies capture and segment leads, automate email delivery and track the results of email campaigns.

Common Email Marketing Software Functionality

While capabilities may vary from vendor to vendor, most email marketing programs typically include the following functionalities:

Lead capture Captures lead information from web forms, landing pages etc.
Basic segmentation Groups contacts or leads by shared characteristics (e.g., by demographic or household attributes, or by industry segment or past purchase history).
Email templates Time-saving templates that can be used for frequently sent messages and requests.
Mass email delivery Provides the means to send emails in batches to groups of contacts.
Drip (scheduled) email delivery Automatically sends email messages over a scheduled period of time, helping keep the marketing message top of mind.
Email open rate and click-through tracking Tracks the success of individual email campaigns by measuring the frequency with which prospects engage (open, click links etc.).
Reporting and analytics Provides reports and dashboards to help companies measure leads, email performance, landing page performance, web activity and more.

Key Considerations

Here are a few other things to keep in mind as you evaluate email marketing products:

Consider what mediums your customers are using.

Consumers now interact with emails on multiple devices (such as mobile phones and tablets). Consider systems that optimize emails for viewing on mobile devices. If you or your customers are social media users, look for a system that allows you to incorporate social components into emails. For example, you might consider a system that includes email templates with social sharing buttons.

Decide what degree of personalization you'd like to offer.

If all you want to do is send a monthly newsletter to a large group of contacts, select any system that sends mass emails. If you'd like to automatically send emails on a pre-determined schedule, also look for drip email functionality. To send personalized emails to leads based on their interactions with your company or website (a form of drip email marketing), choose a system with strong segmentation tools and the ability to send targeted emails.

Email Marketing Software

Salesforce Marketing Cloud offers drag-and-drop segmentation capabilities that let users send targeted email messages based on web analytics, customer data and other interactions

Make sure your new system supports necessary integrations.

When comparing email marketing solutions, think about the other tools it'll need to communicate with. You might consider vendors that offer native integrations with customer relationship management (CRM) products, or plug-ins that connect the platform to other software. If you plan to use your mobile device to access your email marketing system, look for a vendor that offers a native or web-based mobile app. Many vendors also offer integration support and services.

Consider what you'll need in the future.

Stand-alone email marketing tools typically only track interactions related to email campaigns. However, some are offered as part of larger marketing cloud suites. Among other things, these suites include tools for:

  • Social media
  • Mobile marketing
  • Marketing automation
  • Sophisticated analytics and campaign management

If you expect your business to need these other capabilities, consider a marketing suite. Alternatively, you might look for an email marketing platform that is customizable and can integrate with other systems if you'd prefer to add capabilities over time.

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