Digital Buyer's Guide to Modern Email Marketing Systems

What features should digital marketers look for in Web-based software systems that provide email solutions and services for the purpose of customer communication? Depending on the type of enterprise you have (information publisher, service provider or ecommerce merchants), and the size of the audience you're working with of course, the options abound.

While not a "Buyers" Guide in a traditional sense, the following insights and resources will hopefully prove useful in your pursuit of efficient, effective and price-appropriate email marketing software. The one big concern you should have initially however, may be not to use a pure-play email marketing solution at all. Did he just say that?

The Marketing Automation Option

The first thing to keep in mind is that many "email marketing" systems today serve as (or are integrated with) marketing automation solutions (some of which you'll find in Website Magazine's latest Top 50 on Email Marketing Solution Providers). The email solutions that enable marketers to just store and send emails, instead of providing the means to optimize the entire "customer communication" process, are the old guard. Selecting an email marketing system that can integrate with. or serve as. a marketing automation component for the brand is essential in today's competitive digital environment. This ensures all features are under one "virtual roof" so to speak, which makes going the marketing automation route cheaper and easier to learn (no need to connect to, pay for or train employees on additional third-party services).

Should you opt to just keep it simple and avoid marketing automation solutions altogether (even though the benefits are well documented), keep the following features and functionality in mind when selecting a pure-play email marketing-vendor.


The ability to connect to everything from CRM solutions to shopping carts, analytics systems to cloud-based warehousing, should be a high priority for email senders. Most email service providers actively promote their partnerships and integrations - making connecting the ESP to the third-party application seamless.

Organizational Capabilities:

The ability to support usage by multiple members of an enterprise's marketing team may not seem like a big deal, but it can be. Some of the more sophisticated solutions will charge per "seat" on the system - e.g. five representatives, five seats (and a higher price point). While it's tempting to share profiles, it will prove useful for each department or employee responsible if only for the purpose of attribution (e.g. finding out who approved or clicked send on a specific campaign).

Tracking & Reporting:

There's a lot more that goes along with achieving positive results from a specific campaign that clicking "send" and connecting to other apps. The ability to track users through the buying lifecycle and reporting the data in a manner consistent with organizational expectations are two important decisions to make regarding the email channel. Take advantage of the opportunity to build richer user profiles (tracking), and managing performance over time (reporting) and your enterprise will more likely be satisfied with its decision.

Transactional Sending:

Transactions aren't limited to ecommerce merchants, the Internet-based retailers that sell actual, tangible goods over the Web. Transactions can be anything - from the purchase of an actual product to sharing personal information in exchange for subscription to a digital service. Transactional email enables "sellers" to send email when specific transactions are completed - like a sale or a registration. Savvy marketers will even look for solutions which automate follow-up emails based on the actual transaction (the type and date for example).

Personalization & Segmentation:

Having the ability to test specific messages and their components (e.g. subject lines) and keep track of the winners, in an effort to understand ultimately what is motivating users is another key aspect to consider when evaluating email service providers. Personalization and list segmentation based on testing can generate significant boosts in performance, so selecting a provider that is easy to use in this regard, and which provides a granular level of detail on individual campaigns is vital.


An email service provider can have all the digital bells and whistles of their competitors, but if the emails don't get through then all that functionality doesn't much matter. Deliverability, the practice of ensuring that emails arrive in a recipient's inbox, should be the highest priority for marketers. Check with current customers and ensuring that ESPs have the necessary relationships and technologies (in place to ensure your campaigns aren't in bulk jeopardy).

Design and Mobile Support:

The rules when it comes to designing for email are much different from those meant for the desktop. Should marketers opt to leverage the templates that so often come provided by ESPs, make sure to test any sent emails to ensure they render appropriately for the intended audience on the desktop first. Also, since no marketer in their right digital mind would send an email today that was not mobile compliant, make sure that the email designs look good on a variety of smartphones as well.

Event & Social Support:

In much the same way that email marketing is being integrated with digital marketing automation, event marketing and social media marketing are also now very closely aligned with email. Often, it's limited in scope to cross-publishing email content on social networks, or sending out (and tracking) event invitations sent through email, these are important features that should be considered, particular if events and social media are included in your general marketing mix.