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How to Choose an Email Marketing Platform

Recently, Oracle announced that in 2022 it will discontinue Bronto, its email marketing platform. At Merkle, we support and work across multiple marketing platforms – Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Klaviyo, and Emarsys most notably. This Bronto news got us thinking – what should you look for when choosing a new email marketing platform? The MarTech space is more crowded than ever with customer relationship management (CRM), email service providers (ESP), customer data platforms (CDP), and data management platforms (DMP). Where should you start?


Questions to consider when shopping ESPs:

• What does your team structure look like? A great place to start when looking at an ESP. Do you have the resources or agency support to manage day-to-day operations on the tools? Tools with drag-and-drop features can be better for brands with limited team members, especially on the development side. Brands with complex customer journeys and large-scale data needs may need an enterprise-level marketing platform.

• What are your current workflows? It’s also important to consider your current email workflow and the support an ESP will provide for that process. For example, do you need to define custom user permissions and approval oversight workflows? Should editing capabilities be limited to certain team members? Do you need to limit access to data or contacts? Take the time to clearly outline your requirements and verify that the ESP you are considering can provide a solution that works for you.

• How does this tool fit with your current ecosystem? What data points are you looking to use to drive your email program? Does the platform have out-of-the-box integration points or will there be heavy development to integrate? Ideally, the ESP you pick will offer out-of-the-box integrations with your current CRM, CMS, eCommerce platform, and any other tools in your current Martech stack. If that’s not the case, the ability to create custom integrations via APIs is a must.

Keep in mind that custom integrations can add time to your implementation project and often require ongoing support to troubleshoot issues or make process changes as new needs arise. Even if you have technical resources on your team, working with a partner experienced with custom integrations can streamline your ESP implementation and ensure the most optimal account set up for your company’s unique business requirements.

• What are the goals of the email program? Make sure the ESP you choose can support your current efforts while also providing the flexibility and functionality that you need to achieve any goals you’ve set for the email channel overall. For example, if you’d like to focus more on enhancing segmentation and personalization, you’ll want to pick an ESP that provides the data integrations you require as well as the ability to easily leverage that data within emails. Likewise, if you’re looking to move from a batch-and-blast approach to something more customer-driven, it’s important to consider whether or not an ESP can support real-time automated sends and multi-touch customer journeys based on customer interactions.

Take the time to clearly outline your requirements and verify that the ESP you are considering can provide a solution that works for you.

• How are your current email templates built and where do those assets live? ESPs vary greatly when it comes to handling the email build process. Make sure to consider your team’s needs and expectations around the ability to use drag-and-drop tools, edit HTML code directly, and create reusable templates and modules. While most ESPs offer a selection of pre-built templates, the maturity of your email channel may warrant something more custom. If that’s the case, verify that the ESP provides the flexibility to develop a responsive template that is easy to maintain and straightforward to use for new email builds.

• How does SMS fit into your marketing strategies? Combining email with SMS is a powerful cross-channel strategy that can greatly improve your customer communications and engagement. While it’s possible to implement SMS and email out of separate platforms, combining these efforts in a single location gives you additional insight into customer preferences and patterns and allows for developing multi-touch customer journeys. Even if SMS is not currently a part of your marketing strategy, picking an ESP with SMS capabilities will give you the flexibility to more easily incorporate it in the future.

• Where does your customer data live? How can you action that with your marketing platform? Many companies find themselves with large amounts of customer data but without an actionable plan to use that data to drive segmentation and personalization efforts. While numerous studies show the impact of personalization on increasing engagement, improving customer loyalty, and supporting overall CRM goals, some ESPs may not provide the capabilities you’re ultimately looking for.

Consider not only an ESP’s ability to ingest data from other systems and maintain up-to-date customer records, but also the options you have for leveraging that data to create customer segments and serve dynamic, personalized content to your subscribers. Depending on your needs, you may want to consider an ESP that works with scripting languages which can ultimately provide limitless options in your email builds. If you don’t have a technical resource on your team who can support these efforts, work with an experienced partner during your implementation to help you take full advantage of the platform’s capabilities.

If you don’t have a technical resource on your team who can support these efforts, work with an experienced partner during your implementation.

• Does your send volume warrant a dedicated IP? If your send volume is high enough, it’s recommended to send from your own IP address rather than a shared IP to ensure you have full control over your sender’s reputation. As you consider your current send volume and future growth projections, make sure the ESP you choose supports sending from a dedicated IP address if it would benefit your company. Remember, it’s important to conduct an IP warmup before sending from a new IP address so be sure to account for this during your implementation project planning. If your team doesn’t have experience with IP warming, consider including an experienced partner to assist with the process.

• Do you need access to capabilities in addition to email, such as the ability to build landing pages or forms? Some ESPs don’t provide much additional functionality beyond sending an email to a list. Although this could be exactly what you need now, consider your ability to grow and mature the email channel if you have access to additional tools. While it’s true that you don’t need an ESP to create a landing page or form, having these capabilities integrated with the platform can streamline workflows, provide additional autonomy to the email team, and eliminate the need to include additional technical resources.

• Are you looking for advanced capabilities? Is your organization looking to leverage predictive intelligence to enrich the data you have available? Dynamic, individualized product recommendations, and predicted values such as likelihood to churn, predicted LTV, or predicted purchase frequency can help level-up your segmentation and personalization strategy.

The experts on Merkle’s Experience and Commerce team know that getting the right marketing technology in place is only part of the puzzle. Building out a team that drives strategies, executes emails, and drives continuous optimizations on the platform is where the value is.

Need help choosing a new ESP or building out a meaningful marketing strategy – reach out to our experts at Merkle.