Despite predictions by many pundits — with more than a few respected marketers included in their ranks — email marketing isn’t going anywhere, and for good reason. It still works and works well, when done properly. For most companies that have harnessed its potential, email marketing is still among the most efficient marketing channels when it comes to producing revenue.
To employ email marketing properly requires several best practices that don’t readily lend themselves to a manual, low tech approach. Segmenting your email list properly, for example, is very important, as you wouldn’t want to communicate with prospects in the same manner as you would an existing customer. And, how would you know that your email content, including its aesthetics, is as good as it can be without testing it against a modified version?
This is where selecting the right email marketing automation tool — or tools — can make a huge difference. Since most email marketing automation tools are contained in broader platforms, we’ll take a closer look at some of today’s top email marketing automation providers that offer those platforms.
But first, let’s start off with a brief explanation of why email marketing remains such an important part of the overall marketing mix.
Why Email Marketing Still Matters So Much
First and foremost, email marketing offers benefits that just aren’t available with other marketing channels. When you create and execute a Google advertising campaign, that company holds sway over whether your ad is even shown. This holds true even if you outbid the competition for a given keyword. What about Facebook? It will decline an ad if it doesn’t meet their standards — and we’re not just talking about restricted categories or foul language.
Even more important, when you advertise on Facebook, or any other social media platform, the digital real estate on which you’re operating doesn’t belong to you. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and the rest of the lot can change the rules any time they want. And unless you have a process in place to convert social media users into warm prospects — through email marketing — the traffic you generate doesn’t belong to you. By contrast, when you generate your own email list and nurture it properly, it remains your asset to be mined well into the future.
There’s also the relative importance that email continues to hold in our everyday lives. Nearly all of us check our email religiously — often before getting on social media each day.
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The Value of Using a Top Email Marketing Automation Tool
Email marketing does have its downsides, however. Most importantly, many associate email marketing with spam to a large extent, and that association is understandable — even where legitimate companies are concerned. Far too many marketers lazily send out the same message to their entire list, failing to even differentiate between an existing customer and someone who might be entirely new to their email list. This practice causes plenty of dissonance (at best) and hostility toward the company (at worst).
This is why proper email list segmentation is so important. It affords the opportunity to tailor company communication to the individual prospect and where they are in the customer journey. It’s very difficult to properly segment and maintain email lists manually, so having the right email marketing automation tool at your disposal really comes in handy in this regard.
Even if you don’t consider list segmentation to be all that important — and you do so at your own peril — rest assured that you do need an email marketing platform if you plan on growing your customer or prospect list to any appreciable size. Try sending mass emails to a self-created email list via your Outlook account and you’ll trigger spam alerts in short order.
The Current Crop of Top Email Marketing Automation Tools
There’s a sizable pool of email marketing providers to choose from, and nearly all of them have evolved over the years to such an extent that they’re capable of providing the tools and conveniences you’ll need to mine the full potential of your efforts.
It’s not our purpose to declare one specific provider to be a clear winner. Whether its GetResponse, MailChimp, Constant Contact, AWeber, ConvertKit, MailerLite, ActiveCampaign or any other provider, each has its own comparative strengths, just as companies embarking on email marketing will have their own needs and priorities. This is largely by design — the result of these companies positioning themselves as the logical choice for specific users with specific needs.
For example, MailerLite is generally considered to be the easiest email marketing automation platform to master, while ActiveCampaign may have a steeper learning curve, but also features more options for advanced users. GetResponse, though probably not offering quite as many advanced tools as Active Campaign, is nevertheless robust in its own right, offering sales funnels, split testing, and some CRM functions.
So instead, we’ll consider the factors that matter most when choosing the provider that will ultimately supply your email marketing automation tools and examine the areas at which these companies seem to excel.
There are some generalities, however. In nearly every case, the larger the list you have, the more you’ll likely pay for service. A notable exception is SendinBlue, which only charges based on the frequency of your email campaigns, and not list size.
Also, while most email automation providers do offer free versions, they tend to be more limited in their features — you might get an assortment of automation tools but no landing page options from one company, and just the opposite from another.
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Email Marketing Automation Factors to Consider
There’s a balancing act where this factor is concerned. Any logical marketer knows that there’s no point in paying for features that you’ll never use, but by the same token, being “penny wise and dollar foolish” often has its consequences.
If you’re a marketer seeking to build a substantial email list, an ultra-cheap plan can become unattractive quickly if it doesn’t include an appreciable selection of pre-built landing pages. It’s also worth considering whether robust automation tools might help your company’s marketing efforts and pay for themselves many times over.
For example, do you intend to create a substantial amount of email follow-up sequences? This is an important feature if you really want to stay parallel with the customer journey and have the ability to reach out to the right prospects or customers at the right time.
For the most part, price isn’t likely to play a big part when initially deciding on an email marketing automation provider. If, for example, a business has compiled a list of 2500 email subscribers — an attainable goal in most cases — most providers will run from $25 to $60, with MailerLite at the lower end of the spectrum and ConvertKit tending to be among the more expensive options.
That’s a noticeable difference, to be sure, but not really “make or break”. Further, while staying in this price range, you’ll usually have the ability to create signup forms, landing pages, at least some automation and, of course, the ability to send out broadcast email messages to your list. But that price difference does tend to become more marked as your email list grows.
The most frugal of marketers may want to take a closer look at MailChimp, as its free version does offer a generous array of features, along with a substantial ceiling of 2000 subscribers. MailerLite, despite already featuring the least expensive paid subscription, offers some useful automation tools with its free version.
While most of today’s email marketing automation platforms will integrate with most popular e-commerce and customer relation management tools, this compatibility isn’t something you’ll want to take for granted. If you’re already using a third-party provider for these functions — think Shopify or SalesForce — it’s worth performing due diligence to make sure they’ll “play nice” with the email automation platform you ultimately choose.
It’s impossible to harness the full power of email marketing if your messages are consistently ending up in your subscribers’ spam folder. There isn’t a huge chasm between the leaders and the rest of the pack where this metric is concerned, but it can be enough to affect ROI.
Emailtooltester.com last conducted its most recent test of the top email marketing automation companies in May of this year and found Constant Contact to be the leader in this regard, with just under 90% deliverability. Active Campaign came in a close second. AWeber lagged behind, managing just over 80% deliverability.
In all fairness, the email deliverability landscape tends to shift a bit with each test. Here is a look at the most recent test results.
Because of the extent to which today’s top email marketing automation tool providers have evolved, technical glitches aren’t all that common, but they do happen. And when they do, a substantial amount of revenue can be at stake.
Before committing to a provider, you’ll want to know how the company handles customer support. Is it limited to automated responses, which are often less intuitive (and accurate) than you would expect, or will you have the option to speak to an actual human being if necessary?
GetResponse appears to have this consideration well-covered, offering customer support that’s available 24/7 and can be accessed easily
Features and Customization
While this is an especially important consideration for more advanced users who intend to take a deep dive into the capabilities of email marketing, it’s important to know just what array of features will be available at your intended price point, even if your initial needs are fairly modest. Segmentation, as we’ve noted, is an important factor in the efficacy of your email campaigns. If you treat an existing customer like a prospect, or if you communicate with an email contact who has only recently heard of your company as if they were an eager buyer, it will compromise your results.
Will you have a good assortment of landing pages at your disposal? Will you be able to split test your email content to see if it can be further optimized?
Also, since most small business owners aren’t eager to spend additional money on design support, it’s important to know just how much customization you’ll be able to achieve with your chosen company’s existing templates. Branding is an important aspect of marketing and, if you’re able to get your emails and landing pages to closely mirror the aesthetics of your website, it can make a big difference in the success of your efforts.
The assortment of email marketing automation providers we’ve looked at is just a small sampling of the choices that are at your disposal, so it’s a good idea to do some additional research and confirm that your chosen provider not only offers the assortment of email marketing automation tools you want now, but also has the additional capabilities you might be looking for down the line.
It’s research that can really pay dividends — even years after its predicted demise, email marketing is still going strong and can really add to the bottom line when done properly.
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