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What is email marketing software?

Are you a marketer looking to up your game? Email marketing is an affordable, scalable way to increase brand awareness and audience engagement. Thousands of businesses, large and small, use email marketing to send targeted and non-targeted content to lists of prospects, leads, and customers. Email marketing software is typically a straightforward investment with quick return, but the email marketing software market can still be difficult to navigate for a first-time buyer. Vendors offer a wide variety of solutions that differ in pricing, intended use, and functionality.

This guide will help buyers make a more informed decision by defining core features for comparison and explaining how to get buy-in from your leadership team.

Find your new email marketing software

Not long after its rise to popularity, email ousted print and display as the most effective medium for promotional content. The simple explanation for this is reach: In 2021, there were more than 4.1 billion unique email users; that number is expected to break 4.5 billion by the end of 2025, according to the Radicati group. That means that over half of the world’s population uses email! Since nearly everyone has an email account, email marketing is a guaranteed strategy for putting offers, promotions, and content in front of your whole audience.

The other reason email marketing is so effective is intimacy; a well-timed, well-targeted email is more personally engaging than a generic print or display ad, increasing customer loyalty in both the short and long term. Email marketing offers opportunities for personalization that other mediums don’t. They can be used to welcome a new customer or nudge a potential customer with abandoned cart emails.

Furthermore, email marketing is less expensive than traditional mediums. Many vendors allow unlimited emails for a fixed subscription price based on list size and/or desired software features. For businesses looking to boost their marketing efforts — and improve customer engagement and customer retention — without putting a huge dent in the budget, email marketing messages might be just the solution you’ve been looking for.

While a force in its own right, email marketing is also an excellent complement to other marketing channels, such as social media marketing. For instance, you might send welcome emails to new subscribers who download an ebook from your company through a Facebook ad, bringing the customer journey full circle. This makes email an essential component of any modern marketing strategy.

Before we look at specific features, it’s important to note the distinction between email marketing systems and marketing automation software. Simply put, email marketing is one isolated component of marketing automation. It’s designed to help businesses create and send conditional content to segmented lists of contacts. 

Marketing automation, on the other hand, is an end-to-end platform for managing all of a brand’s digital marketing programs, from landing pages to web analytics, lead nurturing, email, and social media marketing. Because of its versatility and ease-of-use, email marketing software is an appealing option for B2C companies, small businesses or MLM companies that lack the resources for a full-scale marketing automation system.

Here are some common features you can expect to see when you compare email software solutions:

  • Autoresponders (automatically trigger emails to send based on time-based or action-based cues)
  • Contact lists, list segmentation
  • Dynamic content (personalization)
  • A/B testing
  • Email creation templates
  • Built-in social media sharing to platforms like Facebook and Instagram
  • SPF, DKIM, Dedicated IP address (Sender Policy Framework and DomainKeys Identified Mail; these protocols increase deliverability by authenticating sender ID3)
  • Analytics and reporting (open rates, click-through rates, conversion)
  • SMS marketing (text messages)
  • Third-party software integrations (CRM, e-commerce, etc.)
  • Native mobile app or mobile web interface
  • Customer support

Some email software vendors may also include a few basic lead generation tools, such as a landing page creator, web forms, or pop-ups. While these tools are certainly beneficial, they aren’t advanced enough on their own to classify a product as “marketing automation.” Popular email marketing software options include Adobe Campaign, Autopilot, Campaign Monitor, Emma, Constant Contact, MailChimp, and GetResponse.

What are some key email marketing software features?

At this point you are probably wondering what email marketing software features you should look for when shopping for email marketing campaign software. Here are the features that you should keep top of mind when searching for the best email marketing software:

Template options

In the early days of email marketing, the appearance of your email mattered much less than the content it contained. Now that consumers are deluged with emails every single day, aesthetics are more important than ever — if your emails are not arranged in a logical and visually appealing manner, readers will click out of it immediately (or even worse, unsubscribe from your email altogether). 

Whether you’re sending cart abandonment nudges or confirmation emails, you should make sure that it looks great. Seek out a platform that offers aesthetically pleasing email templates that fit your branding. Most platforms also allow you to customize email templates; although, this feature may only be available to paid plans or premium account tiers, so a free plan might not cut it. Look for services with a drag-and-drop builder so that even employees with no coding experience can create beautiful emails.

Mobile optimization

Nearly 55% of global website traffic is generated from mobile devices (excluding tablets), so emails need to look great on mobile as well as desktop. This puts marketers in a tricky position, since visually rich content is more compelling than plain text, but doesn’t always render correctly on a smaller device screen, making your stunning emails look like a jumbled mess. 

Many email marketing platforms offer mobile-optimized HTML templates that let users design attractive content (ads, newsletters, updates) and test readability without requiring extensive technical knowledge. The best email marketing platforms even offer the ability to automatically display a mobile-optimized email when viewed on a smartphone, while presenting the full email design when viewed on a desktop. This way you know that your company is putting its best foot forward in customers’ inboxes, no matter where or how they are checking their email.

Personalized content and segmentation

Commercial email traffic has accelerated at a dizzying rate in the past few decades. As a result, many consumers have grown numb to promotional content, especially when it’s generic or irrelevant. But there’s one way to cut through the noise: Personalization improves clickthrough and conversion rates, which is why 60% of retail, e-commerce, and consumer goods and services companies are personalizing emails based on past purchases, up from 38% in 2019. 

Many businesses are using automated email tools that allow them to segment different target audiences based on interests and past behavior, then address each contact by name and present relevant, targeted information — for example, an email suggesting additional companion products based on a recent purchase. This can be accomplished through use of dynamic content, trigger rules, and list segmentation, which are standard features in most email marketing services. Just because you’re sending bulk emails doesn’t mean they should feel like bulk emails to the customer.

SPAM measures

While the proportion of email spam has dropped over the years, it still hovers around 45–50% in any given month — that’s a lot of unsolicited emails! It’s no surprise that email providers have developed more sophisticated filters that reduce email deliverability, and consumers have grown accustomed to clicking the “mark as spam” button when they feel annoyed or inconvenienced by a message. Unfortunately, that means your valid, targeted emails are sometimes at risk for being flagged. 

It’s important to choose email marketing services that helps you avoid the spam folder and increases your email deliverability with a clear, even double opt-in process, a dedicated IP address, and multiple authentication protocols. 

Moreover, if you send any emails to EU citizens or residents, your emails and data storage must also be compliant with the GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation, that went into effect in 2018. Because of their international reach, most email marketing services have taken steps to make their platforms GDPR compliant. However, you should still confirm that any service you choose will be GDPR friendly if you plan to contact anyone in the EU so that you don’t run into email deliverability issues.

List management tools

Growing your mailing list is both an art and a science, and any email marketing campaign platform should give you the tools you need to succeed. If you plan to keep everything inside the email platform, make sure it offers native signup capabilities to capture email addresses. If you already use a CRM marketing platform as part of your overall marketing strategy, double check that your first choice email platform integrates with the CRM, so you can pull email addresses from that.

Creating executive buy-in

If you’re leading the initiative on software procurement, you’ll need to build a compelling business case that “sells” email marketing campaign software to its future stakeholders and explains why it fits into your overall marketing strategy. In the case of a small business, that could be as simple as having a conversation with the business owner and any potential users. In a larger company, it might involve a series of committee meetings with executive leaders. In either case, your decision-makers need to agree with the need for a new solution and the value it will add after implementation.

Broadly speaking, some of email marketing’s biggest selling points are:

  • It can replace more expensive campaigns in traditional media.
  • It keeps prospects, leads, and customers engaged and informed about your brand and products.
  • It brings in additional revenue through digital conversions.

Your CFO will want to know the details of the new software investment, including upfront costs and operational expenses (subscription fees, IT support, upgrades), as well as projected return on investment (ROI). Email marketing services are usually a minor portion of the overall marketing budget, but some systems can be more costly than others. The good news is, email marketing returns an average of $36 per dollar spent, according to Litmus.

Your CEO and CMO will be interested in how a new solution impacts market presence and the core business model. Email marketing software keeps your brand at the top of your customers’ minds and can turn one-time transactions into long-time relationships. Furthermore, it scales with growth; you can offer the same level of engagement whether you have 500 contacts or 50,000. Done well, this broadening and strengthening of the customer base can elevate your business to the position of industry or market leader.

Your CIO or CTO will want to weigh in on the specific product decision since they’re most familiar with your existing infrastructure and the ins and outs of software deployment. Be sure to get their input on which solution offers the most value and reliability, will integrate with existing systems, and cost less to maintain. If you have your eye set on any specific vendors or features, be prepared to explain why.

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