Introduction to Marketing Software

It’s no secret that marketing has been fundamentally reshaped by the internet. What was once a profession mostly entranced by creativity now requires an almost scientific approach wherein marketers form a hypothesis, test it on a small scale, and review the resulting data. More than ever marketing now blends the qualitative with the quantitative.

This data-driven approach to marketing was born out of the value businesses could derive from the obscene amounts of data being created online by consumers. Any strategy now needs data to validate its success, and obtaining that data requires new tools calibrated to each marketing medium your organization is using.

For example, a 2011 attempt to identify and classify marketing software applications turned up 100 different vendors. By 2014, there were approximately 947 different products across 43 categories. In 2015 the total number of vendors exceed 1800, and the author admits the final result is by no means comprehensive.1,2

Because consumers often choose or reject businesses based on experiences rather than solely the product or service, it’s tempting to implement marketing programs to ensure that you have blanket coverage for dealing with every consumer interaction. However, this strategy is expensive, and a poor business practice.

The software your organization uses should always be based on the needs of your business, rather than trends in any particular market. So in the interest of reintroducing simplicity — and perhaps a bit of sanity – we’ve identified four major marketing software categories that the majority of businesses will need in order to support their marketing efforts either now or at some point in the future:

Certain categories of software were not included in this guide, namely data-heavy platforms for retrieving, integrating, visualizing, and reporting data. While this software certainly has value for marketers, we classify it as Business Intelligence software. See our Business Intelligence guide for more information.

The follow sections explain the function and value of a particular category, tips for marketing software comparison, current trends, and offer guidelines for creating buy-in within your organization.

Social Media Management

In the span of one short decade, social media has become a hallmark of how consumers communicate and share information. Unlike other marketing channels that can only guess at the intent of consumers, social media allows businesses to directly analyze the sentiment of their audience.

Between the beginning of the social era and now, the number of networks has proliferated, and so have the strategies and technologies businesses use to find new customers and build loyal followings. Social media is now a way to interact with consumers at both a micro and macro level. Micro interactions encompass requests for customer service and one-to-one conversations, while macro engagement often includes sharing your businesses content throughout your network in order to syndicate it throughout a larger community.

Where once social media management software could easily be divided by functionality, larger vendors are making acquisitions or adding features in an attempt to become end-to-end solutions. Best of breed products are still prevalent, but their strengths are often accompanied by limitations, forcing marketers to build a hodgepodge of applications to accomplish a detailed social campaign.

Core functionality that’s common across the industry includes publishing, analytics, listening or sentiment analysis, customer service, social selling or account management, and running paid promotions.

Top social media marketing software

These social media marketing tools give you the best mix of scheduled posting, account monitoring, and post boosting around.

Hootsuite

Hootsuite’s social media marketing software allows teams to plan, schedule, approve (or disapprove), and boost content. The content curation tools let you build social posts directly from websites you browse, and a full featured content library lets individuals browse approved content to include in their posts. Hootsuite also comes with connections to over 250 applications to streamline your workflow.

Pricing is based on the number of social profiles you need to manage, and there’s a free option for up to three profiles.

Buffer

Buffer is a social media marketing software built for content teams looking to grow their social media presence. Set up user permissions in Buffer to decide who can share content immediately, and see the whole team’s social post schedule in a single calendar view. Buffer’s plans come in three flavors: Publish for posting to profiles, Reply for responding to customers, and Analyze for reporting on campaigns.

Sign up for any of Buffer’s service plans, or mix and match to get the right level of functionality for your business.

Oktopost

Oktopost is a B2B enterprise social media marketing software. It connects seamlessly with most of the marketing tools in the first 2 sections of this list, and gives teams the ability to schedule, share, and promote social media posts across their platforms. Employee advocacy features make employees into thought leaders and brand ambassadors. Use the social listening features to track conversations across the web, and manage your whole set of accounts from your phone with the mobile app.

As an enterprise tool, Oktopost’s pricing is available upon request.

Sprout Social

Sprout Social is a social media marketing software that scales from small business solutions to enterprise capabilities. With lots of features for social media scheduling, messaging, promotion, and analytics, the tool can support agencies and single entities alike. Companies can use the social listening tools to better understand their marketing environment, and extensive analytics give teams a full view of each post’s effectiveness.

Sprout Social is available in three major plans: Standard, Professional, and Advanced. Add-on features Listening and Advocacy can be added to any plan.

Zoho Social

The Zoho Social software works for brands and agencies of all sizes, and includes publishing, curating, social listening, and collaboration features. Assign team members different roles to match their posting needs, and drill down into analytics to understand where your team and content make the biggest impact. The smart scheduler will choose the best time for each of the posts in your queue to go out, or you can schedule each of your post individually. Build your own dashboard to monitor each of your channels for brand mentions, and interact directly with customers through the messaging feature.

Zoho Social has a free version that allows publishing on all networks. Sign up for the Standard, Professional, or Agency plans to increase the number of team members or brands you manage. Add additional brands or team members to any plan for a monthly fee.

Also Read:

How to Get Executive Buy-In for Social Media Marketing Software

Social media is more than a procession of likes or retweets. According to research from Relevanza, 78 percent of small businesses attract new customers through social. Additional surveys posit that 75 percent of Americans say product information found through social media influences their purchasing decisions.3

In short, being active on social media matters, and it can help your business grow. Even if you’re not using social media to find new customers, participating in these channels still legitimizes your brand. Consumers may visit your website to check that your company in fact exists, but they also often reference social media to see if your company is active.

Whether you’re selling social media management software to your CEO or CMO, the point you should be making is: it’s possible to grow your customer base, improve customer satisfaction and loyalty, and conduct valuable market research.

Case Study: [L]earned Media

Solution: Hootsuite

[L]earned Media is a marketing agency that was handling or consulting on social media strategy for between 12 and 15 clients at a time. As an agency,[L]earned had to organize all of these campaigns while maintaining a high standard of work. [L]earned Media couldn’t do this manually, so they began to use Hootsuite to manage their projects and generate reports for their clients.

The Moms was a lifestyle brand that became a client of [L]earned Media during their implementation of Hootsuite. The Moms was posting content and holding live events, but their strategy wasn’t very organized from a social media perspective. Using Hootsuite, [L]earned helped The Moms organize their social media activity, identify key influencers who were already advocating on behalf of the brand, and track KPIs.

[L]earned Media’s campaign resulted in a 56 percent increase in newsletter signups, a doubling of total and unique website visits, and around 12,000 new Twitter followers for The Moms. After [L]earned began using Hootsuite, their customer base grew 66 percent.4

Email Marketing

Now one of the oldest digital mediums, email is experiencing a resurgence after being overshadowed by social media. In Salesforce’s 2015 State of Marketing report, 60 percent of marketers indicated that they saw email as a “critical enabler of products and services,” an 18 percent increase from the year before. Fifty-nine percent of respondents planned to increase their spending on email in 2015.5

Why is email popular again? Because no one ever stopped using it. By the end of 2017 there will be an estimated 4.9 billion email accounts, and the majority of consumers still check their email on a daily basis. The ubiquity of mobile devices is also contributing to email marketing’s popularity: a reported 65 percent of all email is now opened first on a mobile device.6

From a software perspective, email marketing platforms have grown more powerful and simpler to use. Many feature drag-and-drop interfaces that allow users to construct visually appealing emails without having to ever use HTML or CSS coding languages.

Due to the significant consumer demand for more personalized, relevant email content, segmentation is a feature found in nearly all email marketing software. The extent to which a user can segment a database depends on the software. Another common feature is A/B testing. As the name implies, this feature equips users with the means to split test emails and see which version draws the most opens or clicks. Again, the power of this feature will depend on the software.

Responsive email templates are quickly becoming the norm for email marketing software. Given the earlier statistic regarding mobile email consumption, it’s easy to see why responsive design, i.e., design that adjusts the content to fit the browser or device used to view it, is now a common feature.

Top email marketing software

These tools are best known for their email marketing capabilities. Many of these tools have recently expanded their offerings to include traditional marketing automation features like automatic responses, lead tracking, and social media channel integrations.

Campaign Monitor

Campaign Monitor is email marketing software with advanced visual editing features and personalized segmentation. The visual editor allows for drag-and-drop email builds, or you can code custom templates with the HTML builder. Use Campaign Monitor’s library of templates or quickly build your own emails and turn them into branded templates for repeated use. Companies can also use the advanced segmentation tools to drill down into their data and find the best personalized message for each customer.

Pricing is based on the number of emails you send per month and what level of support you’ll need. The HQ edition manages email campaigns for several locations at a custom price.

Mailchimp

Mailchimp is an email marketing software that’s backed by a whole platform of marketing tools. Set up automated email campaigns connected to your customer data, and choose from a variety of email templates or build your own with the visual editor. Mailchimp is designed for small businesses, ecommerce companies, and larger retailers who are growing their online connections.

Purchase Mailchimp in a monthly subscription or annual package, and choose from three levels of service based on the number of contacts. Mailchimp also provides a free version of their tools for companies with fewer than 2,000 contacts.

Act-On

Act-On is an enterprise marketing automation platform that combines email features with automated workflows and customer tracking. Build your email from scratch in a drag and drop editor, or choose a modern template to customize. Set up automated campaigns to follow up on leads and nurture contacts to conversion. Act-On’s tools include landing pages and social media tools to expand your marketing to all channels.

Act-On’s pricing is aimed at enterprise companies with more than 2,500 contacts in their database. Different levels of support and set up assistance are available at an additional cost.

GetResponse

GetResponse is a marketing automation tool with a focus on email marketing as the central hub for all your other marketing activities. Build matching emails and landing pages to increase your brand recognition throughout the conversion funnel. Use one of over 5,000 templates with a wide variety of Shutterstock images and customizable automation features for a cohesive customer experience. The dynamic content features you can access through GetResponse allow high personalization with less work.

GetResponse is available in 4 plan sizes that act as price ranges. Your exact pricing will depend on the number of contacts in your lists and the number of automation features you need.

Constant Contact

Constant Contact is the only application on this list that bills itself as an email marketing software with marketing automation features instead of the other way around. The Email plan includes strong templates, connections to ecommerce contacts, tracking and reporting, and integrations with other tools. Upgrade to Email Plus to add automatically triggered messages, A/B testing, and dynamic content, among other features.

Constant Contact’s pricing is based on your plan and the number of contacts in your lists. Non-profits receive a discount, and prepayment discounts are also available if you pay biannually or annually.

Also Read:

How to Get Executive Buy-In for Email Marketing Software

For marketers, the case for email marketing can be made relatively simply: everyone has it and the majority of consumers read marketing emails.7 Email can also be more effective than social media at prompting consumers to make purchases — up to three times more effective according to McKinsey & Company.8 Email marketing software is also relatively inexpensive, and it’s built to scale.

These facts alone should address the concerns of your CMO, CEO, and CFO. With regard to technology infrastructure, email clients don’t need integration with many other platforms, so unlike social media management, you won’t have to use multiple solutions to accomplish your goal. Make sure to tell your CIO or CTO, if they’re reluctant.

In a nutshell – email is cheap, effective, and easy to implement.

Case Study: DODOcase

Solution: MailChimp

DODOcase makes hand-crafted phone cases and tablet sleeves for a range of products. Since selecting MailChimp as their email service provider in 2010, DODOcase was able to triple the size of their list in just three short years. Consistent testing with MailChimp’s A/B functionality has been key to their growth.

DODOcase also supplements their email marketing efforts with social strategies such as contests and web conversions (these include tactics like pop-ups that offer visitors a discount just as they’re about to leave the website). After only three years of using MailChimp, DODOcase now pulls in between $5,000 to $10,000 for each email campaign they send, which they do about twice a month.

While many companies would consider that type of revenue excellent for a strictly email-based campaign, DODOcase is hopeful of reaching $20,000 per email campaign before long.9

Web Analytics

All of your marketing efforts ultimately direct traffic to the same source: your website. Without a proper understanding of how your visitors are behaving on your website, it will be nearly impossible to built a successful online business. Web analytics (also referred to as digital analytics) is powerful software that tracks the actions your audience takes on your site.

The market is dominated by Google Analytics, whose free version essentially acts as a warehouse for all of the data produced by incoming visitors. Analytics allows you to track user engagement metrics, such as average time on page, average number of pages per session, bounce rate, time on page, and conversion rate.

All of this data forms the basis for measuring marketing campaigns on your other channels, and helps you gain a greater understanding of how your website is contributing to your business’s success. These systems are often technical in nature and will require some development skills to properly set up.

Within the industry, web analytics is splitting into sub-specialties. Google Analytics reigns supreme in terms of supplying broad information about a range of behaviors, segments, and goals, and much of the innovation in the industry happens in the shadow of Analytics. This means newer applications also tend to focus on narrower, specialized functionalities.

For example, Google Analytics may record time on page, but it doesn’t tell you exactly where on the page your visitors spent the most time. This functionality can be found in a system like Crazy Egg, which specializes in heat maps that indicate how intensely visitors focus on certain parts of the page.

Google Analytics alone also isn’t ideal for conducting A/B testing. This type of analysis will need to be run through a program such as Optimizely, which enables companies to increase their conversion rates by dynamically testing different page layouts.

Both Crazy Egg and Optimizely fall inside the broader market of web analytics, though each company strives to accomplish a slightly different goal than Google Analytics, as do most of the competitors in this industry. Some platforms do compete directly with Analytics, but not many.

Market leaders: Google Analytics, KISSmetrics, Adobe Analytics

How to Get Executive Buy-In for Web Analytics

At this point, selling web analytics to the leadership in your company shouldn’t be difficult. Whether you’re running an ecommerce, publishing, lead generation, or search-based website, you’ll need analytics to obtain the data that will help you make decisions based on evidence rather than isolated intuition.

Case Study: PBS

Solution: Google Analytics

Because their stakeholders are so distributed, the Public Broadcasting Service maintains a central interactive department that helps local producers promote content within the PBS.org and PBSKids websites. This department had a number of analytics tools installed, but none truly fulfilled all of PBS’s needs, and the entire system lacked synchronization.

PBS needed two views of their website data: one for the central interactive agency (CIA) and another for local producers who just needed to view reports about their content. Because this type of setup exceeds the complexity of a normal Google Analytics implementation, PBS enlisted LunaMetrics to help customize the code.

Once LunaMetrics installed two account codes on each page of PBS’s website — one for the macro view and one for the microview — the broadcasting corporation was able to measure and analyze the engagement of their views in much clearer terms.

Because the company could now clearly account for organic search traffic, PBS was able to change its strategy to better align with search patterns, increasing traffic by 30 percent in just one year. Similarly, PBS was able to identify difficulties in its conversion pathway on PBSKids.org, so the digital department changed the user experience and increased conversions by 30 percent as well.10

Marketing Automation

Marketing automation platforms (MAPs) are complex systems that often encompass many of the features of the previous three types of software. They provide marketers with the means to measure, analyze, and of course automate marketing campaigns at scale.

The functionality of these systems is vast, and many include email marketing, landing page creation, A/B testing, personalization, social media management, lead scoring, website behavioral data, and integration with customer relationship management platforms.

Marketing automation is primarily designed to aid marketers in their quest to create more personalized experiences for consumers. Because this would be nearly impossible to manage manually, the software offers a plethora of automation features that deliver content on a dynamic basis, i.e., in response to actions that prospects take in email campaigns, on your website, or on social media. MAPs also helps bridge the gap between sales and marketing by providing options for nurturing leads who aren’t yet ready to speak with sales.

Trends in this market include an ongoing simplification of the user experience which is leading to increased adoption among small and medium-sized businesses. However, marketing automation still has low adoption numbers outside of B2B and technology industries, despite several years of 50 percent growth. This isn’t a referendum on the utility of the software, but likely a realistic view that although the interest in the technology is high, adoption remains limited to innovative organizations.11

Top marketing automation software

Traditionally, marketing automation software is a platform that combines multiple marketing channels into a single application where marketers can build workflows that run without intensive oversight.

Marketo

Marketo is a leading marketing automation platform that combines your CRM with email marketing, social media marketing, lead tracking, and other marketing tools that attract, track, and optimize your interactions with your audience. After its acquisition by Adobe in October, 2018, the platform has expanded to include connections with the Adobe Experience Cloud, a customer experience management platform that tracks a customer’s actions across multiple channels.

Choose from five pre-set bundles for customer engagement, mobile marketing, consumer marketing, email marketing, and lead management, or custom combinations.

Pardot

Pardot is the B2B marketing automation tool from Salesforce. The tool combines marketing workflows, lead management, and sales alignment through the Salesforce CRM. While you can use Pardot alone, combining it with Salesforce CRM and the Salesforce Einstein artificial intelligence tools can significantly reduce the effort your team expends moving leads down a sales pipeline and identifying the right time to follow up with prospects.

Choose from three main feature plans for up to 10,000 contacts in your database. Customers are billed annually, and Einstein and Salesforce Engage tools are available as add-ons to any plan.

HubSpot Marketing Platform

HubSpot’s marketing platform provides advanced marketing features for even the smallest of businesses. The HubSpot marketing platform provides companies with a way to connect marketing campaigns to their existing website or gives companies a tool to build their website with HubSpot hosting. Add landing pages, drip campaigns, lead tracking, and content marketing tools, and HubSpot’s marketing platform turns your website into a professional lead magnet.

All of the HubSpot plans for marketing, sales, and customer experience start at $0 per month, and the CRM is free forever. Choose your plan based on the number of contacts in your database, the number of email sends you’ll need to make each month, and the level of lead management features you need.

Sugar Market (formerly Salesfusion)

Sugar Market is a marketing automation tool for marketers at mid-sized businesses. The tool is now owned by SugarCRM, an integration partnership that gives direct contact and lead management right in the marketing automation tool. Combine SEM, SEO, and social media marketing with lead forms and landing pages to capture new leads, and follow up quickly with personalized email marketing campaigns that drive conversions and nurture contacts down your conversion funnel.

Combine the Sugar Market tools with the Sugar Sell and Sugar Serve sales and customer experience platforms, or purchase each separately. Sugar Market’s first tier plan includes up to 10,000 contacts.

Drip

Drip is an ecommerce CRM that uses customer data from your ecommerce site and email marketing list to personalize marketing outreach. Advanced customer segmentation, marketing workflows, and multiple channel marketing give ecommerce marketers a full command of their customer outreach and conversion funnels. All this customer data flows into an analytics tool that gives retailers insight into where they should increase their marketing or tweak their campaigns for better conversions.

Drip’s monthly subscription pricing is partially based on the number of “active people” in your account. You can mark contacts as inactive at any point, but the software will not continue to gather data points on those people.

Also Read:

How to Get Executive Buy-In for Marketing Automation Software

For the CEO and CMO, highlight the fact that marketing automation will not only emphasize better alignment with sales and marketing, but will also help generate leads by nurturing prospects that would have otherwise been lost. Numerous stats support marketing automation’s main benefits, namely increasing lead conversion rate, and contributing to higher revenue.12

For the CTO or CIO, the main benefit of implementing marketing automation should be contribution it makes to the business’s infrastructure. A number of channels intersect in a MAP, like social, pay per click, email, landing pages, and behavioral data from the website. An integration with the sales team’s CRM can create a powerful link between the data used by the marketing and sales departments.

Case Study: Opsview

Solution: Loopfuse

Based in the United Kingdom, Opsview produces open-source software for enterprise level management and monitoring of distributed IT infrastructure. The community software was doing well, and the company was acquired by Opsera, which then separated the Opsview software into two categories: a software as a service enterprise version and the free community version.

Once Opsview began ramping up their marketing, the leadership knew the small company was ill-prepared to handle a substantial increase in leads. To prepare, they purchased a CRM + marketing automation platform through Loopfuse.

Like most companies, Opsview uses forms to gather customer information and segment leads based on that information. Prospects exchange their information for whitepapers or software demos on Opsview’s site. Depending on each prospect’s information, they are either handed off directly to sales or placed in an email nurturing campaign.

Opsview has three different variations of lead nurturing campaigns, each targeted toward a particular persona. Using a mixture of behavioral and demographic data to score leads, Opsview’s marketing team will pass leads to sales once they hit a 26 point threshold.

The results of this well-oiled marketing automation machine have been impressive:

  • 95 percent increase in CRM opportunities quarter over quarter
  • 30 percent increase in qualified leads
  • 55 percent volume of leads pursued by sales
  • 178 percent increase in revenue since marketing automation was implemented

Marketing Software Comparison System

The social media management category has well over 100 options from which to choose. Email marketing has over 80, and marketing automation tops 70. Navigating the marketing software seas can be treacherous due to the sheer density of each sub category. Not only does this complexity require additional time to puzzle through, it also dilutes the consideration set of many business professionals.

The sheer hours of searching add up. At TechnologyAdvice, we help business professionals narrow your search to products that actually do what you want them to, which ensures that you find the right solutions without mortgaging hours of your time. Use our Product Selection Tool above to find software that matches your criteria or call one of our experts to get recommendations on the best marketing software for your organization.

Technology Advice is able to offer our services for free because some vendors may pay us for web traffic or other sales opportunities. Our mission is to help technology buyers make better purchasing decisions, so we provide you with information for all vendors — even those that don't pay us.