Marketing Software Comparison (103 Vendors)
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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.
Market leaders: Hootsuite, Sprout Social, Brandwatch, Buffer
How to Get Executive Buy-In
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
[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
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.
Market leaders: MailChimp, iContact, Get Response
How to Get Executive Buy-In
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
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
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
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 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
Market leaders: HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot, Oracle Eloqua, Act-On, InfusionSoft
How to Get Executive Buy-In
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
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.