If anyone tells you that email marketing is dead, don't believe them. Email marketing is still alive and well, and continues to deliver repeatable and trackable results, even in 2010. In a recent study by Vertical Response, 74% of small business owners responded that they would like to increase their email marketing efforts in 2010. So if you're thinking about taking your email marketing efforts to the next level (or if you're just getting started), you're certainly not alone.
To a great extent, the success of your future email campaigns depends upon your choice of email marketing software. There are many good email solutions out there, but that is not to say that they are all the same, or that your decision should be taken lightly. When you sit down to evaluate the myriad options available, keep the following considerations in mind.
Ease of List Maintenance.
It's not an exaggeration to say that your email marketing efforts are only as good as the quality of your email list. For this reason, you'll want an email solution that makes it easy to manage and grow that list. This means easy to use import functionality, and custom fields to store your data exactly as you collect it. Some email solutions offer custom subscription forms that you can paste into your site. Another consideration is finding email software that integrates with your CRM, if you use one. This can mean one-step customer management, saving you time. One other note: While it won't make your list grow, you will want to find an email marketing solution that manages unsubscribes and bounces without you having to worry about it.
Theme Builder / WYSIWYG Editor.
If you're proficient with HTML and CSS, and want to build your emails this way, then you can skip this requirement. But if you're not, you should look for an email program that provides a simply, easy-to-use WYSIWYG ("What you see is what you get") editor. More specifically, you'll want to find an email solution that translates the look you design for your emails into CSS that can be displayed by different email clients. Programs such as Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, Gmail, and others all have particular requirements for what can be displayed in an email. A good email marketing program will accommodate this specific needs.
Like Web marketing, email marketing success depends upon complete, reliable tracking and reporting. With an email solution that tracks opens and clicks, you can assess the strength of your Subject lines, and the content of your emails. If you see that the second link in your emails tends to be the most clicked, you will want to put your main call to action in this position. If your open rates are below average, your Subject lines may be leaving something to be desired.
Price will obviously be one of your considerations in choosing an email marketing offering. But when you make your decision, consider not only the price today, but how that price will change over time if your email list grows. Growth is a major goal of almost any email marketing effort, so make sure that you allow for that growth. When you investigate price structures, assume your list will grow at the rate you want it to; in other words, assume your own success.
Depending upon the size of your email list, and the extent of your email campaigns, you may want to find an email marketing program that allows you to create targeted sub-lists from your main email list. For example, if your company had a special offer for customers located in the Northeast, you could filter your list geographically, and send an alert to only these customers. The limit of how you can target your emails depends on the quality of your data. You could theoretically filter by location, age, gender, interests, or even past purchasing history.
If you want to send personalized emails to your email list (for example, emails that begin "Hello John," or "Hello Sarah"), personalization will be an important piece of functionality that you'll be looking for. Many email programs offer this, and basically it allows you to put placeholders in your email that will be replaced by data from your email list. Think Mail Merge for your emails. Again, if this is something you'll want to do in the future, look for it in the solutions you evaluate.
In the Theme Builder section above, I mentioned that different email clients will display your emails differently. While you could send test emails to a bunch of different addresses to test this yourself, it is far easier to find an email marketing program that offers previews of how your emails will look in these different clients. At a glance you will see how your emails will look in your customers' inboxes, including how much of your email appears in the Inbox preview pane, and how much of your content is "below the fold."
Depending upon your goals, there may be additional requirements you're looking for in your email marketing solution. What appears above is by no means an exhaustive list of requirements. But it is a good place to start in your search. Good luck!