Should You Use an E-mail Service Provider for Your Mobile Strategy?

  |  March 17, 2011   |  Comments

Pros and cons of using a single vendor for e-mail and mobile marketing.

For a number of years, it's been clear that mobile's a game changer for marketing. I don't use that term lightly. But I use it now quite deliberately. Always on, always available communications cannot fail to fundamentally alter the marketing landscape. Question is, how's the game changing?

A recent Forrester Research report indicates that many, even most, businesses do not have a clear mobile strategy. When you start talking to people in the mobile space, the reasons become immediately apparent. They can all cite case studies of campaigns that worked and worked well. But a clear articulation of what it takes to develop successful campaigns is much harder to come by. It seems that for every success story there are an equal number of failures and therein lies a serious issue.

Designing and implementing mobile campaigns is neither easy nor cheap. Whether it's something as simple as running a sweepstakes on SMS or as sophisticated as developing a custom iPhone app, there are significant costs and hurdles. When the payoff is not guaranteed, it becomes far less likely that senior management will commit significant dollars in a down economy.

Start simple and try some things to learn what works in a given situation. I also like to start with what I know and work from there. How can you do this without placing bets so large that senior management refuses to fund them? This is where e-mail comes in.

E-mail and mobile intersect in many areas. For instance, more and more people read e-mail on mobile devices, but that's only a part of the picture. Just as successful e-mail programs integrate with other marketing efforts, so too must mobile programs. Starting by engaging people as an extension of your existing e-mail efforts provides these benefits:

Working with an existing vendor. In the last few years most e-mail service providers have added mobile capabilities to their marketing platforms. To be fair, the level of integration varies. Where some have fully built-in mobile capabilities (typically SMS), others have done little more than adopt white-label, third-party solutions. Even with a minimum of integration, you benefit because you can extend an existing contract and continue to work with an existing solution provider, thereby minimizing your startup costs.

Leveraging existing investments. By adding to existing programs you can leverage technology and infrastructure investments you've already made. Mobile communications need to be timely. That means automated, ideally real-time. By working with your existing vendor you can take advantage of the work you've already done integrating systems. Efforts you put into supporting real-time triggered messaging from your website through your e-mail service provider (ESP) should be directly reusable for mobile messaging with that same ESP.

Even if you have not done any significant integration, the consistency and familiarity of procedures and processes should help you minimize your costs and give you a head start on the learning curve.

Achieving economies of scale. The mobile market is far less mature than e-mail. By bringing the two together under a single vendor, you should be able to realize significant savings.

So what are the downsides to this approach?

Clearly e-mail service providers are, by definition, focused on e-mail. Whether they're truly mobile experts will depend on whom you work with. Most ESPs have implemented their mobile capabilities by partnering with mobile specialists so you should get the best of both worlds. Remember: even the experts in the mobile space are still figuring out what works and what doesn't though few will ever admit it.

A specialist mobile provider may give you more out of the box, pure-play mobile thinking. An e-mail provider is more likely to suggest integrated programs that leverage mobile in conjunction with other media (especially e-mail). Whether that's a benefit or not depends on what you're trying to accomplish.

Don't presume that a new medium requires a specialist provider. E-mail service providers are well placed to provide marketers with an easier path to entry and substantial long-term value in mobile marketing.

Derek is off today. This column was originally published on October 28, 2010 on ClickZ.



Derek Harding

Derek is the managing director of J-Labs, Javelin Marketing Group's technology skunkworks, a role that draws on his 20 years of experience and leadership in the fields of marketing and technology. A British expatriate based in Seattle, Washington, Derek is perhaps better known as the founder and technologist behind Innovyx, one of the first email service providers later acquired by the Omnicom Group. An industry veteran and thought-leader, Derek is a regular expert author, contributor, conference speaker, and takes an active role in a number of industry and trade groups.

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