Are you using the right criteria to choose an ESP?

It seems that many marketers are not looking at the appropriate criteria when it comes time to choose an e-mail service provider (ESP).

A recent JupiterResearch executive survey found that most e-mail executives shop for an ESP based on reputation of the provider (55%) and overall cost (51%). After that, the next most important criteria are industry expertise and deliverability services, each chosen by 43% of respondents.

None of those choices is surprising, but what is a bit unexpected is that things like number of e-mail marketing features (22%), integration with other applications (16%) and multi-channel marketing services (14%) were not important to many of the respondents.

When it came to features, the only one that a majority of respondents could agree on was usability of the application, chosen by 61% of respondents. After that, the most mentioned basic features are ability to use multiple lists (36%), basic personalization (36%) and content management (34%). Advanced features that respondents most look for include customized reporting and analysis (39%), multiuser support (29%), and subscriber-level response data, surveying tools and segmentation capabilities, which all tied at 20%.

“Usability is critical and has impact on production costs. However, marketers must ensure they are properly focused on features such as list management, reporting, segmentation, and content management in the ESP selection process,” writes JupiterResearch analyst David Daniels.

If marketers are not focusing on these features because they consider them “table stakes,” thinking all ESPs have them, they’d be wrong. While 96% of ESPs have segmentation capabilities, only 86% offer definable fields, dynamic content, or A/B testing. Only 82% offer image hosting or renaming of links, and a mere 64% offer list hygiene, and 50% offer frequency caps, all of which are basic features, according to Daniels.

For advanced features, 86% offer multiuser support or message throttling, 79% offer event triggers or a preference center, 68% allow rules-based content, 64% provide tools for continuity mailings or polls, and only 29% offer animated testing.

But picking an ESP with the most available features is not the best way to choose, Daniels said. Instead, marketers should develop their e-mail strategies and map them to features they need for their program.

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