Opt-In Email: Picking the Tools

In the first part of this article, which ran a couple of weeks ago, I discussed logistics and technical considerations for establishing an email marketing program. Now I’ll concentrate on the tools necessary to establish, manage, and maintain an email list for your organization.

Everyone has a different reason for building a mailing list. Some people want to market their own goods or services, others want simple communications with existing customers, and still others want to create a new revenue source by letting third parties advertise on their list. I’ll cover some of the tools available and discuss the issues that arise when making email marketing infrastructure choices.

In-House or Outsource?

Like any technical infrastructure choice today, you have two main options. You can install software and have people manage it internally, or you can use the power of the Internet and let a third party manage the software. Each of these options has its advantages and disadvantages, and the correct path can be determined only by analyzing your own situation.

Installing software. Purchasing email software and installing it often requires heavy up-front expenses. Customizing the software and training your staff to maintain it can put pressure on many organizations. The advantage is that this option can create data-sharing opportunities with other departments or other aspects of your organization that may find uses for the list and the data it generates.

The other key factor for installing software is security. Many organizations have rules about customer or prospect data residing on third-party servers. Purchasing and installing a solution to be run internally on your own servers eliminates this issue.

Application service providers (ASPs). Another option is to pick an ASP, which is considered the hottest thing in software. These providers are also known as managed service providers (MSPs) and total service poviders (TSPs).

All of these service providers give you the same thing, which is providing you with access to software and its functionality over the web. Instead of installing the software and running it on your own servers, a third party takes care of that entire step for you. The advantage is that the up-front costs are usually very small. In most setups, you pay only for what you use, and many contracts are on a month-to-month basis. This delivers a lot of financial flexibility for establishing your email initiative.

Free ASPs. Like service providers in other software areas, there are a few outbound email management tools that offer services for free. Their remuneration comes in the form of advertisements attached to every email you send out. This solution is usually not a viable alternative for most businesses and organizations. The last thing most companies want is for their marketing messages to contain other advertisements. If you are building a list as a new revenue stream, this is also an unwanted solution because you can’t have other ads being displayed with the ads you’re selling.

Getting Help

Consultants. In both technical setups, you can get assistance from consultants. Many email service providers have an in-house staff available for contractual hire to help you optimize your setup. These consultants can help every step of the way, showing you how to segment and build your email list to helping you analyze your results. Don’t be afraid to ask for their assistance, and if you’re installing software on your own servers, it may be unavoidable.

Wild World

Email marketing is the darling of the online marketing community right now. As such, there’s a lot of confusion about what solutions people should try and which solutions are the best. After spending a great deal of time in this space, I can say only that there are no clear-cut answers. Outbound email management tools are everywhere. Many individuals, like myself, even write and develop their own email management solutions.

I’ve been polling people for more than a month on what solutions they use, have used, or know about, and I’ve received information on more than 100 solutions or providers that are active. Some of these solutions are very unsophisticated, while others are extremely elaborate. Sophistication usually is accompanied by an increase in cost.

Determining what solution is correct for your needs really must be made on a case-by-case basis. That’s why I usually recommend the service-provider approach. This allows you to get your feet wet, and you can determine what’s working and what’s not.

I would also advise you not to choose a provider that requires signing a long contract that ties you into something. Your needs in the realm of email marketing may change as you move further into this world, and your initial service provider may not be the provider that can grow with you.

In an upcoming article, I’ll analyze the functionality of software and solutions and help you determine the features you need and the capabilities that are available.

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