Q-and-A With Forrester Research's Julie Katz on ESPs
eM+C spoke last week with Julie Katz, Cambridge, Mass.-based
Forrester Research's new e-mail analyst, about her recently released report, "The Forrester Wave: Email Marketing Service Providers, Q4 2007."
The report found that the e-mail market is a mature one, with all
e-mail service providers offering similar technologies and all vendors
having a similar goal: wanting to establish e-mail as the pillar of a
multichannel marketing program.
In the report, Forrester evaluated eight leading e-mail marketing
service providers across 64 criteria and identified Responsys and e-Dialog -- which is being
acquired by GSI Commerce -- as standouts, thanks to their solid platforms, easy-to-use features and focus on marketer needs. Long-time leader Epsilon and recently overhauled Yesmail round out the "Leader" category.
Here are some additional thoughts about ESPs and e-mail marketing in
general from Katz:
eM+C: What are e-mailers hoping to receive from their ESP
Julie Katz: E-mail marketers are really looking for their ESPs
to be more than just a delivery engine. They're looking for strategic
advice on how to advance their e-mail programs, how to keep consumer
attention and how to build more relevant messaging. While not willing
to give up complete control, they are looking for more of a
partnership. E-mailers want vendors who understand the nuances of their
eM+C: Are most ESPs delivering what their customers want?
JK: ESPs succeed in e-mail delivery, for sure. They help ensure
that customers' e-mail messages make it to their subscribers' inboxes,
and they do offer the extras like strategic, creative and analytics
services that help advance e-mail programs. The problem is that even
though marketers want to take their e-mail programs to the next level,
they're still reluctant to spend for some of these services that could
eM+C: Are there many differences between the leading ESPs, or are
ESP services becoming commoditized?
JK: The differences between the ESPs we evaluated in the "Wave"
[report] are small. Delivery services have certainly been commoditized,
but there are differences in both the strength of strategic services
and in what clients have to say about them.
eM+C: What can an ESP do to differentiate itself?
JK: To differentiate, ESPs must look for ways to make advanced
analytics both cost effective and comprehensible to e-mail marketers.
And, though the social computing age is still young, any ESP that can
figure out how to better link e-mail to this craze will be ahead of the
eM+C: What was the most interesting/surprising thing that you
learned in the course of your research for the report?
JK: Most interesting for me were the differences in customer
perception among the ESPs. All of the customers we spoke to regarded
themselves as demanding and expecting a lot from their vendors, but
only a handful explained how their vendors helped them revolutionize
their programs. While each vendor's technology platform is important,
it's truly the personal connections e-mailers have with their ESPs that
seem to make the difference.
eM+C: What trends do you see for ESPs in 2008 and beyond?
JK: A bunch of the ESPs are coming out with new platforms that
incorporate lots of Web 2.0-ish features and mash-ups and advanced
analytics (many have already done so in 2007). They'll be looking to
promote and beef up their analytics and strategic services and help
more of their clients incorporate marketing messages into transactional
or standard confirmation messages. They will also be building stronger
ties to other data sources both to help inform their customers' e-mail
programs and use e-mail data to build stronger programs in other
eM+C: Are there any e-mail technology/tool trends that you are
seeing, or that you may have noted from your research?
JK: Nearly all of the vendors are working to make their tools
easier to use from a campaign-management standpoint. Their platforms
are much more visual, incorporating things like flow-chart-like
lifecycle campaign designs, drag-and-drop functionality, and calendars
that mirror marketers' traditional planning tools.
eM+C: Finally, can you offer our readers any tips about working with an ESP, choosing an ESP or switching ESPs?
JK: In choosing an ESP (or switching or working with your
existing provider), it's important to find a cultural fit with the team
who'll be helping you set up campaigns. If you can't communicate your
needs to them or if you feel like they don't understand your business
needs, then your e-mail program will suffer. Think about the features
and services that are important to you, like data you might need to
integrate, analytics you need, or advice on growing or altering your
program. And think about the skills you don't have internally that the
ESP might complement.