Outsource Solutions: E-mail Marketing
How Flexible Is Your E-mail?
I’ve been reading about the pros and cons of outsourced vs. in-house e-mail delivery systems for a long time now, and it occurs to me that there’s an important aspect of the decision that’s often overlooked by companies carrying out a typical cost/benefit outsourcing analysis: the impact this decision can have on the flexibility of your e-mail operations. While there are numerous areas in which relying on an external e-mail vendor can deliver significant cost benefits and/or operational efficiency, there are four areas where an in-house solution can result in greater flexibility that would be difficult to achieve with an outsourced solution.
For example, about a year ago, my team pondered the in-house/outsource decision, and chose to extend an existing relationship with Socketware and upgrade to the then-newest version of its Accucast software. We also built a significant amount of proprietary workflow and code around the software to provide for some of the more specific applications CNET Networks uses (e.g., ad serving, user profiling, etc.)
The in-house system not only has delivered on the financial and strategic benefits we hoped for at the time of our decision, but has delivered four significant benefits based on a more flexible infrastructure:
1) User Behavioral Targeting. Conducting a vibrant behavioral targeting effort requires tight coordination of on-site user profiling systems and e-mail deployment infrastructure. While this could, in theory, be built with an outsourced vendor, we find it significantly more flexible when done in-house. In particular, the ability to constantly evaluate and change the data we use to construct our behavioral profiles is critical. Having to work with an outside party to set up, test and refine this connection would have significantly hampered our efforts. Working with our in-house engineering team reduced time-to-market.
2) New Product Features. Particularly in our e-mail newsletter products, the ability to develop and deploy new features is a key component of our user-relationship management strategy. Having full control over these projects, and not having to rely on an outside vendor’s engineering staff and priority queue, has had a tremendous impact on our ability to be more nimble in developing features such as dynamic content modules, conditional messaging elements, content-targeted search links and user engagement features, such as quick polls, Q&As, etc.
3) New Infrastructure Tools. The same can be said for the creation of new infrastructure tools. Especially given the rapid pace of change we’ve seen recently, the need to quickly deploy new infrastructure components for legal compliance, deliverability monitoring and enhancement, and/or user management is at an all-time high. It’s been very helpful for us to be able to develop and deploy these features independently, rather than having to wait for outside engineering assistance.
4) Better List Management. CNET Networks is seeing an increasing need to be more flexible in how we manage our lists for optimum effectiveness. Whether it’s how we manage users with multiple subscriptions, how we implement list cleansing projects, or when and how we conduct data append and/or e-mail-change-of-address projects, having the lists in-house makes it easier to analyze different approaches and implement changes in a short time frame (again, without the added project costs that an outsourced vendor likely would charge).
The main factor you’ll need to consider when choosing between an in-house or outsourced solution is the scale of your operations. The decision to go in-house comes with significant costs that can’t be absorbed unless they’re amortized over a relatively significant amount of activity. For example, shifting e-mail infrastructure development and management in-house has resulted in an increased load on our engineering and operations teams.
But if you have the scale to accommodate the efforts, you’ll be well served to give close attention to the flexibility you can enjoy with an in-house solution. In today’s fast-paced, ever-changing environment, flexibility is a critical element in the success of any e-mail marketer or publisher.
Markus Mullarkey is vice president of CNET Networks Inc., which manages 12 online technology communities and media centers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.