Email or automated software: Which is best for getting your business out there?

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For Joe Public, trying to determine the best service to successfully promote his small business, taking a highly detailed look at the different capabilities of specialised marketing software applications and choosing between them can be difficult. So what is he to do?

There are two main roads to take: either one opts for email marketing software or marketing automation software, though many people mistakenly think that these terms are interchangeable or are just fancy ways of describing the same thing. As a result, business people incorrectly compare email service providers and desktop emailing software against automation based marketing services — which means they won’t always end up with the best solution.

The mix-up may stem from the fact that email is such an essential tool for most marketing activities, which is why there are so many solutions available that include an emailing component. From that point of view, marketing automation is in part an email marketing tool.

Although these platforms do share some common ground, they are not the same.

While the two different types of software have functional similarities in some areas, they each in turn go deeper into certain aspects of customer relationship management (CRM). To understand which does what, it’s important to identify the goals of their basic differences:

Email Marketing Software — Email marketing tools by email service providers (ESPs) normally track interactions directly related to email campaigns. Some more advanced systems even allow people to set up logic steps to further engage subscribers, such as email autoresponders and other follow-ups, based on click-throughs or past purchase behavior.

Email Marketing Automation Software — In comparison, marketing automation systems (like Salesfusion, Loopfuse, Marketo lead management and Optify) track the entire chain of online interactions that buyers have with a company, helping with making intelligent decisions based on those behaviors via a number of channels to seal the deal.

Both email marketing and marketing automation are excellent tools designed to help companies achieve their sales goals. But, before making any investment, it’s worthwhile to define those goals and understand which system will be most effective in achieving them.

There are three distinctions between email marketing and marketing automation:

  1. With email marketing, each subscriber receives the same or similar communications, such as an email newsletter, or events flyer, or, if segmentation is applied; the same content among different interest groups. Marketing automation attempts to convert prospects through other targeted efforts, such as by sending relevant email communications gained by studying the various online and offline interactions of each individual.

    While this provides more insight to help nudge prospects through the stages of conversion, it takes more time and effort to manage, limiting the effective scope of influence to fewer (but hopefully more crucial) clients.

  2. Marketing automation systems integrate tightly with customer relationship management tools such as Salesforce. With this integration, a brand can have more productive conversations with a prospect in the later stages of their buying process. With that said, most email tools have some CRM integration but often not to a great extent. Both however, allow users to leverage data to segment and personalise campaigns, as well as provide sales teams with insights into how their prospects engaged with those campaigns, but at different levels of depth.

    So just what level of complexity is the best for you?

    It comes down to personal preference, but sometimes, less is more; which is why small to medium enterprises find email marketing easier to grasp and more effective.

  3. In their own ways marketing automation systems and email marketing systems don’t just track users, they act based on what prospects do. For instance, a subscriber who visits a particular product page on a website could receive a particular series of emails over the successive weeks; all without users needing to do anything other than the initial setup procedure which he or she can then leave to its own devices.

Some people prefer automation, while others prefer more hands-on intervention. Deciding between the two all comes down to what works best for the individual business.

What kind are you?

Here is the thing; small businesses with limited resources and a fairly consistent target market won’t benefit much from marketing automation.

Marketing automation only starts to make sense when an organisation finds that its customer base isn’t very uniform, or they have big-spending prospects that need (and often want) a lot of extra nurturing and spoon-feeding.

And while the pricing of email marketing tools is based either on the number of emails sent or the size of a mailing list, marketing automation costs more regardless and represents a significantly larger investment. Realistically, the large difference in spend can only be justified when a business is very confident that marketing automation systems will provide a dash of that secret sauce to help their company win more worthwhile conversions.

It also depends on the amount of content a business can churn out as setting up a marketing automation sales funnel requires much more varied content than, say, a generic monthly newsletter. In this sense email marketing is less demanding, as one can set up a few standard email templates, add some fresh content every now and then, and recycle until it becomes irrelevant to subscribers. Marketing automation users can end up with a routine that fails due to a lack of resources to produce content.

Ultimately, marketing automation is more about learning about people and leveraging that info. Emailing is more about timeous, impactful communication, where only minimal information is needed in order to launch a successful campaign; which makes it easier and more sensible for small to medium enterprises.

When it comes to email marketing itself, you have the choice between a purchased emailing package and a hosted emailing solution. These two, again, are very different.

There are a least five distinctions between email marketing as a cloud service and purchased software:

  1. Templates on purchased software can quickly get outdated. Hosted solutions must stay ahead of their online competitors and new updates on international webmail services, which is why they maintain fresh template libraries that can also be live-tested on different email clients, or even mobile devices through the service itself.

  2. Off-the-shelf software often doesn’t have advanced features, offering only basic newsletter creation and sending tools. ESPs offer extra features such as microsites (an archive of old newsletters), reports and stats, Real Simple Syndication feeds (RSS), subscriber segmentation tools, A/B split tests of subject lines, spam checkers and so on.
  3. The cloud service solution provides an opportunity to drill down further into subscriber behavior, allowing one to send a more targeted campaign. Only basic tracking and statistics tools are available with purchased packages. One can typically only track new subscribers, unsubscribes and bounces.
  4. Purchased software has to be downloaded onto a computer, which always bares a risk of inviting viruses and it also takes up disk space on a hard drive. With a hosted solution, all one needs to do is go online and log into the application.
  5. There are extra costs if the purchased product is required on more than one PC. In other words, users may need a multi license version. This can end up being fairly pricey, not to mention that users cannot access their accounts from anywhere else except those specific computers; whereas all that is needed with a hosted application is access to any internet connected computer or tablet.

Truth is, although a hosted solution is not for everyone, many still find it far more useful than a purchased software package because of its progressive functionality and up-to-date support.

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