Every movement begins with a moment.

What is happening to my ESP?

Posted 2 April 2015 3:30 PM by Alec Young

By @EmailTycoon 

The evolving landscape of email marketing is fueled by the collaboration of marketers and ESPs (email service providers). The spread of available customer insights coupled with marketers’ strategic thinking continually push the limits of the provider, thus triggering ESPs to frequently update their platforms with enhanced capabilities and features. The most noticeable update of late: Three major ESPs have updated the logos on their websites.

The logos

In 2013, ExactTarget joined the Salesforce Cloud, and Responsys was acquired by Oracle. A few months later, in 2014, IBM announced the purchase of Silverpop. These three pillars of the industry once engaged in a fierce rivalry to dominate the email marketing arena. They battled it out to be the first to offer the newest, most innovative capabilities. But since the acquisitions, each of these industry icons is fading into just another product offering in a cloud-based marketing stack.

The stacks

“Stacks” are pitched by IBM, Oracle and Salesforce as a complete digital marketing solution. Each product in the stack solves a particular marketing need, but the accumulation unites to empower marketers with a 360-degree view of the customer. The stack covers all angles of digital marketing, including detailed analytics, segmentation and targeting solutions, social media and email marketing, lead scoring and more. 

While stacks seem like a panacea, marketers see a looming downside to this new alignment. An ESP needs to meet your business needs while also following a roadmap consistent with its customer’s anticipated digital marketing growth. ESPs are works in progress that continue to grow and change, so it is also crucial to be in bed with one that fits your needs:

  • What’s your marketing palate? There are several flavors of ESPs on the market. MailChimp and Constant Contact are a few examples of ESPs that hone in on the needs of small businesses. They fill the demand for a simple interface and an affordable service that anyone can sign up for and use immediately. 

  • Is there a special platform for you? More specialized ESPs also exist to solve very specific business needs, such as Fishbowl’s solution for the restaurant and retail industry. Eloqua and Pardot tailor their platforms for the business-to-business (B2B) space. All of their horsepower goes into customer insight, lead scoring and integration into an organization’s sales flow.

  • Should you think big? Silverpop, ExactTarget and Responsys are three examples of ESPs positioned as an enterprise-level solution for professional marketers who send millions of emails a month. 

Are you stuck?

Anyone who has signed a contract with a major ESP knows that these platforms are sticky. Once integrated and deploying campaigns, it becomes increasing difficult to sever ties and move to a competitor. The ESP quickly becomes entangled with customer data, submission forms, landing pages, assets and reporting.

As sticky as an ESP can be within an organization, there is still the option to jump ship and sign a contract with a competitor. This ability to switch motivates ESPs to stay aligned with their customers’ growing needs and requests. But this stickiness will soon become an appendage as the ESPs align within their respective stack. For example, it only makes sense to use ExactTarget as your ESP if you are already using Salesforce services. It is doubtful that Silverpop will continue to enhance compatibility with Salesforce, as they have done over the past several years. It’s safe, however, to say that Silverpop will focus on compatibility with IBM solutions. It may no longer be a decision to switch ESPs but rather the decision to change your entire stack (and the resulting 18-month project plan).

The growing concern is that ESPs will shift their focus from the client roadmap and onto retrofitting and conforming to their new owners’ processes and systems. Marketers who actively use these ESPs every day can attest that a change is already happening beyond the logo.

What happens now?

That remains to be seen. The big worry is that the alignment with these new cloud-based enterprise marketing stacks will diminish the relationship marketers have forged with these ESPs over the years. Marketers are left to wonder, “What features will I lose in 2015 due to the IBM acquisition? Will Responsys’ next product update reflect feedback from marketers who use the tool or will the focus be on how to better integrate with the Oracle Cloud? 

The future of these ESPs is still to be determined, but for email marketing to continue to evolve at its current pace, it is crucial for ESPs to continue to listen to their customers. If the relationship between these three ESPs and marketers deceases, it may be prime time for a new pillar in the industry to emerge. 


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