If you’re reading this post, I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain to you why email is an ideal channel for conducting commerce, marketing products and ideas, and more. In fact, I’m willing to bet that email is a fundamental part of how you do business. So, go ahead—send some of that mission-critical, data-driven email. I’ll just wait for you here.
Oh, wait. You mean, it’s more than simply pressing that big green “send” button? Syncing business data up with your ESP is, let’s say, complicated? Yeah, I hear you. You’ve kludged in some mechanisms to generate data files for account and CRM data, transaction data, shipment data, abandoned cart data, product data, loyalty data, and more. And as for getting that data into your ESP? Well, the integration between an ESP and your own internal systems typically involves tedious, brittle mechanisms such as FTP to upload all of that information.
On top of that, core email functions like message injection, reporting, unsubscribing, and templates aren’t programmatically accessible in real-time at most ESPs. That means manual updates and still more data duplication: sends, bounces, clicks, and more. So round-tripping data? Fuhgeddaboudit.
And, as for security around all that data, well… all we have to do is look at the news and see who’s been hacked this week. After working in the security business for 10 years, I’m enough of a realist to know that putting duplicate copies of your core customer data up on someone else’s servers doesn’t make the problem better.
Now, none of this is to say ESPs don’t care about your business or the integrity of your data. Of course they do, but their systems weren’t built for how we use data-driven email today. They were architected for delivering relatively static marketing messages, not for real-time transactions such as password resets, login notifications, triggered commerce flows, guided user onboarding, and more.
What if you took an API-centric approach to generating and delivering email, instead? Your business systems already are the system of record, so let them, not a redundant workflow at an ESP, handle the business logic. Your systems can identify which customer has triggered what action, and simply call a service (via a straightforward REST API, natch) to generate that specific email message right when it’s needed, not in a batched queue for offline processing.
By taking this direct send approach, no business logic needs to be built within the confines of your ESP, nor does the data need to be synced beforehand. That adds up to real-time delivery with a lot less hassle. And, by the way, since your email delivery service is now a triggered service, they no longer need access to all that sensitive business data or retain your customer’s personally identifying information (PII). That might lessen your security concerns, too.
None of this is automagical—you would need to build the right event- or state-based triggers into your business systems. But isn’t it better to have them in your own systems (where they can be reused for multiple purposes) then to build them out-of-phase at an ESP? These sorts of triggers are core to your business process flow. Treat them as such.
Today’s personalized, data-driven email is frankly far more complex than most ESPs were designed to handle. The hassles of synchronizing business logic and data for triggered sends at an ESP make that challenge clear.
So, maybe it’s time to take a step back and see if relying on your strategic business systems to handle the logic, and using API-driven approaches for personalized, triggered, and transactional email delivery is a better choice. Sure, for old school email marketing or soup-to-nuts campaign management, ESPs can give a lot of value. But for data-driven email, there’s a better way. Don’t let your ESP hold you back.
If you like this post, be sure to check out Getting to a Segment of One (Data-Driven Marketing Series, Part 1)
[UPDATE: We’ve had a lot of interest in the on-premise vs outsource debate so we’re updating this post with more information to provide some context on the pros and cons of both camps.]
Whether or not a business decides to go with on-premise infrastructure or outsource to email service providers for managing email streams is a critical long-term choice, and one to which there is no singular answer. That choice depends on a number of factors, including the size of the business, the volume and frequency of sending, the need for data integration, data privacy, and the need for scalability. While you’ll hear voices on both sides advocate for one solution or another, the reality is that different solutions fit different requirements, and the choice comes down to balancing potential upside with cost and risk.
When looking at the upside comparisons, one might take a look at the findings of a survey published by David Daniels, CEO of The Relevancy Group and former VP / Principal Analyst of Forrester in September 2012. The survey explores the impact of technology deployment on marketing effectiveness.
While results of the survey favor the on-premise camp, there are some instances where outsourcing might work for your business.
The Argument For Outsourcing
Most businesses really begin enjoying significant cost savings with on-prem when they send 10 million messages a month or more. The 10 million mark isn’t a sharp line, but a decent ballpark figure. If you’re a start-up that is still growing a fledgling database of subscribers with a small email list, then chances are you’ll be pretty far off from the ten million messages a month benchmark. With a small team that is focused on the development of a core business product, start-ups or smaller enterprises might not have the technical resources in-house to really focus, fine-tune and reap the benefits of the on-premise marketing juggernaut of an email infrastructure. When you move into high-value messaging, transactional messaging, or have complex data integration or stringent delivery SLA requirements, this guideline may well come down.
Running a tight ship and your marketing department is small? You might want to outsource to an email service provider that offers creative services: a one-stop shop for all your needs. Consolidating all production rather than relying on disparate contractors to first design, then code email is a time-saver and definitely a value-add that email service providers can deliver. With email service providers, a core value is not only the technological capability, but the array of creative services that comes in the packaged deal such as consultancy and production.
Greater control and insight into the email process through on-prem can provide a boost in terms of deliverability, but perhaps that is not a core concern of your business. There could be a number of reasons why this is the case. Messaging your customer might not be business critical to your revenue stream. You might not have complex data integration needs for crafting your campaigns. Your sending volumes are manageable.
It all boils down to the issue of your business model. If you are heavily dependent on significant volumes of email to keep your business in the black, you should take another careful look at the on-prem option. However, if the upside potential from managing your own messaging in terms of the factors identified in the Daniel’s research does not justify the investment in building a center of excellence, then that is the clearest indicator that an outsource provider is right for you.
The Argument for On-Prem
The scalability, greater control and better deliverability that on-prem provides are critical factors for businesses that send huge volumes of emails, such as a daily deals site or e-retailers, where service offerings are presented to customers primarily through online channels such as emails. When email becomes a major source of revenue for a business and increasing deliverability just slightly can result in significant financial gains to the company, then it’s time to look at an on-premise infrastructure.
The argument for on-prem hedges mainly on:
- The pure cost savings that sending in high volumes can present.
- The control that it provides over data, which you would not be able to obtain immediately, and with ease through an outsource provider.
- The factors outlined in David Daniels study. The question each business must ask here is if these factors are important enough to justify that spend on messaging infrastructure.
While outsourcing may be a quick-fix to resolving your issues with email in a start-up, when an organization grows to a certain size and begins pumping out email campaigns at high volume, costs, when working with an email service provider, can quickly escalate. In many businesses, a critical part of the workflow includes event-based mails and transactional notifications that ramp up the messaging volume, and corresponding prices too. In the process of evaluating whether on-prem is right for your business, there is simple math you can do to evaluate whether moving from a CPM-driven model to an owned-infrastructure model has a lower TCO (total cost of ownership). Making the switch to on-prem could lead to significant cost savings in the long run.
Control, Visibility & Integration
The story of on-prem is closely tied to that of the greater control it affords users. If your marketing department is large enough that you have in-house designers and in-house web developers, you’re probably comfortable with producing your own branded look and feel of an email. In fact, you probably want that flexibility to make your own tweaks to the template to better customize and personalize it for recipients. Access to such creative resources in-house severely diminishes a critical part of the value that many ESPs bring to the table.
When weighing your options from a cost perspective, it’s easy to say that on-prem is the way to go, if you flat out have a lower TCO when sending significant volumes. Visibility and integration aspects however, are more subtle, and may add value that makes sense to switch to on-prem, even if it is not a direct cost saving. If you are sending in high volumes, and deliverability is critical to the success of your organization as a whole, you will want immediate visibility into sending data that can help to optimize your campaigns. Additionally, visibility into recipient data will allow you to better understand the value of your customers, and help you improve the targeting and relevance of campaigns to increase the revenue gained per customer. From a technological perspective, it also facilitates the integration into other disparate systems.
It’s not that ESPs can’t provide visibility into your email stream and data – they can. But with an on-prem solution you’re going to have greater control over your email data, and you’ll have immediate access to it. Moreover, the Relevancy Group study we reference in our infographic shows clearly that on-premise marketers are able to leverage and integrate more disparate data than marketers using out-sourced email infrastructure. In other words, they are better able to use information such as customer purchase/transaction histories, web behavior and mobile marketing data to shape and optimize their email programs.
And the answer is…
Each business has differing needs when it comes to email. A general categorization is for businesses to look for an email service provider when sending in smaller volumes or seeking one-stop creative services, and to look towards on-premise when they need more sophisticated features to address the gaps in terms of deliverability and visibility.
If you are interested in finding more about on-premise and whether it is right for your business, we’re happy to do a thorough evaluation and address any questions you might have.
And for those that may not have the luxury of time to drill down to the nitty gritty details of David Daniels white paper, we’ve distilled the salient points into an infographic that summarizes the study results. Just remember that the benefits outlined are mostly experienced once a sender crosses a certain threshold in volume. Enjoy!