Email Marketing and the Problem of Too Much Choice

The good news is that there are so many email marketing providers out there that you could probably find one to cover absolutely anything you can think of. The bad news? You have to choose one, and if you don't your research, that choice can be paralyzing.

There are a lot of email providers out there. A. Lot.

And they all do so many different things and serve so many different audiences that finding the right one is quite the challenge. A few months ago, I did a dive into the various email providers, signing up for them to check out their editors and feature sets, and I found myself overwhelmed.

There are so many ways to skin this cat—literally hundreds of companies out there want your business. Despite a small handful of firms getting most of the attention (MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, Constant Contact, Marketo), you are by no means limited when it comes to building or revamping your email infrastructure.

And the space is evolving in some important ways. Among them:

Mergers ahoy. Last week, amid a fairly busy news cycle, Campaign Monitor announced it had acquired two competitors, Emma and Delivra. The acquisition was easy to miss, even considering Campaign Monitor’s high profile, but it reflects the sheer diversity of the market. Campaign Monitor is a workhorse self-service brand with a long history; Emma focuses on personalization and collaboration; and Delivra offers automation and customization. As the market matures, it will not be surprising if more mergers take place, due to the number of players.

The rise of publisher-driven email. As consumer-driven blogging platforms like Tumblr start to age out and publishers like Medium face big questions about their business models, email providers are making the case that they can fill a niche for both publishing and monetization. I wrote about one such company,, a few years ago, but since then, two similarly equipped competitors, Revue and Substack, have emerged, both with a mind to help online publishers formulate sustainable business models—and to actually write the dang messages.

A big-name challenger emerges. When I read the news last month that the website host Squarespace had announced a new email marketing tool, I joked that the company responsible for half of the podcast market’s advertising was getting into the market dominated by the company responsible for the other half. But jokes aside, MailChimp has reasons to be concerned about the emergence of Squarespace as an email provider: Squarespace’s service will likely be a little cheaper, and it promises to integrate with a tool a lot of small businesses already use. It’s not for everyone, but if Squarespace gets any uptake at all as an email tool, it could be great for the consumer.

And new startups are still entering the email space. The complexities of email marketing—from design to editing to personalization—are driving deep interest in trying to crack the nut at the enterprise level, and that’s leading to the emergence of new players at a regular clip despite what looks like sector saturation. Last week, an email marketing provider named Cordial, launched in 2014, scored a $15 million series B funding round, based on the promise that it would enable real-time personalization. And the week before that, a firm named Stensul earned $7 million in funding on expectations that it would ease content creation at the enterprise level. Email marketing is already a busy space, but don’t expect things to slow down anytime soon—not when social reach is losing its luster. Expect more entrants in the months to come.

So Many Options

The email marketing sector, long story short, is kind of a lot right now, and not just because of GDPR.

You can find email providers adept at everything. SendGrid, for example, is great at sending automated emails; MailJet has a robust open-source templating tool that’s one of the most ambitious of its kind; and platforms like MooSend have put a lot of work into making visual design possible.

(And that’s just talking the high-end enterprise options! Depending on how much work you want to put in, you can go as cheap as you want.)

That means that if you’re leaning on email, you will have your work cut out for you in deciding what’s best for your association’s pain points. Because the space is so much larger than just associations, you can feel overwhelmed by choice.

Not even the market for email clients feels this saturated. If I could compare it to anything, it’d be the early PC market, where, in the years before the market agreed on a single model type, there were literally dozens of options.

Still, It’s Worth Looking

So what’s a smart association to do? Here’s what I’d say: Now’s a good time to look for a new provider. With so much competition, it’s a buyer’s market. Even if you’re not looking to switch, a quick look at what’s out there couldn’t hurt.

But don’t make a move without doing your homework. Look at what each tool is good at, its overall reputation, and how it can help you both manage your lists and improve your marketing tactics. Also consider your current challenges—not just with technology, but with integration and the overall experience. Finally, this is a good opportunity to future-proof, so focus on next-gen features as well as what’s working now.

A company’s experience with associations can be a plus on your list, but it’s not essential, as long as the platform integrates well and you feel comfortable with the support you’ll get.

Don’t let the sheer amount of choice scare you off entirely. Because failing to keep up? Now, that’d be really scary.

(bunhill/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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