Best Email Marketing software of 2020

The latest email marketing rankings.

Email marketing software is a business tool that lets you create, manage, and automate electronic mail marketing campaigns for your business.

Email marketing is one of the most effective ways to stay in touch with your customers and to reach out to new potential customers.

Even for a small business with very few customers, email marketing software can lead to vastly increased efficiency in your digital marketing. For larger businesses with many customers, email marketing software is an absolute necessity.

Why use email marketing software?

If your company is still doing email marketing by hand, your digital marketing strategy is as out of date as a typewriter. Even small business to business (or B2B) outfits can benefit from the increased efficiency, accountability, and functionality offered by email marketing software.

The benefits of email marketing software are incredible: even basic email marketing software lets you customize emails for certain subsets of customers, create emails that are tailored to specific users, format emails so they’ll easily show up on mobile devices, create templates with marketing images and your company logo, and dynamically adapt to user actions, like opening a customer service request or making a purchase.

Email marketing is also an effective way to boost awareness and interest in your business. One reason why just about every blog you find on the internet today has an email newsletter is because these website owners know that email marketing drives web traffic.

Even if your business is strictly brick and mortar, email marketing drives up web traffic and increases brand awareness, which in turn drives up your brick and mortar business. That’s why savvy law firms, doctor’s offices, and other strictly in-person businesses still turn to email marketing to increase business.

Who uses email marketing software?

As you might guess, the biggest users of your company’s email marketing software are going to be the members of the marketing and sales teams, and possibly their direct supervisors.

Key to the success of your email marketing campaigns is getting both the sales aspect and the marketing aspect to work in sync with each other.

Often, this involves plugging in your email marketing software to your CRM software, and keeping your marketers in close communication with your sales team leads. That can mean getting your project managers involved, especially if you are taking on a specific marketing campaign with a set of definite objectives.

Make sure you scope your email marketing software usage correctly. Companies that see the benefits of email marketing are often tempted to use exactly the same platform and strategy for their own internal emails. That can create problems for the marketing and sales teams, especially if their time is getting eaten up sending out company-wide communication and newsletters that aren’t directly driving sales, generating leads, or converting leads into customers.

Don’t overlook the importance of getting your company’s IT team and software engineers involved, too. Getting tech specialists involved can help you extract critical data for your data science and business analytics teams, and leveraging the application programming interface (API) of your email marketing software can help you integrate your email marketing functionality with smartphone apps, social media activity, and more.

Making sure you put together a competent team to “funnel” new users into your email marketing system and get them tagged correctly and dropped into the right emailing lists might require a broader view of who’s involved with the email marketing software.

For example, do customers who open customer service requests have the opportunity to sign up for your email newsletter? Can your social media team drive customers to sign up to get product updates? Are customers who get text or app notifications also getting integrated into your email marketing system?

These are all key questions to address when setting up or reviewing the performance of your email marketing software, and answering them might require expanding your view of who needs to be trained in and actively using your email marketing software.

Features

Good email marketing software lets you build targeted emails to send to subsets of users. The prime feature you should look for in email marketing software is the ability to group users into specific subsets. For example, a clothing company may have separate emails for men and women, or for older versus younger customers.

Targeted email campaigns are a staple of any email marketing, but when you pay more for high-end email marketing software, you can gain the ability to dynamically create content in emails that are specialized for individual customers.

For example, you can insert recommended products based on the previous purchasing history of a customer. While not all businesses need this level of customization, it can really accelerate your sales if you have a wide range of products that appeal to different types of customers.

Email marketing software should offer flexibility when it comes to scheduling email marketing. It’s always important to remember that your company’s email marketing campaigns are in competition with all of the other emails that your customers or potential sales leads are receiving.

For many people, the daily deluge of emails can be completely overwhelming. That’s why it is becoming increasingly important to give your customers flexibility with when they want to receive emails. While some people do want to get daily emails, that’s probably a small fraction of your customer base.

Some might prefer a once-a-month update instead. If you don’t give these choosy customers an option to switch, you’ll find yourself with a hefty amount of unsubscribed customers.

Basic, low-cost email marketing software solves this problem by letting you put customers on different lists with different mailing campaigns set up. More advanced email marketing software lets you tag customers and send out email campaigns only to customers with specific tags. This lets some customers effectively be on more than one list at a time, but still prevents duplicate emails from being sent (another sure-fire way to lose subscribers).

It is increasingly important to look for email marketing software that integrates with your social media strategy. The digital communication landscape is changing quickly: many statistics about the email usage of customers just don’t apply to younger customers. Increasingly, digital marketing happens via social media.

With the advent of targeted social media ads, you can reach specific subgroups of potential customers and drive interest in your business. Social media ads also help increase the reach of your email marketing: instead of targeting an ad for your product, getting customers interested and signed up for your email marketing can often be a more effective way of driving traffic and making sales.

Despite the hype (and the real importance) of social media, email marketing still offers a lot of specific advantages. One study noted that customer acquisition via email by US businesses far outstrips customer acquisition from social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter (1).

Granted, that study was from 2014, and that situation might change rapidly, especially with companies whose customers are millennials—hence the importance of email marketing software that also plugs into your social media accounts.

Email marketing is a key component of customer relationship management (CRM), so make sure your email marketing software is compatible with your company’s CRM system. One problem that rapidly growing companies encounter is compatibility problems between the software suites they use to manage different aspects of sales, marketing, and customer relations.

As a small company grows, it can use software solutions for email marketing, CRM, invoicing, and more. However, companies that aren’t careful can find themselves with a tangled mess of software systems that don’t work well together.

Increasingly, the line between CRM and email marketing is blurred, since maintaining customer relationships via email is one of the core principles of modern CRM philosophy. Likewise, email newsletters and updates are at the core of email marketing, so distinguishing between what is CRM and what is email marketing isn’t always easy.

The best way to tackle this problem is to make sure your email marketing software can easily integrate with your CRM system—some CRM systems even offer fully fleshed-out email marketing solutions as well; on the flip side, some email marketing software suites also come with CRM modules.

As a general guideline, CRM software with email marketing attached tends to work a little better than email marketing software with CRM attached, just because of the complexities of CRM. However, if your CRM needs are relatively limited, the basic CRM functionality that comes with many low to mid-range email marketing software suites will do just fine.

Flexibility with automating emails is the biggest differentiator between high-tier, high-cost email marketing software and more affordable basic email marketing software. When it comes to automating emails, any run of the mill email marketing system will be able to set up a monthly newsletter or an auto-response to a customer query.

The real separation happens when it comes to customizing email automation: complex if-then chains (“if this customer gets the weekly newsletter, and clicks on an ad and makes a purchase, then send them an invite to the rewards program”), sending emails on different schedules to different subgroups of users, and intelligently avoiding sending duplicates are all features that are tough to pull off with basic email marketing software, but can be set up pretty seamlessly with higher end email marketing software.

Triggering email events via other connections to the customer is also a cinch with a high-end email marketing system: informing email marketing campaign strategy via user engagement on your company’s app, for example, can be accomplished using email marketing software that has a more powerful set of API tools for your software engineers to work with.

These kinds of solutions tend to be most important for larger companies with wide swaths of different customer groups; smaller businesses can get along just fine with basic email lists with different send schedules, and simple auto-reply scripts.

FAQ

Q: How does email marketing software help with product launches?

A: An email marketing campaign can be great for building up hype and excitement before a product launch. While traditional marketing strategies are focused on selling products already on the market, providing your customers with regular updates on the status of an upcoming product can be a great way to build up the anticipation and ensure a successful product launch.

Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter or GoFundMe are built entirely around this concept, so applying it as a campaign in your email marketing software is a no-brainer.

Q: Is email marketing software beneficial even if you don’t sell products online?

A: Yes, email marketing is great for driving web traffic, increasing brand awareness, and building up a community of followers, even if you have nothing to sell on your website.

That’s why email marketing shows up in all sorts of unusual places: political campaigns, for one, aren’t interested in making a “sale” in the traditional sense, but they’re among the most savvy users of email marketing out there.

For companies that don’t sell products, you have a lot more flexibility in your email marketing strategies, since they don’t need to be so focused on sales. You can send out news, updates, events, or useful information your customers find valuable.

Q: Is social media more effective than email marketing?

A: Social media gets a lot of attention in the business space, and it does make a difference. Brands that focus on a community or on an identity (think sports, outdoors, spirituality, music festivals, and so on) are big winners when it comes to social media. Social media is great at spreading brand awareness, generating interest, and driving traffic to your website.

However, email is still the most effective way to communicate directly with your customers. According to McKinsey, email dwarfs social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter when it comes to actually driving new customers (2). With social media, it’s always uncertain how highly placed your content will be, given the black-box nature of social media feed algorithms.

Moreover, social media doesn’t currently support the kind of content-rich and personalized messages you can send via a good email marketing software system. The best email marketing software actually supports social media integration, which is a great way to synergize the benefits of both social media and email.

Good social media campaigns can increase the number of potential customers on your emailing lists, and your email campaigns can increase your followers on social media.

Q: Is email marketing effective for small businesses?

A: Yes, in many ways, email marketing is even more important for a small business than for a big business. Large businesses can lean on larger, less personal marketing strategies like traditional media ads, social media ads, and website ads.

Small businesses, on the other hand, have to rely on a more direct and personal connection to their customers, and an email marketing strategy is a great way to achieve this. As a small business, your email marketing list is going to be a lot smaller, but that has some advantages.

You have great opportunities for targeted campaigns, email personalization, and building a genuine community around your brand. Email marketing is a great force multiplier that can help a small business compete with corporate behemoths in the same market sector.

Q: How can nonprofits use email marketing?

A: Nonprofits can use email marketing to increase engagement with their donors and even to increase their donation amounts. One study published in the International Journal of Education Management found that increasing brand identification was correlated with increased tendency to donate, increased donation dollar amount, and increased frequency of donations (3).

What is brand engagement, in the context of a nonprofit? It means that your donors (and prospective donors) know what your organization does, see how their donations are being spent, and see how your activities bring about positive change for the causes they care about.

Effective nonprofit email marketing campaigns are heavy on photos, embedded media, personal stories, and other content that increases brand engagement. Focusing on these aspects of email marketing, and choosing email marketing software that makes it easy to launch these kinds of email campaigns, is particularly important for nonprofit organizations.

Q: How do you get email lists for email marketing?

A: By far the best way to get an email list isn’t to buy it—it’s to build it. Putting calls to action on your website, offering promotional deals for customers who join a member program or sign up for your newsletter, and using targeted social media ads to get potential customers onto your own email list is a much better path to success.

That’s because these users will have already heard of your company, already purchased a product, or already had some interest in your area of business. You’ll get much more mileage out of a small email list with real customers than a giant list of anonymous users.

One of the few exceptions to this rule comes in the form of business partnerships. For example, if your company is a brewery that does a collaboration with another brewery, you can often work out a deal where you get access to their email lists, at least for a limited amount of time. But even this case is an example of organically growing email lists as opposed to buying them wholesale.

Q: How do you improve your email marketing open rate?

A: If your marketing emails aren’t getting opened, there are a couple of potential causes. The first question to ask is whether your emails are going to the right people. If you are sending out daily email blasts to everyone who’s ever put their email into your website, you shouldn’t be surprised that they never get opened.

Most likely these generic and incessant emails are going straight to the spam folder—or getting deleted without being read. Instead, try spending some time with your email marketing software to set up customized lists that are more targeted to specific subgroups of customers, and scale back on the frequency of your emails.

The next issue to look at is the content of your emails. Is every customer getting the same cut-and-paste, bland email every week? Are your subject lines exciting and engaging? If not, don’t expect your emails to get opened.

Even if your open rate is good, you should also check your click-through rate. If your emails get opened, viewed for three seconds, and deleted, your email marketing campaign isn’t going to be a successful one.

Q: Can you get email marketing lists for free?

A: While there are plenty of companies offering “free” email marketing lists, usually with some strings attached, you don’t want anything to do with these.

The old adage of ‘getting what you pay for’ applies here: When you obtain marketing lists from any third party, especially if you have no relation to the people on those email marketing lists, you’re not engaging effectively with customers who actually care about your company.

No matter how big of a list of “free” emails you get, they’ll likely be dead emails, spam accounts, or run by bots. Why would any company give away valuable customer emails for free? It’s far better to have a small list of actual leads who personally signed up for your marketing emails than a huge list of dead accounts and fake emails.

Q: What is A/B testing in email marketing?

A: A/B testing is a strategy for determining whether one type of email marketing strategy is better than another. Let’s say your marketing team develops two new ideas for email marketing campaigns, one which we’ll call strategy A, and one we’ll call strategy B.

The idea is pretty simple: take a small sample of your email list and randomly assign them to either strategy A or strategy B. Then you see which strategy gets higher open rates, click-through rates, or conversions to sales. The idea for A/B testing was borrowed from the gold standard of medical research, the randomized clinical trial.

Randomization is the key to its success, and if you want your A/B test to apply appropriately to all of your customers, you need to randomize at two places: first, your sample needs to be a random sample of all of the users on your email list (or all the people in the market niche you are interested in).

Second, you need to randomly split your sample into two groups. But, if you follow these principles, A/B testing can give you powerful insights into the true effects of your email marketing campaigns. Good email marketing software will have modules for A/B testing built in, so you don’t have to worry about manually implementing the randomization or running analytics on the results.

Recap

Email marketing software is an absolute necessity, whether you are a big business, small business, or a nonprofit. Choosing a good email marketing software with the right features for your company’s use case will help you drive up revenue, increase customer engagement and retention, and improve your ability to convert leads into sales.