The Email Marketing Industry Needs to Think of Itself in Broader Terms

Email marketing has changed profoundly over the last 10 years, but I don’t know that the email marketing industry has fully recognized the impact. We still talk a lot about “email service providers” and “email marketers,” which may be limiting our audience and limiting our ability to educate and rally the industry.

That’s because many companies that enable brands to send email may not think of themselves as email service providers. And many people who send marketing emails may not think of themselves as email marketers. I know for sure that many marketers define an ESP much more broadly than we as an industry tend to.

The results of Litmus’ 2018 State of Email Survey really drove this reality home for me. As part of that survey, we asked marketers: “Which email service provider(s) or platform(s) does your company currently use to send its marketing emails?”

The 1,699 respondents to this question had the choice of 82 ESPs, plus the opportunity to write in additional ones, which tons of respondents did. In total, they mentioned more than 240 vendors. The list includes:

  • Traditional standalone email service providers
  • Email service providers that are a unit within a larger tech company
  • Transactional email service providers
  • Marketing automation vendors
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) vendors
  • Digital marketing platforms that include email as part of an omnichannel solution
  • Dynamic content, personalization, and other AI engines that send emails
  • Referral, product review, and other point solutions that involve sending emails
  • Website and ecommerce store hosts that offer email marketing capabilities
  • Former mail transfer agents (MTAs) that now operate as formal ESPs themselves
  • Agencies and consultancies that provide email platforms
  • And on and on

The gap between how marketers answer the question “What is an ESP?” and which vendors actually consider themselves to be ESPs seems like a gaping chasm at the moment.

One of the less likely suspects on that list reached out to me to say: “It’s certainly an interesting honor for us to be mentioned, since we don’t see ourselves as an ESP. With that being said, we certainly do send out tons of emails for some of our more prolific customers.”

I replied, explaining, “Yes, we imagine that there are a number of vendors that don’t consider themselves ESPs that ended up on our list because their customers do consider them an ESP of sorts. The fact that you send lots of transactional emails is enough for many of your customers to consider you an ESP.”

This issue is likely to only get muddier as more traditional ESPs continue to be acquired and as, to a lesser extent, vendors add email capabilities to their platforms and tools for the first time.

This presents a challenge and an opportunity for the email industry to reach out to vendors that don’t perceive themselves to be a part of our industry but should be. There’s also a challenge and opportunity for us to reach out to practitioners involved in CRM, ecommerce, and other business aspects to educate them about email best practices and how email fits into the wider business context.

Whenever a brand uses a tool to connect with customers, prospects, or partners, email is there. The email industry needs to be there, too, meeting those brands and those vendors where they are and welcoming them into the industry.

Chad S. White
Research Director at Litmus
Author of Email Marketing Rules (3rd Ed.)
EEC’s 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year

2 thoughts on “The Email Marketing Industry Needs to Think of Itself in Broader Terms

  1. Strongest of the digital marketing platforms that include email as part of an omnichannel solution?

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