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Inside the Evolving ESP Market: The Relevancy Ring ESP Buyer’s Guide 2019

By Sharon Shapiro

Not too long ago, we asked: Consumers know it’s not 1995, do ESPs? It turns out we’re not the only ones asking this question.

The Relevancy Group, which provides market research and advisory services focused on digital marketing, recently released its 2019 ESP Buyer’s Guide. Based on three months of research, including an executive survey of 406 enterprise marketers, documented ESP demos and 1:1 interviews with marketers using those ESPs, the report focuses on the evolution of the ESP market.

Change Has (Finally) Come to Email Marketing

The Relevancy Group’s research reveals that long overdue change has finally come to the ESP market. We see this change manifest itself in two key ways:

  1. ESPs have matured and will continue to evolve. ESPs have finally woken up to the fact they weren’t meeting marketers’ needs and are now adjusting their capabilities accordingly. Most recently, we’ve seen the rise of experienced-focused and “everychannel” tools. These changes reflect the idea that the “E” marketers are most concerned about is “experience,” regardless of channel.
  2. Not all ESPs operate the same way. The Relevancy Group highlights several types of ESPs. It points to stream-based ESPs like Bluecore, or solutions that capture and process live stream data from real-time behavioral signals to create individualized experiences, as true leaders. With a stream-based ESP, marketers don’t have to sync and update data from other systems since all data gets captured in real-time. Stream-based ESPs also introduce a data-backed approach to marketing in every channel by using a combination of customer signals, rules, goals and marketer feedback to manage campaigns. These stream-based ESPs — with their ability to ingest granular data in real-time and make that data immediately actionable — stand in contrast to solutions that view data collection, data analysis and marketing activities as separate entities.

Critically, advanced AI and machine learning underpin all of the changes taking hold in the ESP market. And as ESPs continue to build on this foundation, we can expect it to shift how marketers approach their email programs (and beyond) and even re-shape their top priorities.

As Email Marketing Evolves, So Do Marketers’ Priorities

The changing email marketing landscape aligns with a shift in marketers’ top priorities. Today’s brands have sophisticated plans, particularly when it comes to using data like behavioral signals and serving dynamic content to better target customers and create more relevant experiences.

The Relevancy Group finds marketers are most focused on improving four capabilities to claw their way out of the Email Death Spiral and grow ROI in the year ahead — all of which require an ESP built on advanced AI and machine learning:

  • Segmentation and targeting to create more personalized experiences
  • Using real-time data to improve segmentation and targeting by reducing lag times between when customers act and when marketers can respond
  • Analytical driven optimization to regularly improve campaign performance
  • Centralizing customer data and making it actionable to reduce time spent moving data and easily turn insights from that data into action

Today’s Marketers are Sophisticated, and They Need an Equally Advanced ESP

According to The Relevancy Group, marketers want more than just an email marketing vendor to help meet these priorities. In their next ESP, marketers want a partner who has deep experience within their industry, proven reliability and high customer satisfaction.

Alongside that partnership, three capabilities that top marketers’ list of needs demonstrate the increasing sophistication of email marketing programs:

  • Dynamic content: New capabilities to improve segmentation and targeting with real-time data enable marketers to deliver dynamic content based on customer preferences and behaviors. The more automated the creation of this dynamic content, the better.
  • Analytics and custom reporting tools: Improving analytics and overall reporting on customer behaviors and engagement with marketing campaigns proves important for marketers to optimize future campaign performance.
  • Data integration: Marketers don’t want to move data. Going forward, teams will look for solutions that simplify data integration from across systems and eliminate the challenges associated with moving data around the organization.

Not only do ESPs require advanced AI and machine learning to deliver these capabilities, but with that foundation in place, many top capabilities will get satisfied in ways that change marketers’ priorities.

Consider the case of analytics. Today, marketers must comb through data to understand what’s working and what’s not so they can use that information to improve future campaigns. In this world, it makes sense that marketers want better analytics to make this process easier. But going forward, this task will become obsolete for marketers whose ESP uses AI-based feedback loops to automatically optimize performance on its own.

Of course this example is just one of many that illustrates how the ESP market will continue to evolve and help marketers achieve increasingly sophisticated goals.

Get The Relevancy Ring ESP Buyer’s Guide 2019

What else do you need to know about top marketing priorities and changes in the ESP market? Take a look at how The Relevancy Ring positioned Bluecore alongside other ESPs based on functionality and user satisfaction in its ESP Buyer’s Guide 2019.

Sharon Shapiro

Sharon Shapiro

Sharon leads Bluecore's content marketing program, collaborating with top retailers and strategists to highlight the latest trends in retail marketing, spotlight industry leaders and share advice on how marketers can stay ahead of the curve. An experienced story teller, she has spent her career building content marketing programs for B2B SaaS companies. Sharon has had works featured in MarketingProfs and Content Science Review..