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At 2,000+ software vendors (and rising fast), the marketing technology industry isn’t just dynamic. It’s completely out of control.

Email technology is no exception: The plumbing required to make sure your customers get that coupon or white paper to their inbox on time is only growing in complexity. If you’re an email marketer at any level, you need to have a basic grasp of these categories.

In one of the most data-driven studies on email marketing ever, VB Insight found nearly 80 percent of email marketers struggle with maintaining or growing their subscribers, among other core challenges.

Email marketer challenges

As it turns out, there’s neighboring marketing tech that addresses each of these challenges.

Our hats go off to Fluent and the excellent Email Marketingscape, which provides some organization to the incredibly complex network of service providers available that are involved in email marketing. (It’s important to note Fluent created the graphic and also listed itself as a vendor in the space.)

Below is Fluent’s chart, and our notes on some of the players in different sectors of the email landscape.

Email Landscape

Email subscriber acquisition

Sample vendors: Fluent, Conversant, Criteo

What they do: Accelerate list growth through confirmed opt-in ads on third party websites. While it’s critical to observe best practices for acquiring subscribers on your own site, big brands often turn to advertising to grow their lists. As soon as a new user signs up for a brand’s email list, their record is transferred to that brands ESP through an API.

Email validation & hygiene

Sample vendors: Experian, BriteVerify, many enterprise ESPs

What they do: These players will catch email addresses as spam and scrub them before sending the contact to your ESP. This has become more critically important in the last few years just with the sheer volume of messages being sent. Deliverability, while not a key user concern according to our survey, is still a huge headache for the technology partners involved.


Sample vendors: eDataSource, ReturnPath

What they do: Ten years ago, the only way to do inbox delivery was through seed address monitoring. A company would give you a list of made up email addresses at the top domains. You’d upload the file to your list, and if 9/10 of those emails were delivered, your deliverability was 90 percent. Now, there’s massive panels of millions of customers to better monitor and understand deliverability with more accuracy.

Mail transfer agents

Sample vendors: Message Systems, Sendgrid

What they do: 
These are the biggest companies you’ve never heard of. They’re the foundational layer for virtually all high volume, high velocity mail delivery. Message Systems, for instance, sends LinkedIn and Facebook’s emails (and around 25 percent of the world’s legitimate email). You often see them through triggered messages (emails from social channels). Virtually every ESP uses one of these players as a deployment layer. Or, for an e-commerce company, you might consider building a custom send solution that makes more sense triggered through your MTA, rather than paying on a cost per thousand basis (CPM) to your ESP.

Time-based promotions for retail, for instance, makes the value of MTAs fulfilling their contracts absolutely critical. It’s the plumbing for the entire email marketing landscape.

Email agencies

Sample vendors: Inbox Group, AlchemyWorx, some ESPs

What they do: There are many, many ways to build your email program from an operational standpoint. Most of the major email agencies have good relationships with ESPs and can help you negotiate your request for proposal (RFP). Some significant ESPs, like Epsilon, offer these types of services as a standalone or integrated package.

Customer analytics

Sample vendors: AgilOne, Custora

What they do: These vendors help centralize your customer, web, and email engagement data – and apply algorithms to the data to unearth unique customer personas. These tools help you make predictions as to when your shoppers are ready to buy, more accurately predict funnel stage, and more accurately predict inventory requirements. Typically, you create segments in the analytics platform, and then create and deploy the campaign through your ESP. This is a relatively new category, so it’s difficult to assess how they differentiate. Some good early cues would be to evaluate the data they use (online, offline) and how that matches your priorities.

As more ESPs build this type of technology in natively, this represents the shift from email marketing more to a full-suite marketing automation system. You can read more about marketing automation in our recent research report on the topic. Or, the full buyer’s guide on email marketing systems is also available at VB Insight.

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