Kristin Naragon of Adobe: Traditional Email Solution Providers Aren’t Cutting It With Marketers

Even in the age of social media, text messaging, chat and mobile apps, email is still the main channel marketers use to connect with customers and prospects on a large scale. But, according to a new study from Adobe, two-thirds of email marketers are unhappy with the service they are getting from their email solution providers.

Kristin Naragon, Director of Email Solutions at Adobe, shares with us some of the key findings from the study on why email marketers are not satisfied with the current tools they are using, and what they feel they need to get their jobs done today. (This transcript has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click on the audio player at the end of this article.)


email solution providersSmall Business Trends: Give us a little bit of your personal background.

Kristin: I’ve been in this marketing space for a little while now. I joined Neolane back in 2008 and the company was just entering the marketplace in the U.S. and it’s been a great ride since then. I work in strategic alliances and business development, one of the first value propositions and partnerships. We signed with Adobe so it’s been wonderful to see our hard work come to fruition here.

Small Business Trends: So let’s talk about this study, “Why Traditional ESP’s (email solutions providers) aren’t cutting it for Email Marketers”. You did this survey in conjunction with the Direct Marketing Association (DMA).

Kristin: We surveyed more than 250 marketers from the DMA member base late last year to get some answers. You know we have a long heritage at Adobe Campaign with serving the email marketers so we had a lot of ideas about what was challenging them as they moved from a classic ESP into our world but we wanted to have a little more comprehensive glimpse into what are the pains other marketers were having out there, challenges and aspirations and so that was the sort of motivation behind it. We got some really cool results back.

Small Business Trends: Two-thirds of email marketers are not all that happy with their ESP right now. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Kristin: The ESP business has been around for a while. They’ve been serving email marketers and I think change is readily apparent right now. It’s time for some innovation. Only one-third of these email marketers are actually happy with the service they’re getting from their vendors. That means two-thirds of that market is looking for somebody to come in and help them take their email program to the next level.

Small Business Trends: It’s really interesting because when you think about modern marketing, you think about all the stuff around social and mobile, but email is still really what moves the meter.

Kristin: It’s the workhorse. It’s not going anywhere. You and I still have how many email addresses that you’re checking constantly; and it’s holding the highest ROI of all the marketing channels according to the DMA. They say it’s $39.00 per dollar spent versus the next best (display ads) at $22.00. So it’s still definitely a strong, strong channel within the direct marketers’ wheelhouse.

Small Business Trends: What are the biggest challenges that they’re wrestling with in the context of working with their ESP’s?

Kristin: The number one challenge that we saw out of this survey was that they were frustrated with a limited “email only” view of the customers versus that 360-degree view of customer actions. And if you think about it, a classic ESP was built to manage just that channel and did a great job in doing so. But they would suck up a list from the vendor or the classic email marketer and batch out a newsletter off of that list, or batch out a loyalty communication off of that list and they would get information about the clicks and the opens from that email. But really just limited to that medium of communication and interaction with that customer.

And so that’s the number one pain point and challenge that an email marketer has. And if you think about it, it absolutely limits advancement for that email marketer to communicate in a more engaging way with their customer if all they see are the one-way communications and dialogues they’re having via one channel.

Small Business Trends: Talk a little bit about the challenge of email marketing from a data analysis perspective.

Kristin: One of the questions we asked was what do you aspire to do and accomplish and improve upon in the next year? And the number one aspiration was integrating better with analytics tools. And if you think about that, the importance of really wanting to innovate within my email program as an email marketer, I want to know what’s the most relevant data for me to send the best message to you.

What did you do in your behavior with interacting with our brands on our website? Did you go into a store recently? Did you abandon a cart recently? What did you put in that cart? Those are the pieces of information about my customer holistically that I want at my fingertips before I press send on an email campaign.

You think about all the emails that you get. You’re overwhelmed. You want your brands that you know, you love and you trust to send you only the best of the best messages that are most relevant to you as an individual. And I think that’s why [we have] messages or what have you, notifications coming from mobile apps, so in a big sense we’re just overloaded and that has to make the email marketer’s job increasingly difficult being able to try to send something that will connect, hit the target and pause for some level of engagement.

Small Business Trends: Do you think that the systems that will be in place a year or two from now are going to make email marketers happier with their ESP’s or is this just a vicious cycle that email marketers and ESP’s are going to have to live with?

Kristin: I think it’s ripe for destruction, this whole cycle, and I think the consolidation in the marketplace of those classic ESP’s really is providing that opportunity for destruction. And I don’t think email marketers will suffer for that much longer. The time’s right for them to come find a new technology that has email delivery but brings content organization, brings the data and analysis — all at their fingertips in one place. It’s not a pipe dream. It’s here now, and it’s time for them to put aside that cycle of buying into the point email solution and come over to the other side of contextual email messaging.

Small Business Trends: So this idea of contextual email marketing where the email lives and can be updated until it gets open is going to be something that the email marketers are going to need in order for them to stay connected over the long-haul with their customers and prospects.

Kristin: Hundred percent right. What’s the point of an email message that gets in your mailbox? You don’t get to read it until maybe the next day or two, but you’ve already had three or four different interactions with that brand and your profile’s changed. That email message that you sent three days ago is no longer relevant. Make sure that when I open that email, when I get to it — because I’m a busy person — that it’s relevant. And that future, that idea is here now for those email marketers.

Small Business Trends: Kristin, where can people learn more about the study results and a little bit more about even contextual email markets?

Kristin: is the place to go. Adobe Campaign is the solution that we’re bringing to the market to help those email marketers.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.