The marketing automation industry has experienced some rapid growth in recent years. SiriusDecisions found from 2011 to 2014 the number of companies using some kind of marketing automation software increased by 11 times.

As more marketers are exposed to this burgeoning technology, many more are asking themselves if marketing automation is the right solution for them. So how do you know? What’s the difference between a marketing automation platform (MAP) and an email service provider (ESP)?

“Here are three key differentiators between MAP and ESP systems to help you choose what is right for your brand.”

Here are three key differentiators between the two types of systems to help you chose what is right for your brand.

How Emails Are Built and Sent

Both MAPs and ESPs can be used as a direct marketing tool to send email, but while most ESPs are built on segmenting or targeting a list and then sending, MAPs predominantly seek to send emails via an automation (like a drip program) or in response to a prospect’s action that is monitored by the platform (like a form submission, page visit, score threshold met, etc.).

Marketing Automation

A marketing automation cycle example, via Profitable Conversions.

ESPs are coming into their own in terms of being able to trigger messaging based off behavior; marketing automation technology is built on this use case. Most MAPs include features like forms, web tracking sorting, and dynamic list building to add subscribers to lists or drip programs. ESPs will typically rely on external systems inputs to trigger messaging, like an e-commerce system, typically in the form of API calls.

ESP vs Marketing Automation

An email marketing cycle example, via Siveict.

How Customer Data is Stored and Represented

Most ESPs are built on a database that consists of several tables of customer data related to one another and joined through programming like MySQL. This allows companies to store customer data in aggregate to be segmented and split by data held on each subscriber. MAPs, on the other hand, will store subscriber data at a granular level, including subscriber activity, like form submissions, videos viewed, webinars attended, and more. This allows the MAP to create a CRM-like environment where marketers can define what types of messaging or automations should be triggered based on data points that change on the subscriber’s record. Most MAPs also present subscriber records in this CRM-like data view, which creates a more accessible environment for many marketers just getting started in digital marketing platforms.

What You’ll Rely on the System to Do

Typically, ESPs are best used for sending emails to subscribers and reporting on those email sends. Additional data points can be brought into the system and married with email interaction data, but these additions may be limited. Bottom line: ESPs send emails, and their best reporting will be directly related to email engagement and performance.

MAPs, however, are built to cater to a sales organization, so most MAPs will come standard with reporting tools that depict a more holistic view of the customer. Since the platforms are typically used to empower sales teams, MAPs can report in-the-moment activity of a subscriber directly to a salesperson either via system notifications or tie-ins to a CRM platform to assign tasks. MAPs will also report on the health of a sales pipeline, looking at more than just email activity, and presenting actionable data to sales teams and managers to determine where opportunities for optimization may exist.

While both ESPs and MAPs are used to send emails for organization, both do so very differently, and present information back to the marketing in very different ways. Not sure which one may be the best fit for your organization? We would be happy to start a conversation to help you make the right choice.

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