Understanding the Basics: What Is an ESP (Email Service Provider)?

Melanie Balke
June 18, 2024

Modern email marketing campaigns are supported by an intricate framework of behind-the-scenes software. For businesses, there are marketing platforms and automation software. Consumers handle spam filters and email clients. These technical details may seem irrelevant, but even a passing understanding of the basics can dramatically improve the functionality of your email marketing strategy.

Every step of the marketing process influences your customer experience. Your customer relationship management software is as essential as your list management tool. Likewise, the spam folder is no less critical than the primary inbox. Removing even a single piece of the puzzle spoils the results.

So, I’m ready to teach you more to improve your odds of email marketing success.

One of the most common terms is ESP—short for email service provider—but you’ll rarely see a definition.

What Is an ESP?

A person playing chess. "Define It! What Is an Email Service Provider?"

Your email service provider (ESP) handles your ability to send email marketing campaigns. Alternative names include “email marketing software” and “email marketing platforms.”

Today, the most common email service providers are pre-packaged software-as-a-service (SaaS) bundles. These all-inclusive packages include solutions for automated campaigns, campaign tracking, customer data handling, e-commerce integration, and email creation.

More advanced — and often pricier — email service providers empower businesses with additional features, including pre-designed templates and custom campaign monitor dashboards. Expanded software options also include seamless integration for synchronizing your business’ digital marketing across all channels.

Are Email Service Providers Necessary?

Now, many small businesses may not need an advanced email service provider (ESP). If you have a small handful of subscribers, you can survive with manual email scheduling. It won’t be the most efficient way to manage your email marketing efforts, but it could work.

However, a high-quality email service provider dramatically increases the efficacy and efficiency of your email marketing strategy. Even the most basic ESPs streamline your marketing automation and messaging capacity. You’ll also gain access to additional email delivery options (e.g., automated workflows, landing page management, personalized content, and triggered emails).

Moreover, ESPs provide comprehensive analytics and insights that help your marketing team develop relevant content and avoid triggering spam filters. The same data also bolsters your audience segmentation and customer engagement. Additionally, some include integrations to monitor relevant e-commerce websites.

6 Benefits of Using an Email Service Provider (ESP)

Assorted LEGO building blocks. "The Benefits: How Can an ESP Support Your Ecommerce Platforms?"

Of course, those seem like vague promises.

Businesses need proof. So, let me illustrate my point.

ESPs offer a broad range of benefits over sending individual emails. They’re fundamentally different and more organized, offering a globally accessible way for individual users to contribute to a brand’s overall marketing strategy. In fact, the right email service provider can be the difference between success and failure!

1. Improve Your Email Deliverability

First and foremost, an email service provider (ESP) has built-in tools for handling bulk email marketing campaigns.

Now, that may sound superfluous, but hear me out!

You can’t send 5,000 emails from your personal email account. That’s what the kids these days call “sus.” You can do everything right and abide by every email marketing standard. You can have grammatically impeccable email subject lines and umpteen unsubscribe links. None of that will matter! Spam filters will still flag your account, and internet service providers (ISPs) will blacklist your content.

You need a dedicated business email service provider to handle anything more than a handful of subscribers. That technology guarantees your email deliverability and secures your sender reputation. In most cases, it can also seamlessly integrate with your e-commerce platform.

2. Maintain Constant Contact With Automated Emails

Part of that sender score is consistency. ISPs love consistency. They want active, engaged accounts with vetted credentials. After all, those inactive accounts often belong to abandoned brands and unscrupulous scammers.

However, consistency does more than improve your sender score. Email automation also helps you send the right message to more subscribers.

Obviously, there’s that positive deliverability factor. But consider, too, the benefits of constant contact and high-quality drip campaigns. Remember that every email campaign sent is a chance to boost your brand awareness. Each email is a vessel for informing new subscribers and a proven way to re-engage dormant entries on your subscriber list.

You can benefit more by choosing an email service provider with pre-built customizable templates. These handy time-savers help you send emails with more dynamic content and less fluff. They’re fill-in-the-blank guides for your business, ensuring customers always get what they want.

3. Ensure Legal Compliance

Most ESPs further empower businesses by including built-in legal compliance support. (Surely, you expected to hear about this topic!)

You don’t want to skimp on those requirements. They’re not optional, and consumers are increasingly resentful of brands with deeply buried unsubscribe links. Even the right audience grows weary of poorly implemented messaging and “gray area” tactics.

Fortunately, email service providers want compliant clients. They’re businesses, too, and they’re just as liable for your mistakes. So, by including integrated legal guidelines, they’re ultimately helping everyone.

… And Bolster Your Technical Compliance!

Speaking of success, email service providers genuinely want you to succeed. They benefit from your success, after all! Your higher conversion rates guarantee bigger subscriber lists and increasing revenue for your ESP of choice.

Thus, ESPs empower businesses with support and technical assistance. Most modern ESPs come with robust, encyclopedic user guides and simplified email builders. Klaviyo®, for example, has a simple drag-and-drop interface to simplify the design process.

4. Access Advanced Email Marketing Tools

Compliance and tech support are just the beginning. With the right email service provider, you’ll get more than a (virtual) grab bag of generic email templates. You’ll gain access to integrated support across all your marketing channels. The best email service provider goes even further, offering a hearty toolkit.

Again, I’ll use Klaviyo® as an example. Klaviyo® users gain access to all your “must-have” email marketing tools. They get a campaign monitor (more on that in a minute), integration support, and automated scheduling. However, the famously feature-heavy email marketing platform also includes support for:

  • A/B testing
  • Audience segmentation (and individual user tracking)
  • Interactive content
  • Personalized emails (and personalized messaging with its SMS options)
  • Triggered emails

Now, Klaviyo® is well-regarded as a packed email marketing platform. It has many key features and a robust tech stack, but that doesn’t make it the right ESP for everyone.

Brands with smaller subscriber lists may want little more than a platform to send email campaigns and monitor conversion rates. That’s perfectly fine! There’s a perfect ESP for everyone; it’s not always Klaviyo®.

5. Manage Your Audience

At this point, you may still be thinking you can manage with a spreadsheet or hackneyed, jerry-rigged solution. Maybe you can, but I have a few questions for you.

How will you handle your subscribers? Where will you store their information and prevent data leaks? Can your spreadsheet efficiently automate and manage audience segmentation?

If you’re drawing blanks for most of these, that’s to be expected!

Fortunately, the right ESP will have built-in list management features in addition to its many email templates and tools. The simplest solutions support bare-bones segmentation and sorting. However, more comprehensive options can track individual users and dispatch personalized emails.

But don’t run for the door yet! The most important information is yet to come.

6. Track Email Campaigns

I’ve saved the best for last.

The best email marketing platforms support your marketing campaigns with in-depth analytics. This information is often centralized on a “campaign monitor” page. There, you’ll find all the information you’ll ever need on your email campaigns.

Formally, these metrics are known as key performance indicators (KPIs). They are the primary support for your marketing automation, informing you of your successes and failures. You can’t run an email marketing strategy without them, and no amount of visually appealing emails can salvage a non-empirical marketing plan.

Of the many metrics you’ll see on a monitoring screen, some of the most important are your:

In many ways, you can’t have a functional email marketing tool without a campaign monitoring suite.

Just think about it! How can you improve your CTA if you don’t know your click-through rates? How will you refine your marketing emails without a proper A/B test? You need that information, and a good ESP tracks it.

What’s the Right ESP for Your Business?

Overlapping leaves. "The Choice: How to Succeed in Email Marketing."

The message is clear: Your business needs an ESP. You need a platform to manage your customers’ expectations and define a clear journey. You need enough features to support your vision, but you don’t want to pay for extraneous bells and whistles.

You could spend months researching and still come up short.

So, instead, consider finding a dedicated, on-demand marketing partner.

Schedule a free strategy session and learn how The Email Marketers can amplify your digital marketing. My team of hand-picked professionals does more than copy and design; together, we handle everything your customers could ever want from an email marketing strategy. We manage your flows, track your conversion rates, and ensure that coveted constant contact.

And, of course, we’ll manage your ESP, too!