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What is an Email Service Provider (ESP)?

An email service provider, or ESP, is a technology solution that enables you to build email marketing lists and send marketing emails to your audience.

As a brand, your subscriber list is one of your most powerful assets. In most cases, at a minimum, you can use your email service provider to send email marketing campaigns and track open rates, click through rates, conversions, bounces, and unsubscribes. However, many marketing automation platforms have more comprehensive features to help you provide a more engaging and unified customer experience.

Here’s a look at some of the key features all best-in-class ESPs should have.

Audience Segmentation

Your email service provider should allow you to segment your customer list based on criteria like demographics, geography, and behavioral data. This segmentation can be paired with other forms of segmentation to deliver a highly personalized experience. For example, your email can include recommendations for similar products in your customer’s size, based on their past purchase history or customer profile.

Template Builder

Your email marketing solution should include an email template builder that helps you easily create on-brand emails with fields for dynamic content including the customer’s name, personalized messaging, and product recommendations. Your email service provider should enable you to either use HTML coding or build them using a drag-and-drop visual builder, removing the need for additional design or engineering support. Plus, you’ll be able to create reusable content blocks that you can include across all of your templates, saving time. Ensure the templates are mobile-optimized so they look good across every device and platform a customer may be using.

Personalized Product Recommendations

For e-commerce brands, it’s important to be able to provide curated content recommendations within your emails, based on your customers’ past purchase history or real-time behavior. By using a Catalog feature to segment products based on data sets including location, product type, style, size, and other criteria, you can include highly personalized product recommendations within your emails, designed to engage your audience at scale.

Drag and Drop Workflow Builder

Gone are the days when it’s enough to send a generic email blast to your customers. Your email service provider should empower you to set up highly segmented email campaigns that trigger sends based on each user’s action to provide an engaging customer experience that helps them complete their buyers’ journey. For example, if your customer abandons a product in their cart, your drag-and-drop workflow will trigger the send of an abandoned cart email to that customer.

Integrated A/B Testing Functionality

In order to optimize your email campaigns, you need to be able to quickly test variables to see which outperforms the other. Your email service provider should make it simple to incorporate A/B tests into your marketing campaigns and automatically shift the rest of your emails to the winning variant after the test is complete. With A/B testing, be able to optimize every element of your customer experience, helping you achieve higher ROI on your marketing email campaigns.

Deliverability Support

Your email marketing campaigns aren’t going to be successful if they never make it to your customers’ inboxes. Your email service provider should provide you with guidance and expertise to help ensure that you maintain a strong sender reputation to maximize email delivery and inbox placement and stay out of spam filters. Looking at processes like IP warming and ensuring your sender address is clear will increase deliverability.

Detailed Analytics

Your ESP should also give you access to granular data around your email program, including the number of new subscribers vs. unsubscribes, open rates, click-through rates, conversions, and other KPIs your team may be focusing on. A best-in-class email service provider may even offer AI-based predictive analytics that help you determine how likely particular audience segments are to perform certain actions, such as make a purchase or unsubscribe. This level of analytic data enables you to set up workflows that engage those segments and help guide them towards your desired goal, driving higher ROI and reducing churn.

Cross-Channel Marketing Automation Integrations

To deliver a best-in-class customer experience for your audience, look to a solution that goes beyond just email marketing. Choosing a cross-channel marketing platform, like Iterable, means that your email service provider serves as part of a comprehensive marketing automation solution that integrates with other channels for additional marketing communication types, including SMS messaging, in-app notifications, web push notifications, and direct mail.

A cross-channel solution means you can easily integrate all of your marketing channels into one dynamic workflow. For instance, you can launch an onboarding campaign with an email, follow up with an SMS message, send an in-app notification, and end with a piece of direct mail. All of the channels in your campaign are sequenced and integrated, with the channel messages triggered in direct response to the user’s most recent brand interaction. This can help you optimize your marketing campaigns to align with your customers’ specific channel preferences, enabling them to get the content they want on the channels that are most engaging to them.

Your marketing automation solution should provide a complete 360-degree customer view, to help you understand channel performance and ROI, so that you can easily track and optimize all of your marketing campaigns down to individual users. With automated workflows, in-depth analytics, and comprehensive multi-channel integrations, your solution should help you to continually engage your users and maximize revenue opportunities and brand loyalty.


Iterable is a cross-channel marketing platform that powers unified customer experiences and empowers marketers to create, optimize and measure relevant interactions and experiences customers love. Leading brands, like Cinemark, DoorDash, Calm, Madison Reed, and Box, choose Iterable to power world-class customer experiences throughout the entire lifecycle. Discover our growth marketing solutions for personalization, increasing customer engagement, and more. Discover our platform and schedule a demo today.