When using marketing technology and best practices for real-world campaigns, you might think client-side marketers have the edge – they are after all closer to their customers and have a vendor-neutral choice of the latest technology platforms in the market. Indeed there are unfounded rumours that the role of agencies is dead in email marketing. But latest research shows agencies not only make your email marketing perform better and deliver greater ROI, they integrate better and automate more. It may be that they may have a better handle on practices that work from other sectors/clients, together with collective brain-power and in-depth knowledge – whatever the reasons, overall results are clearly better.

There’s a good reason why marketing agencies are used by brands of all sectors and sizes – the results speak volumes about the success they bring. The Econsultancy & Adestra Email Marketing Industry Census 2015 surveyed over 1000 in-house and agency digital marketers and highlights some interesting stats to support this view.

Email results

Entrusting your brand’s email marketing to a specialist agency makes sound commercial sense, exploiting every £ of your valuable budget. Agencies are almost 50% more likely to derive ‘excellent’ ROI from email campaigns. 31% of agencies said this against 22% of company respondents (see Fig.1). Furthermore, agencies find email to be the top performing channel, ahead of SEO, PPC, content marketing, social media, etc. Companies do, however, see better return from SEO, PPC and Content marketing than agencies.

Fig.1 How do you rate the following channels in terms of return on investment? (‘Excellent’ shown)



When asked about their company/client email campaign performance, agencies again take the lead. Over half (51%) rated their campaigns as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’, against only 41% for company marketers deeming their email campaigns’ performance as above average.

Using marketing practices

We’ve seen undeniably that agencies are producing better results, but how are they achieving these and what can we learn?

Firstly, agencies are making significantly greater use of their ESP for activities beyond just email. While one third of companies use their ESP for activities relating to other digital channels (such as CRM, social media marketing, multichannel campaign management, mobile marketing, SEO), twice as many agencies (over two-thirds) do the same (see Fig.2).  Most popular activities are CRM, Social Media marketing and Multichannel campaign management.

An integrated cross-channel approach creates properly executed, joined-up campaigns that often produce better results over individual channel activities.

Fig.2 Do you use your email provider for any of the following activities?


As the demands of content marketing grow, so marketers should be making use of the design capability within their chosen email platform. Yet it is agencies that are really exploiting this design functionality – up by 47% since last year (from 45 to 66%), while just 27% of companies use it.

While agencies and in-house marketers use similar practices overall (although agencies seem to have a broader spread) the changes since 2014 are interesting (see Fig.3). Agencies have increased their use of email practices since last year in eight areas –lifecycle programmes, behavioural targeting, promoting customer ratings/reviews, lead scoring, lead nurturing, using transactional emails for marketing, optimising email for mobile devices, encouraging sharing of content on social networks. While company marketers have increased the use of behavioural targeting and optimising email for mobile devices (and slightly for Encouraging sharing of content on social networks) – all others have slipped back.

Adapting to changes in the market is crucial, and the benefits of adopting more practices and measuring the benefits each brings over time cannot be stressed enough.

Fig.3 Which practices are a part of your/your clients’ email marketing efforts? (% change since 2014)


Email automation

Marketing automation is a key objective for companies bringing increased relevancy, increased engagement, and timely communications. While you might think that it is becoming a standard strategy of marketers, in fact many are struggling to get automation off the ground. When asked how successful companies have been in implementing automated email marketing programmes, 7% of companies said ‘very successful’ and 54% ‘quite successful’. Agencies were marginally ahead with 8% ‘very’ and 57% ‘quite’.

When asked about their ESP marketing automation capabilities, 48% of companies say their ESP is ‘basic’. Comparatively, agencies are much more likely to say that the marketing automation capabilities provided by their clients’ email providers are ‘basic’ (64%). ESPs will certainly need to keep up, technology-wise, to keep their agency clients satisfied, but there are also campaign aspects being handled by external providers, and the ESPs will have to strike the right balance between built-in automation functionality and open integrations.

Automated triggers are a key area in which agencies are taking full advantage. Most triggers are being used by less than a third of companies, agencies on the other hand, use up to double that of in-house marketers (see Fig.4). In every single category, agencies are ahead – from the most popular trigger such as Subscription or sign-up to website, down to Abandoned baskets and Cross-sell/Up-sell. This point highlights the ‘automation divide’ between in-house and agencies – agencies are in a better position to get a brand’s automation plans off the ground and start using a plethora of triggers than their in-house counterparts. Do not underestimate these triggers, they are not ‘tickboxes’ or ‘nice-to-haves’ in your marketing arsenal, rather they can deliver serious commercial benefits if implemented correctly.

Fig.4 Do you/your clients send out automated emails based on the following triggers or behaviour?


So agencies are dead in the email marketing industry in the same way that MP3s and YouTube killed live music and social media killed email marketing. That is to say not at all. In fact, agencies continue to develop and react as the market changes – perhaps better than their in-house counterparts. They are taking advantage of technology and services available in the market by cherry-picking the right solutions for their business model and, crucially, their clients. Research shows we are predicted to move towards an increasingly automated and integrated marketing future – so now is the time for in-house marketers to take inventory of their platforms and ensure they are blending the right mix of technology providers and strategic partners to embrace the growth potential of email marketing.




Liz Smith is the PArtnerships MAnager at Adestra.