In my years in the email marketing industry, I have seen and used a lot of different ESP interfaces, and I’ve watched them evolve over time into ever more capable technologies as email marketing has grown more sophisticated, but that hasn’t necessarily meant that they’ve grown easier to use.
In fact, the opposite seems to be true, that the more advanced the features, the more challenging the interface should be—or so people seem to think. They tend to think getting more advanced functionality means accepting poor usability, as a kind of trade-off.
Usability matters more than you think
Marketers want ESPs to be usable. In one study, nearly 80% of respondents rated “an interface that requires very little training” as a “must have” in an ESP.
Yet usability is often overlooked when choosing a new email service provider–usually by those who want fancy features and authorize the purchase but don’t actually use the product. However, usability is every bit as important as the price and features when evaluating an ESP.
Just what do we mean by usable?
There are five characteristics that are required in order for that ESP’s platform to be usable:
- Effective: Whether you’re running a mom-and-pop operation or an enterprise-size one, you’re making an investment in this email technology and you want it to work, by golly! And it only works when you or your employees can do what they set out to when using the platform.
- Efficient: That said, you don’t want it to take forever for you or an employee to accomplish a task, so you need the platform interface to be efficient too, enabling a quick template build, for example, or almost instant reporting.
- Engaging: Yes, usability includes an aspect of “enjoyable,” shall we say? If given the choice between doing a task using a technology that’s unpleasant vs. using a technology that’s actually kind of fun to use, wouldn’t you choose the latter? And that quality makes a platform more usable.
- Error-tolerant: This is kind of a fancy way to say “make it hard to make mistakes,” because if it’s easy for you or an employee to err, you will.
- Easy to learn: This characteristic could go to the top of the list because really, it all starts there, with learning the ESP interface and adapting to it quickly.
You lose money when ESP usability is poor
I sometimes think the bigger companies prefer the clunky, difficult-to-use ESP and marketing automation platforms because I see them making huge investments in these vendors without questioning the usability. Or is it because they’ve bought into the idea that fancy features must equal a challenging interface?
It doesn’t have to be that way, and putting up with poor usability is like throwing money away. Here’s why:
- It takes time to learn it: When a company invests in a new ESP, time is of the essence! The faster the migration and implementation are complete, the better, and that includes getting employees trained and working with the platform independently. The longer that takes, the more money lost.
- Errors are more likely: When an interface is hard to navigate and not usable, it can be easier to make mistakes. And mistakes almost always cost money!
- The platform is not used to its full extent: Even if employees have been trained and they aren’t making mistakes, it could be that they are only using a few of the basic features of the platform. That means wasted money because that vendor is charging you for a full suite of features and if you’re only using A, B and C, you’re throwing money away.
- People won’t like using it…and won’t: You can train people to your heart’s content, but if they don’t like using the interface, they are going to avoid doing so, which means more money down the drain.
- You won’t get your money’s worth. Finally, and this is essentially the culmination of the four above, you just simply won’t get your money’s worth out of the ESP if the platform isn’t usable. You just won’t.
If you’re investing in an ESP, you’re spending money you hope to make back. Usability can play a big role in that return on investment. So consider it carefully. Don’t consider it a “would be nice to have.” Make usability a “must have,” even if you’re buying into a vendor with sophisticated and fancy features—because chances are you won’t end up using those features if they are a pain in the butt to figure out and master!