Person looking at their phone and smiling

How to Choose the Right ESP: 6 Differentiators That Matter

Choosing the right Email Service Provider (ESP) is more than just a technical decision—it’s a strategic play. A comprehensive, future-proof ESP is the difference between email campaigns that drive revenue, and those that fall flat. However, finding the right ESP can be a daunting task. Discover six key features to look out for so you can effectively engage with customers and unlock new avenues for growth.

What is an ESP, and Why Do You Need One?

An Email Service Provider (ESP) provides email marketing and distribution services for your business. Think of it as your digital mail house, offering specialized tools and services for efficient and impactful email marketing.

Unlike regular internet service providers, ESPs specialize in handling large-scale email distributions, seeing to more effective campaign deployment.

An ESP can help you:

  • Ensure legal compliance to avoid fines
  • Authenticate emails, minimizing phishing risks
  • Manage and update your email list, cleaning out invalid entries
  • Protect your sender reputation and avoid blacklisting
  • Guard your email list against unauthorized access
  • Tap into insights and metrics for enhanced campaign performance

That said, not all ESPs are created equal. Some will be better suited to your needs than others.

How to Choose the Right ESP

Here are six key factors to consider when choosing an ESP.

Extend Beyond Email

Your email marketing initiatives will likely require seamless, timely integrations with various platforms and data sources, such as Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) and Data Management Platforms (DMPs).

Choosing a provider that meets these asks and that can liaise with other vendors will give you a significant edge on your competition. The capacity to link disparate tools and data sources is mission critical to advanced personalization strategies that, in turn, create unified customer profiles.

Integrating various tools has posed more of a challenge in this era of explosive martech growth, and streamlining marketing operations should be top of mind. To do so, consider either a single, centralized provider, or a carefully selected network of vendors that provide seamless integration.

Speed of Data Processing

It’s important to consider how many data sources your ESP is compatible with. That said, the quality of these sources and their processing speed are just as critical.

For instance, how long does it take to process the external data sources needed to deploy an email campaign? Every provider will claim they do this in “real time,” but each ESP has its own definition of what “real time” means. Gain a clear understanding now, avoid disappointment later.

Identity Resolution Capabilities

A platform’s ability to append various data sources onto comprehensive customer profiles is key. The more accurate and reliable the data, the more effective your campaigns will be. Consider these prompts to help guide your decision:

  • How many data points can your identity graph accommodate?
  • Is identity based solely on cookies?
  • Is it an audience with first-party permissions?
  • How does the platform identify various data points as a single customer?
  • Can you make connections between known and anonymous users?

A top-tier email marketing service is one that provides a dynamic view of customer profiles, driving hyper-targeted campaigns and real results.

Predict and Act on Key Insights

Data and insights are only as useful as they are actionable in real time.  Rudimentary capabilities, like sending messages based on audience segments or specific events, are table stakes. What sets an ESP apart is its ability to incisively analyze behavior patterns and make strategic suggestions.

Let’s say you’re in charge of marketing for a coffee shop. One route is to target any customers who have expressed interest in your specialty coffees. On the other (upper) hand, an advanced ESP could identify certain customers who regularly visit on Monday mornings. From there, you could increase the likelihood of conversion by running a special offer with their go-to order at the start of the week.

Your next email marketing platform should provide you with foresight into where your customers are headed next. These proactive suggestions will enable you to better engage them and drive stronger results.

Omnichannel Personalization

Email personalization is standard these days, but what about other platforms? Consider how your messaging resonates across email, social media, SMS, and digital advertising—without overloading your audience.

Calling back to our coffee shop example, an advanced ESP knows who loves your flat whites and how and when to engage them—be it an Instagram ad on a Wednesday morning, or a weekend SMS.

Top email marketing platforms are built to spot these channel preferences and intent signals. This granular level of insight allows for personalized communication that feels both organic and relevant.

Track and Predict What Matters

It’s not uncommon to rely on standardized metrics like click-through rates, open rates, conversion rates, and revenue. But these numbers only scratch the surface, offering a glimpse into past behavior but very little insight into customer relationships or the long-term health of your business.

The real question is: How do these KPIs translate into meaningful growth and customer loyalty? It’s about looking beyond past interactions to forecast customer lifetime value (CLV). Consider how to nurture each customer relationship and cement brand loyalty. An ESP worth investing in should go beyond basic reporting. You need strategic insights and predictive analytics to help build and maintain meaningful relationships.

Elevate Your Email Marketing with Zeta’s AI-Powered ESP

Unlock the full potential of email marketing with the Zeta Marketing Platform (ZMP), a comprehensive solution that includes an advanced Email Service Provider.

The Zeta ESP delivers on the promise of 1:1 personalization at scale—and customers tell us it has helped them drive a 586% increase in revenue, a 9% boost in average order value, and a 51% decrease in email volume.

Our platform is designed to provide deep insights, faster intelligence, and effective cross-channel activation, ensuring every campaign drives maximum ROI.

Ready to unleash the full potential of your email marketing efforts? Learn more about the Zeta ESP or book a demo to experience the transformative power of Zeta.

Are you preparing a request for proposal (RFP) to select your next ESP partner? Download our RFP template designed to help you emphasize these and other key differentiators.

Want to see Zeta in action?

The Zeta Marketing Platform empowers businesses to offer highly tailored experiences driven by AI.
Zeta Marketing Platform


Thanks for your interest in Zeta. To see a demo please complete the form.

Thank you!

Your request has been sent. We will be in touch with you shortly.