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Your wedding day should be special. What's the latest trend that's so hot with weddings right now? Barns? Crafty stuff? Nah. It's "Game of Thrones," baby.

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While few would argue that employee advocacy -- the concept of leveraging your employees as "brand ambassadors" for your company -- isn't a powerful concept, there are some essential principals to consider before rushing ahead.

By now most of us are aware of the Nielsen research survey that reported 90 percent of consumers trust the recommendations of people they know, and 70 percent trust online recommendations, whether they are familiar with the individual posting or not.

There is perhaps no better source of advocates for your organization than your own employees. But what happens when a disgruntled employee maligns the company, or when a well-intentioned individual misspeaks? What happens when an employee who gains "star power" starts to put their personal mission ahead of the company's needs? Or worse still, when they get plucked by recruiters and the giant following they've amassed tags along?

These are frightening prospects; however, the power of employee advocacy far outweighs these significant risks. But to ensure your program's success, before you hand your employees the company's social media microphone, consider these keys:

Know the legal ramifications

What are the legal risks to your company if you sanction an employee for badmouthing a supervisor online or for revealing trade secrets/misinformation or participating in concerted activities such as the creation of Facebook pages to complain about workplace policies? The National Labor Relations Act protects employees' rights to discuss workplace conditions even in a concerted fashion (i.e., unions) up to the point that they are "disloyal." Disloyal may be a hard term to define, but in summary, legal authorities note that social media postings are protected as free speech up to the point that they no longer merely complaining about workplace conditions and are actively seeking to reduce the company's business by driving customers away. These aspects of social media are vital to understand regardless of the employee advocacy program, but the launch of your program is an ideal time to review the legality issues as a company and spell out the criteria for engagement in explicit terms for management and employees alike.

Set clear objectives

Just like your public relations program, the goal for employee advocacy should not be strictly to bring more awareness. Hone in on the messages and the audience you are seeking, and know exactly how these efforts will advance your company's success in reaching these goals.

Have a plan (or better yet, a platform) for content creation and sharing

To set your employees loose on a mission to spread the good word without a plan or a platform for doing so is inefficient at best. And at worst, it could actually create damage to your overall goals as every individual goes rogue with their own ideas or simply becomes complacent and allows participation to drift away. If you are willing to go to bat with an employee advocacy program, you will achieve exponentially better results by using a consistent platform for the development and sharing of the content. In addition, the platform will be vital toward your ability to measure and assess your results for the program.

Conduct ample training

Be sure your employees fully understand the expectations and rewards of the program that's being launched. In some cases, employees may prefer to create separate social media identities for the work-related information they share. Your training can help them with the creation and management of the social media tools they will use. The training should also create feedback loops to let the advocates see how well their efforts are succeeding. As the program proceeds, create a program champion that gives the participants a resource to go to with questions and ideas and to ensure their success.

Put a clear and meaningful social media policy in place

Of every step, this one is perhaps the most vital in terms of mitigating the company's social media risks. Most employees would not willingly tarnish or sabotage their company's reputation, but are simply unaware of the behaviors that might put the organization at risk. Your policy should spell out best practice conduct in social media use as well as create awareness of the situations that create risk. For instance, responding to a reporter's question or publishing their workplace complaints or even their fervent reactions to issues relating to the company within their personal blogs could be damaging. Clarify the difference between communication on issues such as explicitly speaking as a personal expert on a non-related work topic and when they are speaking on the organization's behalf. The ramifications and penalties for misuse of social media should be clear, and every employee who participates in an advocacy program should be aware of this policy.

Employee advocacy is one of the most compelling themes in social media for 2014. It is a powerful tool. But remember that when you engage your employees in social media, in many respects you are giving them the keys to the company's kingdom. So partner together, with your employees, in a way that prepares them well to handle this new-found responsibility.

Eric Roach is co-founder and CEO at EveryoneSocial.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

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Yeah! Finally, we're seeing signs of spring. The brutal winter with record snowfalls and plummeting temperatures made many of us ill-tempered and gloomy. (And for the lucky readers out there who live in mild weather regions, please don't rub it in!) I don't know about you, but I always get optimistic, inspired, and energized with the warmer temperatures.

I think many of us would agree that inspiration is the key to motivation. It channels us in positive ways such as getting us to try new things and driving us to put our best effort forward in the workplace and in our relationships. I would even venture to say that without inspiration our lives would be ordinary and mundane.

Sometimes inspiration comes from unexpected places. I've been inspired by children, books, and movies. In fact, as I'm writing this article, my colleague Joan Segal told me that she's been inspired by Jet Blue's latest commercial, and she's now booking her next vacation. I find my 78-year-old mom a constant inspiration. Vera works out and plays golf every week and has her calendar filled with social engagements so that every day is filled with adventure. So the question is: Who (or what) inspires you? And how can you inspire others?

Where does inspiration come from?

Last week I attended a Luxury Marketing Council event centered around "Galvanizing Corporate Culture: Inspiring People to Perform." Steve Cody, co-founder and managing partner of Peppercomm, said it best: "Management sets the stage and often the person in the corner office sets the tone." Inspiring your team to bring your brand's vision and mission to life is not an easy task. The speed of business today keeps CEOs on their toes, and often they leave inspiration out of the corporate equation. But in order for your company to be successful, your employees need to be engaged and inspired.

Respect

You can tell a lot about a company by who the team members respect and what behaviors they value. Reward your best performers who exemplify innovation and inspire others to follow suit.

Hire people for their personal attributes, not just technical skills

Look for employees that have a good balance of expert capabilities, but also look for leadership skills. The best employees can build great relationships with customers, as well as brainstorm and innovate with colleagues.

The corner office

Create mission and vision statements that include some of the values that you hold dear, but don't be controlling. Leave room for diversity of thought and style so that your employees feel they are part of the organization.

Past experience can predict future behaviors

Behavioral interviewing techniques allow people to talk about their own experiences and describe in detail projects they've worked on or a community effort they've supported. Build your organization with people who can talk about their achievements in detail, who are active outside of work, and who describe rewarding experiences working as part of a team.

Everyone is unique

Engage with people on an individual basis and reward everyone on their merits and contributions. People respond to different rewards, such as higher compensation, a development opportunity, recognition in a staff meeting, or simply a couple of days off.

Work is our stage

Be open to new ideas and supportive of employee-led programs. You might set the stage (tone), but all the actors are in the performance (engagement).

Listen and learn

Engage with your staff and regularly gauge moral. Their feedback can help you shape business objectives and internal initiatives. That can lead to stronger employee engagement and hopefully bigger profits.

Responsible corporate citizen

Enjoying a solid reputation in your industry is paramount to business. In today's business world, playing an active and positive role in your community inspires and attracts both clients and employees.

Training and career development

Provide focused and short trainings (two to four hours) over lunch, breakfast, or coffee. Most employees don't want to miss a day at the office, so make training part of your day and culture.

Inspiring others isn't easy. So what's the key? I think inspiration comes from loving what you do. A clear love and passion for something often inspires others. Great leaders know that great companies start on the front lines. Strong companies have loyal and passionate customers. Those customers come from loyal and passionate employees. When was the last time you put inspiration on your corporate to do list?

Erika Weinstein is CEO and founder of eTeam Executive Search.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. Follow Erika Weinstein at @eTalentSeeker.

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Overnight data: Giving the entertainment marketer agility and power

The use of data to discover what is (and isn't) working has been around for a long time. Clearly, data is the best tool in a marketer's tool belt to make adjustments and steer a campaign in the right direction. However, the challenge for entertainment marketers is that they usually work on a much more severe deadline for results -- the premiere of the show they are marketing. For other marketers, they have the luxury of having overnight data to adjust campaigns and stay flexible. If click-through rate is low, it's easy to change display creative. It's not so easy to change an ineffective commercial. Entertainment marketers' biggest benchmark for success with ad campaigns is how many viewers they have when the show goes on air. Wouldn't it be great if entertainment marketers could track and analyze data instantly and make adjustments on the fly?

Automation and web-based reporting tools have made this a reality. With real-time metrics from on-air ad campaigns to paid media campaigns, entertainment marketers now have the instant analytics to make changes. They can now see if an on-air campaign is doing poorly and whether they need to scale up their level of paid media -- or if paid media on other outlets is a waste of time. It's this nimbleness that is finally giving entertainment marketers what they need for true television marketing success.

Claudio Marcus, executive VP of marketing and research, Visible World, speaks to Crowdtap's Ian Tenenbaum about why overnight data and analytics are the keys to effectively adjusting your television campaign's effectiveness in real time.

Article written by David Zaleski.

Video edited by associate media producer Brian Waters.

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In March, there was one brand that unquestionably dominated the branded video universe: Wren.

Wren, a small Los Angeles-based apparel company, topped the iMedia Brands in Video chart for March with 93.3 million views. That's more than 57.5 million views than the runner-up brand on the March chart, Samsung.

Upon first seeing the Wren's "First Kiss," you might not even realize that it is a branded video. There's no pitch, no tagline, no obvious product even. In the video, 20 strangers are paired up and are asked to kiss for the first time on camera.

Melissa Coker, the founder and creative director of Wren, commissioned the video to showcase of her fall collection for Style.com's Video Fashion Week. Created by Tatia Pllieva, it is rumored that it was made for somewhere between $1,300 and $1,500.

While fashion brands like Chanel, Dior, and Louis Vuitton have had success in branded video, none have approached the virality of "First Kiss."

Uploaded on March 10, the video had garnered more than 63.2 million views within a week. Now, less than a month later, the video has generated more than 100 million views. With that level of viewership, Wren's "First Kiss" joins a club of just 14 other branded video campaigns to reach the milestone. It is also the most viewed apparel or fashion branded video campaign of all time.

But it's not just Wren's viewership that has skyrocketed with the popularity of "First Kiss." According to reports, Wren has seen a major bump in sales from the video -- some have reported an increase of 11,000 percent. And Soko's "We Might Be Dead Tomorrow," the music featured in the video, is now No. 1 on the Billboard Streaming Songs Chart.

One of the major reasons that "First Kiss" has become such a cultural moment is that it is very easy for viewers to engage with. The level of engagement is evident in the amount of user-generated content that has been created around the campaign. More than 23 percent of the total views of "First Kiss" come from derivative content -- copies, mashups, responses, and spoofs.

Spoof content alone accounted for 65 percent of all derivative views (15 percent of the total campaign views). The most popular spoof was the Unsolicited Project's "First Gay Hug (A Homophobic Experiment)," which accumulated 3.9 million views. Jimmy Fallon's parody that stars puppies and kittens, "First Lick," generated a further 1 million views. In total, we've measured more than 135 spoofs and parodies of "First Kiss."

While the viralness of Wren's "First Kiss" might have surprised people, the success of a small brand like Wren is not unprecedented.

Some of the biggest hits in branded video don't come from the Samsungs, the Pepsi MAXs, or the Googles of the world. Instead, they come from small start-ups that use video as an effective and efficient way to drive awareness with a small budget.

The most-viewed branded video campaign of all time comes from one such small brand -- Blendtec. Its iconic "Will It Blend?" campaign has generated 243.3 million views.

Dollar Shave Club came out of nowhere and surprised viewers with "Our Blades Are F***ing Great." It's garnered 14.3 million views and helped Dollar Shave Club, a members-only service, amass more than 200,000 subscribers.

More recently, Poo-Pourri surprised viewers and sent them into fits of laughter with "Girls Don't Poop," a video that promotes the essential oil-based spray meant for use in the bathroom. It's garnered more than 27.3 million views.

So what do Wren, Blendtec, Dollar Shave Club, Poo-Pourri, and all the other small brands with huge viral hits have in common? And what can bigger, more established brands learn from their example?

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With the digital media space moving at a rapid space, three currents -- trends that will make waves in the sea of digital media -- have been identified here as ones that will be particularly strong throughout the year. As much as one should be excited about these trends, one should be also excited about the companies that have been built to innovate, accelerate, amplify, and leverage them.

If you are a company or brand looking to step up the way you target consumers, this deep-dive of trends, along with a hot list of companies that are fully accelerating them, will help fine-tune your marketing approach.

Cloud-based technology will accelerate cross device usage

Cloud-based technology is changing the way the world looks at data storage. Personal content lockers have appeared so consumers can store all their photos, music, and videos in the cloud. This trend has accelerated as user interfaces have become easier to interact with, and the cost for these lockers has plummeted.

Furthermore, the proliferation of tablets, smartphones, and other mobile devices now allow access to personal content lockers from anywhere, anytime and from most devices. In fact, Cisco forecasts that personal cloud traffic will increase from 1.7 exabytes annually in 2012 to 20 exabytes in 2017.

Cloud technology has accelerated mobile adoption by enabling content to be available everywhere. We no longer have to access our content through our desktop or the browser. We receive content through mobile access points using our tablets, smartphones, connected TVs, and other devices.

Hot companies

  • Bluecava allows brands to retarget beyond a single screen. The technology recognizes a visitor on one screen and creates a profile that identifies them across all their devices, allowing marketers to increase reach and frequency but also allocate budget to media channels based on data.
  • Tapad has an RTB solution that allows for retargeting, geo-targeting, audience segmentation, and advanced analytics.
  • Millenial Media-Millennial/Jumptap is a unified audience platform, taking a programmatic and mobile-first approach to reach a vast audience across screens.
  • ValueClick Media touts the industry's highest user-to-device matching accuracy within a network of 390 million connected devices.
  • Drawbridge has built a cross-device matching solution, bridging data from the desktop web to target over 900 million mobile devices. Marketers can target audiences with precision on mobile devices to drive performance at scale.

Data trails will enable superior targeting and personalization, redefining intent-based marketing

As consumers' computing becomes less tethered by cords, we are creating more data streams based on many more variables. Devices are collecting data about our actions, how we connect to the web, social media actions, app usage, and an increasing number of inputs. Most consumers are aware of these data trails, while others occur passively.

We are now actively and passively sharing more data and content about ourselves than ever before and marketers have learned that what we do is a better indicator of our intent than what we say we'll buy.

Since we've become the sum of our data streams, companies are being created to mine this growing output of consumer data and identify intent triggers. Search remains the primary means to uncover intent but increasingly location, content consumption, and social actions are creating valuable data streams to target consumers at the most opportune moment during the journey.

Hot companies

  • Place IQ uses location intelligence to target consumers in two ways: defining users based on where they are now and where they've been in the past. Full disclosure: My employer, The Media Kitchen was spun out of kbs+, of which its investment arm, kbs+ Ventures, is a minority investor in Place IQ.
  • Chango and Yieldbot capture potential customers searching on Google, Yahoo, and Bing and redirect them to brand websites through search retargeting.
  • Adacado uses first party data to serve personalized ad creative based on a user's activity on an advertiser's website.
  • Truaxis leverages past credit card purchases to determine intent for future purchases.

Our physical and digital worlds will become connected through the "internet of things"

The internet of things, embedding sensors in physical objects to bring them into the connected world, is increasingly becoming available in every sector from fashion to sports. The internet of things allows us to monitor the flow of products through a factory, measure the moisture in a field of crops, and track your health through a phone. The internet of things allows us to manage, optimize, and create like we never imagined.

More than 9 billion devices are currently connected and that number is expected to increase to 50 billion within the next decade.

As the people in the world get more connected, consumers are starting to connect to all the accessories that immediately surround themselves. We are beginning to control the world around us remotely through our always-on mobile-ready lives. In fact the number of wearable connected devices tripled from 2011 to 2012.

Hot companies

  • Sonic Notify allows brands, apps, and retailers to create mobile experiences that connect to the environment. Sonic signals are emitted across any broadcast system and allows brands to send specific content based on sound waves.
  • Affectiva helps to uncover real consumer insight using emotional cues without relying on self-reported data. The ability to automatically "read faces" is a cost-effective neuroscience technique that can add insights into developing communication and measuring engagement effectiveness.
  • ByteLight finds objects consumers have been window shopping for online. It transforms existing LED lights into location waypoints. These waypoints beam a signal to any smartphone with a camera.
  • Amscreen's face detection system works via an inbuilt camera in each screen that detects individuals within its local vicinity and then identifies some key traits through the detection software. This software is able to identify, measure, and then combine number of viewers, age, sex, location, and time.
  • Audible Magic detects music or advertising content as it is broadcast over radio, television, cable and satellite. This fingerprinting technology enables news studios, sport organizations, TV syndications, and advertisers to determine precisely when, where, and how their content is being used.
  • Estimote places Bluetooth enabled, tiny sensors in any physical place and app users will receive personalized micro-location based notifications and actions when they walk into a store or interact with products.

Barry Lowenthal is President of The Media Kitchen.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet and Barry Lowenthal at @barrylowenthal.

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Reach

For every campaign, you need to understand the audience who actually saw it. Don't be overly optimistic; be realistic about the market segment you were trying to target and the ones who you really reached with your message. Have a firm understanding of this audience to truly know your potential limitations.

Resonance

For those who saw your campaign, you need to know if it resonated. How should you define resonance? Investigate if your campaign moved the needle at all with some of the classic purchase funnel metrics. Did awareness, purchase intent, or favorability increase? Measure those insights.

Reaction

Lastly, there's no better metric for campaign success than a sale. Did the audience you reached resonate with your message and then purchase your product? This is the reaction you hope for, but you should also measure reactions that aren't so favorable. Good or bad, understand what happened with the three Rs.

Few understand campaign measurement in such detail like Matt Bruce, SVP and global business partner for agencies at Nielsen. He speaks with Crowdtap's Ian Tenenbaum about Nielsen's own Online Brand Effect solutions and the best practices for understanding how to adjust your TV/digital campaigns.

Matt Bruce continues our conversation by explaining the three Rs in detail and the various solutions that address each challenge.

Article written by David Zaleski.

Videos edited by Associate Media Producer Brian Waters.

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A popular trend being discussed in marketing organizations today is cross-channel marketing. As marketers see the impact of one channel on others, there is a push to align marketing programs across channels to take advantage of these synergies. And the media planners are at the front line of implementing a more holistic and cross-channel marketing program.

Historically, media planners focused on one or two specific media channels -- print planners focused on newspapers and magazines, TV planners focused on TV, etc.

With the advent of communications planning 15 years ago, the media-specific silos began to loosen. They advocated for media planning to become media-agnostic by focusing on consumer touch points, rather than specific media channels.

Media planners are able to focus on reaching the desired target audience regardless of the channel or device. And cross-channel marketing is providing media planners with the best tools they've ever had to achieve their media and marketing goals by taking advantage of cross-channel synergies.

So what do today's media planners need to do to take full advantage of cross-channel marketing opportunities?

Break down the media channel-specific silos

If social media sharing of online videos increases when a marketer runs a TV campaign, the media planners handling TV, online video, and social media need to be working together.

The channel-specific silos, which began to loosen with the arrival of communications planning, need to come down once and for all. As we gain more experience with cross-channel marketing, we'll uncover new cross-marketing synergies. To support these marketing synergies in real-time, we'll need completely media-agnostic planners. This will mean that marketers will either need to consolidate all media planning at one agency or within one holding company. They'll need to establish a communications infrastructure that will enable planners across channels to communicate and collaborate directly with one another.

Frequency

Before the rise of digital advertising, when planners scheduled campaigns across a limited number of channels or media, they relied on relatively simple frequency models. But now when marketers are running hundreds of creative executions across many online channels, the issue of frequency becomes more acute.

Media planners need to concern themselves with frequency capping. A consumer might see the same ad online across multiple ad networks or exchanges even if each platform has a frequency cap.

Reach

Similar to frequency, reach is being impacted by the growing number of channels and the overlapping results between them. The increased fragmentation of media channels, vehicles, platforms, etc., will require the development of new models for monitoring reach. This will enable media planners to understand which channel or vehicle combinations increases reach, versus the ones that merely cannibalize.

Breaking down the silos and enabling media planners to understand reach and frequency is at the forefront of cross-media planning initiatives. This includes all the major industry organizations that provide systems for media planning. Recent initiatives by Nielsen -- to create a more open and complete ecosystem of solutions addressing cross-platform and omni-channel marketing -- highlight the complexity of understanding how messaging is reaching consumers through the multitude of media vehicles they touch every day. More initiatives and collaboration are needed across industry standard holders in order to evolve and continuously adapt measurement standards to real life.

Location

With a greater ability to target by location via mobile and location-based social and online targeting, location is joining reach and frequency as a third key metric for media planners.

Today we are able to effectively micro-target a media buy down to the ZIP code or even city block level. With the growing importance of shopper marketing -- the tactic where marketers will run campaigns targeting shoppers of a specific store branch -- media planners need to seriously consider location as a critical component of their brand communications planning.

Cross-channel marketing is providing media planners with tremendous opportunities and challenges. In order to take advantage of cross-channel media opportunities, media planning agencies need to work closely with their clients to restructure media planning collaboration. Smart planners need to jump into the deep end and start working more closely with their colleagues that are planning to use other channels. This will help jumpstart the next generation of communications planning.

Ran Sarig is co-founder and CEO of Dataroma.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

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LG's Live Plus technology is enabling interactive commercials

LG is clearly one of the biggest leaders when it comes to the development of smart TVs. What is a smart TV? It's a television that incorporates interactive technology to allow consumers to become participants in their content experience, not just viewers. Over the past four years, LG has been rolling out smart TVs with motion-activated controllers, which work much like Wii controllers. Consumers are able to direct action in a much more interactive style. There are also a number of video applications, making live TV a second or third screen experience.

Perhaps the most exciting innovation for marketers that has rolled out has been an LG technology called Live Plus. This service is changing the way advertisers and content creators approach television advertising. Live Plus is a service that allows marketers to deliver static TV ads and information about products displayed in TV shows. For example, if a consumer is watching a TV show that features a laptop, Live Plus displays product information on that laptop right on screen. Consumers can click on ads or request more product information by using the interactive motion-activated remote. LG's strategy, from the creation of new smart TVs to the integrations within them, is centered on finding a better way to reach viewers through advertising.

No one knows the inner workings of LG's smart TV future plans like Wendell Wenjen, director of smart TV ads and interactive TV platforms at LG. He speaks to Crowdtap's Ian Tenenbaum about Live Plus and why it is opening up so many possibilities for marketers.

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Many of the companies with whom The Relevancy Group works are handling the majority of their email campaign production with in-house teams these days. An industry trend over the last six to eight years of introducing more user-friendly user interfaces and drag-and-drop features seems to have accelerated this trend toward doing things yourself. That's not to say that there isn't still a large demand for outsourced campaign production services -- whether to the ESP itself or a third party -- but the reality is that a good in-house team can certainly execute email campaigns as well as anyone else, and sometimes with a lower turnover of trained campaign resources.

Does this portend a diminishing need for ESPs to provide marketing services to their clients? On the contrary, we see a growing demand for other services provided by them. And these findings are backed up in the ongoing research we routinely conduct with marketers in our survey panel. There is a growing recognition that certain tasks involved with today's highest performing email marketing programs are best handled by their ESP partners. Here's three that we see most often.

Deliverability and ISP relations

There's a reason that some of the best-known names in email marketing are the deliverability folks at the big ESPs; their reputations carry a lot of weight at the various ISPs. Getting blocks lifted isn't a question of some kind of technology fix. It's usually the result of a direct communication from your ESP to the right person at that ISP. So you need to know who that person is, and -- equally important -- that person needs to know who you are before he or she is going to listen to the reasons why the block, or throttling, should be lifted. Marketing organizations don't have these people on staff, and it wouldn't make sense for them to do so. It's as much art as it is science.

The deliverability teams at the top ESPs watch over all of their clients' campaigns, looking for signs of potential problems, and usually fixing them before they blow up into something more serious. They are there to protect the reputations of the ESP's clients, as well as that of the ESP itself (if your ESP has a bad reputation with the ISPs, your campaigns are going to suffer no matter what you do). And because of the large number of ESP clients that they monitor, they are in constant contact with the ISPs to build and maintain trusted relationships.

And if your company is self-service, their role is that much more important. Email production teams at the ESPs are watched over like hawks by the deliverability people to ensure they don't break any rules or ignore best practices. They don't have that same ability to watch over your in-house team. So when (notice I didn't say "if") you get blacklisted by spamhaus, do you want Joe from your IT department, moonlighting as a deliverability guy, to get you out of trouble? Or do you want a respected and widely recognized industry expert to handle things?

Multi-channel campaign management

Everybody wants to be doing this. In fact, most marketers will say they are doing this, but the fact remains that internal obstacles thwart many marketer efforts to engage in true multi-channel marketing. In a recent survey, we asked marketers, "What are your greatest challenges when developing email marketing campaigns?" For a large number, the bigger issues revolved around managing and/or coordinating marketing messages across channels and across and organization's various departments. For companies using enterprise-level ESPs, lack of proper tools was a distant last as an obstacle. There's a great reason for that: Most of the leading platforms have introduced strong capabilities in multi-channel marketing over the last several years. It's table stakes these days.

As the ESPs having been building these tools the last several years, they've also been building up their expertise in this area. They've gotten much better at integrating other tools, platforms, databases, etc., into their platforms. They've developed more sophisticated reporting tools. And they've developed the servicing teams to provide the insights and recommendations to optimize your programs and to bring your various stakeholders into the conversations. Silos are always easier to break down when the catalyst is coming from outside your organization.

Creative and design

It's important to remember that creative teams are embedded in almost every ESP these days. The ESPs either went out and bought an entire agency (e.g., Epsilon, Responsys), or they built one organically (e.g., Yesmail, Acxiom, Experian, ExactTarget). Regardless of path chosen, these creative and design teams are at the forefront of creating the templates and layouts that enable your content to be optimized for viewing on any platform, browser, and device (and at the same time follow your branding guidelines). No matter how many campaigns your company sends out, an in-house team simply cannot get the depth and breadth of experience that your ESP team has developed over time. They deal with hundreds of clients.

That's not to say your team isn't really good; it's just that there are certain times you should definitely be bringing in your ESP's team. Building templates is at the top of that list. So is multi-channel campaign development. As you do more multi-channel campaign work, your ESP's creative team is a critical component as the folks creating the common look and feel for messaging that appears in email, push to app, retargeted display, and even social. Sourcing all of this work internally, or via the ad hoc services of several different agencies working with different stakeholders, will quickly bog down your best intentions and efforts.

Multi-channel (and email) marketing is becoming increasingly effective, while also being increasingly complex. The leading marketers in this space are making smart decisions on what they are handling themselves and where to bring in teams from their ESPs. And ESPs without strong marketing services offerings are going to find themselves sitting more and more on the sidelines when the biggest brands go to RFP.  And to see how the various ESPs ranked in delivering these services to their clients, go to MarketerQuarterly.com. Here you'll have access to an excerpt of our buyers' guide.

Chris Marriott is the vice president of services and principal consultant at The Relevancy Group.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

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