Letting Agencies Bake Their Own With Cakemail


By Alistair Croll

The $1.3B bulk mailing industry suffers from channel conflicts and a conflicted triumvirate of “white label” mailing services, web designers, and campaign clients. Today’s web designers can’t build truly custom front-ends for their clients or add features (such as Google Earth mappings of campaign progress.)

Montreal startup incubator The Code Kitchen launched a new bulk mailing platform, Cakemail, to try and address this. Cakemail aims to let web designers and agencies build their own mailing service front-ends, without the heavy lifting of running the platform themselves.

To achieve this, the company has separated the entire UI from the back-end platform. This means that rather than going through a retail mailing list manager, agencies can custom-build list management tools for their clients.

To understand Cakemail’s angle, it helps to look at how this works today.

Small- and mid-sized Web design agencies follow a pretty familiar model. Web designers offer packages to their clients that include not only site creation, but also hosting and monitoring. Usually, this is done by white-labelling the offerings of a managed hosting company. The designer focuses on design, and the web hosting firm deals with operating the site.

Now switch to e-mail. In the early days, there were three players involved: The Client, who managed the campaign; the Designer, who built the mail; and the Mailing Service, who sent the mails and dealt with opt-out management, bounce rates, and so on.

There are lots of mailing services that started with this traditional model, such as Constant Contact, Exact Target, and GOT.

Having clients, designers, and mailers all involved had a downside. Mails tended to look the same. In response to this, many of the mailing companies released higher-end services that allowed greater customization. But this wasn’t the root of the problem.

There are thousands of independent web designers who want to be a one-stop-shop for their clients. They started to offer mailing and campaign management services for their clients, since campaigns required design and customers wound up on the website anyway.

As with managed hosting, running campaigns became a marked-up source of revenue. But with clients able to buy directly from the Mailing Services, it was hard for designers to build “custom” interfaces for their clients.

Web designers started asking for a mailing platform they could white-label. In other words, something that would allow them to re-sell their newsletter mailing offering to clients and make it look like their own.

Several vendors responded by introducing white-label e-mail newsletter tools (such as campaign management company Freshview’s MailBuild) that let designers build “personalized” mailing list management applications for their clients.

This is where Cakemail comes in.

The problem — as Cakemail sees it — is that these offerings are simply the same interface, skinned for each client. There’s no room for innovation. What if, for example, you want to extend the client interface with a Google Earth mash-up that shows where campaign recipients live? Unless the white-label portal has that feature, you’re stuck.

CakeMail addresses this by completely separating the back-end mailing list platform from the front-end user interface. In fact, they publish their PHP-based interface code, which runs separately from the back-end. Designers are free to modify it completely — or even write an entirely new one in Java, Ruby, or whatever they choose.

Another advantage of this separation of UI from platform is globalization. The company claims that by using a similar model to WordPress, translation and localization of their application is far easier, with several foreign-language versions already underway by clients.

CakeMail runs the back-end and publishes the API. They’re betting that the innovation of an open front-end will generate new features quickly, and give web designers much more control over the mailing list and campaign management offerings they create for their clients.

Alistair Croll is a co-founder of Coradiant. He writes about online user performance on Coradiant’s corporate blog and tries to out-guess the future at bitcurrent.com

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