free often comes at a cost
Microsoft unveiled a free email marketing tool, Connections, for its Office 365 Business Premium customers at Inspire PHOTO: Shane Adams

Think ‘free’ and you don’t generally think Microsoft. That, however, is about to change.

During its Inspire partner conference taking place this week in Washington, D.C., the Redmond, Wash.-based company announced the release of Connections, a free email marketing app.

But as is often the case when the word 'free' is used, there's a catch. Connections is free for those with an Office 365 Business Premium license. No Business Premium subscription, no Connections.

Office 365 Business Premium Gets a New Premium: Email Marketing

Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium provides businesses of up to 300 seats with the standard Office Suite as well as other business tools including the Yammer social network, interactive report generator Sway, file sharing and storage capabilities through OneDrive for Business, and Office Delve for internal search and connections across the enterprise.

Office 365 Business Premium is Microsoft’s small business offering that costs $12.50 per user, per month paid annually. 

With Connections, Office 365 Business Premium customers will now also get free email marketing to support their marketing needs. A blog about the release reads:

“With Microsoft Connections, you can easily create professional-looking email marketing campaigns with pre-designed templates for newsletters, announcements or customer referrals. You can also provide simple ways for people to join your mailing list or unsubscribe.”

Connections provides just about anything a small-to-medium sized business needs to start and develop an email marketing campaign. It works on the web, and on mobile apps for iOS and Android.

The solution offers the standard email marketing capabilities, including segmenting by target groups, performance monitoring for subscriber activity, as well as insights into how a campaign is performing and what actions customers are taking.

Competing with MailChimp? 

If news of a company giving away a free email marketing solution to its customers sounds familiar, there's a reason for that: MailChimp already did it.

MailChimp announced in early May that it would give its 15 million customers free access to its email marketing tools, a service previously which came at extra cost.

And while at face value it looks as if Microsoft is moving into an area long-dominated by MailChimp, the reality is Connections is simply the latest action in Microsoft’s strategy of offering enterprises everything they need from a single place.  

By adding email marketing to its Office 365 plans for SMBs, Microsoft is providing a tool these organizations would have sourced elsewhere which would have required integration with existing enterprise business technology.

Admittedly, MailChimp offers a more robust solution and is adding more on a weekly basis. Only last week it announced new integrations with:

  • Google Analytics: Google’s ubiquitous analytics offering
  • Email Aptitude Pro Reports: Offers enhanced reporting capabilities for advanced aggregate and comparison reporting
  • Power BI: Microsoft analytics enterprise-wide insights from any kind of data
  • Dasheroo: To populate MailChimp reports with data from third-party apps

Arguably, MailChimp is cheaper than an Office 365 subscription, but that's only true to a point. MailChimp grows in cost as subscribers are added to the email list, which can grow quite costly with both enterprise and SMB marketing lists.

But these arguments are currently speculative, as we wait for further details on Connections.

Connections will be made available generally over the coming months.