Email marketing: how much, how often?

31 August 2011 Stephen Hay Regional Director, APAC

If you are anything like me, when you opened up your email this morning you would have gone through deleting lots of messages without giving their subject line more than a very few milliseconds of attention. Why do brands send me so many emails? In writing this article, I delved into my trash box and discovered that there were even one or two reputable companies that had sent me two, three, even four emails the same day. Are they mad? Can that hold my attention, keep me engaged and ultimately get me to buy something from them?

So just how frequently should we be emailing our customers? There is, of course, no definitive answer. But we can understand the factors and drivers we need to consider when establishing email plans and setting frequencies.

Proposition: What is your proposition to your customer? If after all you have promised a daily newsletter, you kind of need to do that every day. Groupon is perhaps a good example where there is a clear expectation of a daily message and a useful degree of anticipation as to what offers they are going to come up with today. Even there, it only takes a few days of dud offers for even that email to be swept away unopened. Daily content needs to be quality, valuable and actionable. If not, and you see opening rates starting to flag, you may want to give those fatigued customers a break for a few days to rebuild the novelty factor. Or of course look at your content.

Relevance: Content is king, if your content is relevant enough you could be emailing every hour and keeping people engaged. But let’s face it, most of us are not Perez Hilton. There is a respected hotel chain that often emails me two to three times a day. They would argue that they have different property brands so they could not possibly share the same email. Regardless, all their hard work becomes an irrelevant blur. Clearly a relationship owner who sits above all of those brands needs to set some sensible customer focused standards. Genuine news and genuine time sensitive offers will get away with a higher frequency. Recycled content that appears for days on end such as brand/product stories, we probably want to look at a lower frequency.

Commitment:    If your organisation is committed to sourcing, development and crafting the best content in your field of marketing, this is something that will likely be appreciated and will enable higher frequency of communication. If however, with limited resources you are struggling for content and recycling the same stories round your website and on multiple emails, your are probably too frequent. Given that resource is usually finite, it might be best to reduce the frequency.

The customer: Demographics play a role here, customers in developing markets such as China seem to be more tolerant of higher frequency, other more conservative markets less so. The relationship to different demographics can vary from brand to brand so understanding your customers here is important.

The strength of your relationship also plays a role here. You could be hitting your typical fanboy several times an hour and they would be in heaven. Even normal customers are more engaged and have a greater desire to learn and interact. But that prospect that came once to your site, anything more frequent than monthly or quarterly, there is a risk that you might start to do your brand more harm than good.

Randomness: There is something to be said for an apparently random schedule. Speak only when you have something to say and the lack of predictability will help to ensure that you can hold people’s attention and interest. Whilst marketing by its nature needs schedules and cycles, taking a more random approach helps to build in some flexibility and better facilitates time sensitive offers.

It is important that we do not get too hung up on a fixed frequency that we slavishly follow. Good performance tracking, customer performance scoring and preference management data will help us understand where customers want more or perhaps should be getting less. The right campaign management and targeting tools will then help us with target selection of the right customer for the right email event. Through that better understanding of that customer we will ultimately, if indirectly, enable the customer to regulate the frequency of email.

In this age of Internet driven information overload, we need to be careful we do not fall to one of the potential traps of Twitter, where too much, too frequent and irrelevant messaging ends up becoming a blurred stream of seemingly random characters on the screen, to which the reader pays little or no attention. We want that email landing in the inbox to be one of the events of the day, ideally anticipated, but definitely opened and appreciated.


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