Monday, August 19, 2013

Email Frequency

Is there a “sweet spot” for the in-box?

By Sue O'Shea - Director, Integrated Insight

My email in-box is always full.  Some brands send me emails every day, some only once a week or less.  So when putting together my brand’s direct marketing strategy, much discussion takes place around the email calendar.  Specifically, what is the sweet spot for the in-box?

My thinking has always been, given the right conditions, once a day can be effective as long as fresh content and something interesting and relevant is being shared with subscribers.  If not, you’ll have a low open rate, high opt out rate and generally be thought of as being annoying or, worse, spamming.  Because I have always worked with ‘lean and mean’ teams, I have opted for once a week, measured the performance and adjusted as needed.

For additional insight I did some research and discovered the following three interesting perspectives on email frequency.

The marketing SaaS company located in Cambridge, MA has conducted and published research on frequency.  However they recommend testing to determine the optimal frequency because every brand’s campaign, goals and subscribers are unique.

The five recommended steps are:
  • Establish Your Hypotheses
    • Determine what specific results you expect to see from these tests so you can identify success.
  • Choose a List Segment
    • Your email list is already segmented so select one segment to test and ensure it is sizable enough to provide meaningful data.
  • Establish Baseline Metrics
    • Establish your current performance metrics for that sample such as open rate, deliverability rate, unsubscribe rate, and click-through rate for the sample.
  • Create and Schedule Your Test Emails
    • Create a handful of test emails to rotate through the list sample and schedule them for the sending frequency you outlined in the hypothesis.
  • Measure and Analyze Results
    • Measure your results against the hypotheses and the baseline results you recorded. 
Then start all over again.
Silverpop, the global provider of email marketing and marketing automation solutions, suggests in the blog post "Time to Whack Your Email Program with the Behavior Stick?" by Loren McDonald, to test then go one step further:  combine the customer's behavior, or lack of it, with dynamic and automated message tracks that trigger in real time.

McDonald suggests “ building out dozens of automated email programs that launch based on customer/subscriber behavior (action/inaction – such as visiting a specific Web page), events/dates (birthdays, purchase or registration anniversaries) and other triggers such as price changes, inventory status, new content becoming available, etc. The shift toward behavior-based triggers greatly increases relevance and delivering "the right message at the right time," but also then drives the timing of your regular broadcast or promotional emails.”

What this might look like is engaged subscribers will receive three emails a week, inactive or low-engagement subscribers might only receive two emails per month.

National Geographic
The Marketing Sherpa article, "Email Marketing: Why National Geographic uses business rules and frequency caps"  highlights Eric Brodnax, EVP, Digital Products, National Geographic Society, who shared at the recent Responsys Interact 2013 in San Francisco steps about how they sought to overcome the challenge of increasing unsubscribes, particularly among the best converting subscribers who were receiving the highest volume of email. Brodnax suggests taking a very customer-centric approach - moving from campaign-led to customer-led marketing.

“What we saw was the retention rate was directly correlating to the number of messages they were receiving,” Eric said.

National Geographic used three learning’s to turn the unsubscribe problem around:

1. Ignoring your customer’s wishes impacts the entire business.

2. Your organization needs unified ownership of the customer relationship.
  • Without central oversight, it’s easy to mail too much.
  •  It’s often your best customers who are treated the worst.
  •  Problems compound as time passes.
3. Tailor your message to your (internal) audience.
  • Use analogies. Numbers don’t speak to everyone. In this case, Eric used the analogy of over fishing the ocean.
  • Be patient. You may need to repeat your message again and again.
  • Appeal to core values. Most companies claim to respect the customer and value collaboration.
The conclusion I've drawn from the three perspectives is that my approach works for my brand, but you simply cannot test and measure enough. Do more of it and measure what matters. Additionally, every brand in unique and has to determine for themselves their measuring stick for frequency success.  To take your email conversion performance to the next level, study subscriber behavior (action and inaction) and adjust frequency, and budget for research to understand what your consumer truly wants, not what your think they want.

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