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The Sweet Spot of Optimal E-mail Frequency

  |  August 5, 2009   |  Comments

In e-mail marketing, don't be afraid to think outside the frequency box. Here are two ways to think about cadence.

There is no one right frequency in e-mail marketing. Not only are business subscribers fickle; they are also moving in and out and through the sales and service cycle. Timing is just as important as content when it comes to engagement and lifetime value.

Don't settle for "One frequency fits all." E-mail is great at adjusting to subscriber needs. The technology and data you need are readily available.

Finding the right pace is worth time and effort. Nothing fatigues e-mail subscribers like excess frequency. It's a key driver of both unsubscribe requests as well as complaints to the ISPs (clicks on the "report spam" button) and low inbox deliverability. Business professionals seem to have a lower tolerance than consumers, even when frequency is stated up front at the point of permission.

Instead of frequency, which is simply a measure of volume, think in terms of cadence -- a measure of engagement. Abandon the old notion that somehow a static, steady rhythm is best for e-mail marketing. In fact, breaking the rhythm is more likely to get you noticed. Many professionals will welcome multiple e-mail messages a week (or even in a day) during buying cycles, but will unsubscribe or complain about messages that come weekly during non-buying periods. Look at your own tracking data by subscriber lifecycle to verify the points of highest response and vulnerability.

There are two ways to think about cadence. You can use it to improve your broadcast e-mail strategy, or use it to create more custom experiences based on the subscriber lifecycle. For each strategy, the secret is to ensure your messages land when the subscriber is most in market. If that means that your messages bunch up at the beginning or end of the month, or in the middle of the week, that's fine. When your subscribers are in market, be in front of them.

Broadcast Approach

Cadence can turn a high-volume e-mail newsletter into a highly welcome program. Sending every other day amounts to a frequency of 12 to 15 per month. However, if the content is about helping subscribers be more productive at work, test sending every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, as those are the days that most businesspeople are either planning their week or wrapping it up. They need more help and advice on those days. Same frequency, improved cadence. Even if you can't create custom experiences or send dynamic content, you can use cadence to improve the subscriber experience and earn higher return.

Lifecycle Approach

Want to move prospects through a sales cycle? Think like a marketer who's offering a free trial. E-mail messages might be concentrated at the beginning of the trial period to get people engaged. The content focuses on opening the software. Slow down the cadence once the subscriber actually clicks or opens the software, and switch to content that is more about utility. Still the same number of touch points overall, but with an improved cadence.

Other key business lifecycle points that are easy to integrate with e-mail:

  • Contract renewal
  • Seasons, e.g., holidays, end of the quarter, tax time
  • Vintage (new subscribers are typically more in market)
  • Behavior, e.g., recent download/site visit, recent client status change

Message also matters in the lifecycle approach. Occasional visitors, new subscribers, and free trial subscribers have different needs than active, paid readers. Don't send them the same content. Each of these segments may get 15 messages a month, but new subscribers get them concentrated at the beginning of the month and recent renewals get them before and right after the contract is signed.

Trigger technology standard in most e-mail broadcast systems can easily automate these messages based on behavior or business cycles.

Don't be afraid to think outside the frequency box. E-mail marketing messages will engage more when the mailing cycle matches the subscriber's buying and reading cycles. Go ahead and break some china in your own program -- by identifying the areas where cadence can improve the subscriber experience.

Let me know what you think and please share any ideas or comments below.

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Stephanie Miller

Stephanie Miller is a relentless customer advocate and a champion for marketers creating memorable online experiences. A digital marketing expert, she helps responsible data-driven marketers connect with the people, resources, and ideas they need to optimize response and revenue. She speaks and writes regularly and leads many industry initiatives as VP, Member Relations and Chief Listening Officer at the Direct Marketing Association (www.the-dma.org). Feedback and column ideas most welcome, to smiller AT the-dma DOT org or @stephanieSAM.

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