To Send or Not to Send an Email…That Is the Question

  |  February 26, 2013   |  Comments

Three real-life scenarios of how suppressing a customer who hasn't opened or clicked a message in three months from further mailings could backfire.

There is an ongoing debate among email marketers that is focused around the recipients you should either include or exclude from your mailing. There are basically two schools of thought:

  1. Get to a 1:1 state
  2. Send away

Oddly enough, both have some merit, and are likely the correct answer to a very specific situation within your mailing portfolio, but as a broad stroke approach either could fail on its own. Let's dig into the pros and cons of these very real scenarios.

Email marketing is a very data-driven discipline, and unlike its first cousin (direct mail), marketers are not constrained by cost if you send email to subscribers who don't necessarily meet very specific criteria. The need for targeting and segmentation in direct mail wasn't born out of marketers wanting to do the right thing by not sending offers to consumers who may not be interested; it was a cost-saving measure to generate the highest return on the investment given the skyrocketing costs of printing and postage at that time. This challenge of cost for deployment doesn't exist in email.

Regardless of the cost restraints, or lack thereof, it has been cited and reported time and time again that targeted, relevant email outperforms the shotgun approach. I firmly believe that this is true and have seen it proven thousands of times over the course of many years, but I also believe this to be a tactic that marketers apply situationally.

Pro: Sending a message that is properly targeted - getting the right message to the right person at the right time typically generates higher engagement rates.

Con: Sending a message that is highly targeted minimizes the reach of the offer, therefore potentially minimizing incremental conversion.

A common and simple approach is looking at engagement. If a customer hasn't opened or clicked a message in three months, then she is suppressed from further mailings. This shouldn't strike anyone as an odd marketing practice. But let's look at a real-life example of how this could backfire.

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Scenario 1

As an online provider of downloadable content (books, magazines, etc.), you send an email to your subscribers announcing the availability of a new book. The book and the fact that it is available are featured in the subject line. A recipient sees this message come through on a smartphone, which triggers her to launch your app and purchase the book. She didn't open the email, she didn't engage in anyway, yet it was the email that triggered her to take action. As she develops and repeats this behavior, the metrics would indicate that she is not email engaged. Do you suppress?

You need to ask yourself some real questions here and dig a little deeper to determine this. Look at the behavior of those who are not engaging with your email to see if a correlation exists between email deployment and conversion. If you see no conversion behavior, in addition to the lack of email engagement, then suppressing them (or better yet, trying to reengage them) may be a better way to go. It isn't as black and white as to say, just suppress them. You could be doing yourself a great disservice.

Scenario 2

Keeping in this same theme, you continually send email to your entire subscriber base that features all of the topical content available on your site. This means that you are sending content about "fishing" to those who are more interested in "fashion" and vice versa. Over the course of time, your subscribers become numb to your email because it only rarely includes content that they are interested in, ultimately resulting in list attrition. Do you segment?

Let's face it: depending on your business, not everyone is fit to receive all of your content, nor should they be. The reason companies evolve in lines of business is because the value proposition often appeals to different segments. So you should be doing some baseline segmentation, especially if you are seeing attrition rates that are concerning. The goal should be to provide a relevant experience for your customers - at every touch point, not just email.

Scenario 3

Again, in this same theme, you have done a significant amount of segmentation and cluster analysis on your database. You find that you have very distinct personas that evolved based on past purchase behavior, so you arm yourself with this data and create highly targeted messages to these groups that only feature content in the categories you have determined. Are you over-targeting?

It is possible to over-target your marketing message, which leaves an entire audience of potential conversions out in the cold. While you may see that customers are purchasing from very specific categories, it doesn't hurt to expand your reach a little to see if there is interest in complementary categories. For example, I may only purchase fashion content, but I could also be interested in cooking content as well. Be systematic and decisive about how you target; don't make the audience too small, as you may be missing out on potential customers. However, you have to use caution when casting a wide net as well, or you may turn some subscribers off.

There are no right or wrong answers to any of these scenarios, except that you actually need to consider all of these possibilities when determining who is going to get your email communications.

Email image on home page via Shutterstock.


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Kara Trivunovic

As an email marketing veteran dating back to 1999, Kara Trivunovic has been actively involved in programmatic email development, execution, and strategy in a variety of senior positions on the client, agency, and provider side. She was founder and principal of The Email Advisor, a respected email marketing consultancy focusing on email strategy and channel optimization that was subsequently acquired by an enterprise email service provider in 2009. Over the course of her career, she has had the opportunity to work with a variety of brands and global organizations structuring a variety of custom email education programs, conceptualizing and implementing new and innovative email programs, optimizing contact strategies, and developing staffing and budget plans. Kara currently serves as the vice president of digital solutions at Epsilon.

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