Does Anybody Know What Time It Is? Does Anybody Care?

Timing isn’t everything, but it’s pretty important… to everyone but email marketers, who seem to ignore the issue entirely. A recent ClickZ column enumerated over 50 — that’s right, five-oh — to-dos when planning an email marketing campaign. Not once did my esteemed colleagues pose the question: When do you hit the send button? In a rush to conduct business in Internet time, we’ve forgotten customer time.

Not that I’m singling out my ClickZ colleagues. Why isn’t anyone asking this? Broadcast marketers think about this constantly; so do the folks who run cola ads in movie theaters right before the feature. A PR pro would never issue a press release on Friday afternoon after the issue’s put to bed. It’s not just placement, and it’s not just relevance. It’s timing.

Timing influences just about everything we do. It influences the macro stuff, such as getting up, going to work, eating, and sleeping as well as the more subtle, refined decisions that incorporate the elements of a successful email campaign: targeting, optimization, personalization, messaging, calls to actions, and analysis. Ever left someone a voice mail message when you knew you couldn’t reach him (and didn’t want to)? Accidentally on purpose run into a colleague in the hall you’d been wanting to speak with? Worn a snazzy new suit the day of the big meeting? Come in early (or stayed late) to conference in with the other coast?

I’ve yet to hear of anyone taking timing into account in planning an email campaign. If you are, I’d love to hear what you’re doing. In the meantime, here are some timely ideas that could be incorporated into a campaign without too much fuss — and could up your return on investment (ROI).

  • Time of day opt-in: Ask people opting-in for email or newsletters not only what, but also when, they’d like to receive mail from you.
  • Geographical segmentation: Your list may include addresses, ZIP Codes, or domain names that reveal the time zones of recipients. Use that data in your targeting.
  • When do they buy what you sell? Solicitations from online grocers during business hours? Business-to-business (B2B) propositions on the weekend? Take a look at what time of day your customers place their orders, and synch mailings accordingly.
  • Is it live on the site?’s usually a paragon of email marketing virtue. So why does it send the notification for its weekly Friday sale on Thursday evening, EST, before the merchandise is live on the site — and before you can buy it? This issue is particularly relevant for limited-time or quantity offers.
  • Gather relevant customer data or extrapolate from existing information, and time mailings accordingly. Say you’re a job site and mail daily updates of openings tailored to subscribers’ criteria. Have you asked if they’re actively searching or “just looking”? More casual users might shy away from an inbox filled with mail from HotJobs or during office hours. They unsubscribe, your traffic sinks, along with your cost per thousand (CPM). If you’re sending local movie listings, Friday afternoon might be just right.
  • Consistency: If you mail regularly, shoot for a schedule. Monday mornings, the first of the month, whatever. If your messages are good enough, you’ll have customers looking forward to hearing from you. Create a rhythm, then ride it.
  • As a last resort, think day part. If your email technology can’t pinpoint prospects when their hearts are as open to your call to action as their pocketbooks are to your buy button, take a wild guess. B2B or rich media pitches are obviously going to work better during Internet prime time — office hours. That’s where the bandwidth and mind share is. Pitches for hobbies, things to share with the kids, a vacation you’d want to talk over with a partner — those are leisure-time decisions. You probably want those messages arriving when recipients are more likely to spend some quality time considering them.

As I mentioned above, do let us know if and how you’re factoring time into your email campaign plans. For the other 99 percent of you — tell us why you’re not!

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