E-mail Isn’t Hockey: Managing Frequency

In hockey, the more shots you make on goal, the greater your likelihood of scoring. High frequency is a good thing in hockey.

Not so with e-mail.

A recent survey finds that 50 percent of consumers consider e-mail from companies they know and that arrives too frequently to be spam; that figures jumps to 69 percent when the e-mail comes from a company they don’t know.

If you’re the only one in your organization sending e-mail, all frequency management requires is self-discipline. But what about organizations, like many of my clients, where there are multiple internal groups vying to use e-mail to market to a single shared list of customers and prospects?

Typically groups want to send their dedicated e-mail messages to the entire list or a segment of it. They are, understandably, thinking only of their own needs, not the needs of other groups in the company and not the well-being of the list. E-mail sent to the list from other groups in the company isn’t on their radar.

This problem is escalating, as more and more marketing executives try to leverage the more cost-effective e-mail channel over direct mail and telemarketing.

The E-mail Traffic Cop Model

One way to manage e-mail frequency is to designate an internal e-mail traffic cop, someone who sets a limit (“no one on the list will receive more than two e-mail messages a month from our company”) and makes a go/no go decision on all e-mail send requests.

This can work in some organizations, but there are always issues. First, the traffic cop often ends up being the bad guy, since he tells internal groups they can’t use e-mail as much as they’d like to help them meet their marketing goals.

This can also result in what one of my clients refers to as renegade senders: people within the organization who try to skirt the rules by sending mass e-mail to their own list of contacts from their desktop computer. Often these renegades are uneducated about CAN-SPAM and e-mail best practices, which I’ve seen result in compliance issues and blacklisting, creating more headaches for the company’s e-mail marketing program.

How to prioritize sends is another issue the traffic cop faces. Many companies using this model have a “first come, first served” rule: who ever puts in the request first gets to send to the list. But this isn’t always in the best interest of the larger organization. A better way to prioritize is based on ROI (define) — which internal group stands to gain the most bottom-line benefit for the company as a whole? While this is a more logical way to prioritize, many organizations still lack the internal tracking and reporting to allow them to quantify results in this manner (which is a topic for another column…or three).

Shifting the Paradigm

The best way to control send frequency is to change the way the entire organization approaches e-mail. This isn’t easy and the initial reeducation phase can be painful, but it can be accomplished.

Rather than letting requests from groups within the organization drive the dates and times of sends (“we need to get this e-mail for our product out to this audience next week”), a set schedule is put in place and drives the sends.

The first key to success here is to segment the list in logical groups. Let’s say you have three different product lines; you segment the list by product line and develop three clearly defined sublists that can be mailed to: sublist A, sublist B, and sublist C.

Next, you develop a send schedule that builds in frequency limits. For instance, a simple send schedule might look like this:

  • First Wednesday of each month: single e-mail sent to the entire list
  • Second Wednesday of each month: single e-mail sent to sublist A
  • Third Wednesday of each month: single e-mail sent to sublist B
  • Fourth Wednesday of each month: single e-mail sent to sublist C

Assuming that no subscriber’s e-mail address appears on all three sublists, you are effectively limiting frequency to twice a month. If someone is on all three sublists, your frequency is still capped at four times a month. The more sublists you have, the more attention you need to pay to frequency issues, but this at least creates a framework to make it more manageable.

Finally, you need to educate your internal marketing teams on the new paradigm. Socialize the new schedule and set dates by which content for each send should be submitted. The requestors should identify which group (either sublist A, B, or C or everyone) they want to reach. Once the content has been submitted, a staff member can compile content for each send and create a single missive carrying information from multiple groups in the organization.

Will this new paradigm be embraced wholeheartedly? Probably not at the onset. But by instilling some structure and discipline, you protect the list from bombardment and help stem list erosion due to overmailing, which is good for everyone in the long term.

Until next time,


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