Freq Out! Not Optimizing for Frequency Can Cost You

Email is the ultimate customizable communication platform. Subscribers create their own experiences. They sign up for email from brands they find valuable and engaging. When a brand is no longer valuable or engaging to them, they simply unsubscribe, effectively customizing their inboxes to contain only the content and brands they want. For marketers, this presents the extreme challenge of remaining forever relevant and valuable to every subscriber.

This challenge may be less daunting than you think. Just as it’s beneficial to subscribers, the customizable nature of email communication makes it a data rich platform that can show marketers how to do exactly that – be relevant and valuable. Through each action subscribers take – or don’t take – they offer up a road map revealing how to effectively communicate with them. The problem is that many marketers ignore them.

Among the most common examples of this is the search – or refusal to search – for the optimal sending frequency. Sending too little reduces subscriber interactions, decreases brands’ mindshare, and ultimately limits opportunities to generate revenue. Sending too often risks upsetting subscribers, triggering opt-outs and complaints, both of which sever email marketing relationships. This can easily add up to severe consequences for the email program.

Email frequency is notoriously hard to optimize. When signing up new subscribers, many marketers ask for a prefered frequency in their data collection. Others add a frequency adjustment in their preference centers or to their unsubscribe pages. But these are reactive. They are attempts at better optimizing the email experience for each subscriber, but they only catch subscribers who are actively looking to show marketers what they prefer. 

Many subscribers aren’t as forthcoming about their preferences. Even those subscribers who can change their minds prove unforgiving, choosing to end the relationship instead of waiting until the marketer realizes that the wrong frequency is making them unhappy. One approach that gets marketers closer to optimizing frequency is to segment by engagement using mailbox analytics to distinguish accounts that get checked frequently from those that get checked occasionally.

In a recent study by my company, we found a clear distinction between primary and secondary mailboxes. Primary mailboxes are used for everything from personal correspondence to transactional messages and everything in between. The second are often used expressly for marketing messages. Both can support valuable marketing relationships, but they tend to react differently to frequency.

People who get marketing mail in primary accounts can be more sensitive to increases. They’re typically the most engaged subscribers, but also the quickest to complain. Those who check their email less often probably buy less often too, but they’re less likely to end relationships with spam complaints when marketers step up frequency.

Getting frequency right – or wrong – can impact the program’s total marketing value. Here are three areas where frequency influences an email program:

Subscriber Satisfaction

When customers see your email in their inbox, what is their first thought? You don’t want an over-mailed subscriber to reflexively think, “Not these guys again.” You also don’t want an under-mailed user to immediately wonder, “Who are these guys?” Both of these reactions will result in complaints or opt-outs.

Brand Value

Marketers who under-mail are underselling their value. If subscribers rarely see your content they don’t have much opportunity to develop a brand relationship, nor do they have much reason to not build one with a brand that connects with them more often.

Over-mailing presents a similar situation. If your content is constantly streaming in and piling up, much of it will be ignored. Potentially valuable chances to build connections will have no impact because they’re unnoticed, ironically drowned out by your own content.

Reputation

Signals that indicate a negative reputation with subscribers inevitably translate into a negative reputation with mailbox providers. While a spike in complaints will end your email marketing relationship with those subscribers, a corresponding dip in your sender reputation can hamper your ability to reach other subscribers, even those who are happy and engaged. Don’t let your sending frequency become the reason your email program is struggling to connect with people who want to hear from you.

With its wealth of data, email presents a unique opportunity to connect with your customers. Don’t waste it by not optimizing for frequency.

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