Managing E-mail Frequency: ‘Short Term’ Thinking Yields Long-Term Gains

So much e-mail-marketing advice urges you to weigh long-term gains against short-term tactics, like not sacrificing list health by pounding it day after day with undifferentiated messages.

Sometimes, though, thinking short-term can help you increase message frequency and relevance when you create limited-time, special-interest message streams to complement your primary marketing program.

Short-Term Plus Segmentation Delivers Benefits

These two short-term tactics can deliver long-term benefits when done correctly:

  • Create short-term subscriber-only events and promote them with minimal additional messages in your regular campaign schedule. This is an excellent tactic to use with your most engaged subscribers: the ones who open or click on almost every message, who forward your content to their social networks, post product reviews and customer comments, and buy more often than other segments of your list.
  • Create short-term opt-in newsletters or message lists with highly focused content. Older subscribers who don’t open or click as often but who do register activity might be ripe for a change of pace. This can also help you introduce them to your primary marketing program or bring them back to activity.

Side benefit: These frequency tactics can help you tiptoe into database segmentation if you presently conduct only broadcast messaging (sending the same Tuesday offer to your entire list).

Ideally, you should be able to integrate your e-commerce system with your e-mail database so that you can segment by buying history, order value, order frequency, etc.

However, you can create meaningful segments even if you can associate only opt-in date (to separate newbies from veterans) or click actions (to separate frequent, occasional, or “never” clickers) with your e-mail addresses.

First, Two Cautions

When I talk about “increasing frequency,” I’m not telling you to turn up the heat on your entire list. Proceed cautiously to avoid unintentional burnout, even among your most receptive subscribers:

  • Provide a clear value
  • Target the most appropriate subscribers
  • Resist expanding the program to your entire list without permission

Also, remember that no matter how selectively you employ these new messaging tactics, you are still increasing frequency, which is a leading cause of unsubscribes and spam complaints.

These tactics are intended for subscribers who record at least a minimal amount of activity. They are not meant to wake up your sleepers in hopes they’ll suddenly start to play.

For advice on how to win back nonresponders, see this other ClickZ column, “Removing ‘Unengaged’ is Key to Deliverability, Too.”

Tactic 1: Adding Short-Term Events

Here, you’re adding a single message on top of your normal promotional cycle. If your main campaign is a regular Tuesday offer, you could create a weekend sale or three-day event tied to a non-Christmas holiday, clearance sale, special purchase, or similar activity.

I’m not suggesting that every weekend should become an excuse for another sale. This tactic works best on unexpected events and with your most highly engaged subscribers.

Also, test this tactic on different segments of your list to find out which ones will respond best. Generally, I wouldn’t try this on nonresponders, either because you’ll waste the effort or because the goal is to reach your most active segment that has a higher tolerance for increased frequency.

These events can run in conjunction with a holiday, but they’ll stand out better when you launch them during months with no clearly defined holidays or event.

Subscribers will respond best when you position it as an e-mail-only benefit, a deal only for your best customers or a don’t-miss opportunity.

Although these messages run whenever you have a reason to send them, you should include them in your newsletter description: “Weekly product sales offer plus occasional announcements only for our best e-mail subscribers.”

Tactic 2: Create Short-Term Newsletters or Message Streams

This is a classic tactic for adding message frequency in the Q4 holiday season, but it can work year-round with the right content.

By creating a defined-term, defined-content newsletter (“30 Days, 30 Recipes,” or “Countdown to Kickoff,” for example), you tell subscribers exactly what to expect. When the term expires, the messages stop. No risk of burnout there.

Also, you can create the content way in advance and set up your system to launch each message at a specified time.

Most importantly, resist the temptation to fold your special-edition subscribers into your main database once the publication concludes. Cross-promote your other e-mail offerings, to be sure, but don’t assume your special-edition subscriber wants to keep the conversation going.

This tactic differs from the short-term event tactic in a couple of key ways:

Anyone who wants to receive the messages must request a subscription, whereas with the event messaging, you set the parameters for who receives the message.

Also, this message track runs parallel to your regular e-mail program, while the short-term event tactic adds another message to your editorial cycle.

Both of these tactics will help you create highly focused messages for clearly defined segments of your mailing list. Just be careful not to let them get spoiled by success.

Until next time, keep on deliverin’!

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