What’s the best email frequency and how do you find it?

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How often should you email your customers?

The question of how often to email your customers is a tricky one.

The temptation to email more often is understandable, as it can mean more sales.

However, if your email subscribers think they’re receiving too many emails, then they can tune out or, worse still, opt out or mark your emails as spam.

Subscribers don’t have uniform reactions so, in reality, the perfect email frequency doesn’t exist.

How many emails do customers want?

There’s a big caveat here. What customers say here may not reflect the actual results of sending more emails.

According to Parry Malm, CEO of Phrasee:

If you ask a consumer if they get too much email, they’ll almost always say yes. But the statistics don’t match up to perception. Do you ask customers how often you should show them your TV ads? Nope.

Email is a push channel and consumers will always under-report the frequency they best respond to.

Stats from Marketing Sherpa show customer preferences around email frequency.

As we can see, weekly or less frequently is the preferred choice of the vast majority. Very few want daily emails. 

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How often are companies sending emails?

According to the DMA’s Client Email Report, most companies are sending between up to 5 emails per month. Very few exceed 8.

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One company which does send more is Gap. I noticed this recently in my own inbox. I’ve received at least one email per day this month. 

There are only so many clothes I can buy from Gap sales in a month, so the majority of these emails will be ignored.

I do like Gap, so I won’t unsubscribe, but I would if some other retailers were sending this many.

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As a side note, there are so many sales and messages using urgency here that Gap risks losing credibility.

What you need to find is a balance between too few and too many emails, as both carry risks.

Sending too few emails: the risks

This can have a negative effect in a number of ways:

  • Missed opportunties to sell. More emails can mean more money. It’s important not to be too timid here.
  • Reduced visibility in the recipient’s inbox. Even if your emails aren’t open, there is an element of branding to your appearance in people’s inbox. You are outting your brand in the customer’s mind.
  • Risk to sender reputation. Inconsistent or infrequent mailing can ring alarms bells with ESPs.
  • Subscribers will forget about you. Most people sign up for a reason and, at least at the time of subscribing, had some intent to purchase. If you don’t email enough, this will be forgotten.

Sending too many emails

The risks are:

  • Less engagement. People only have time for so many emails, and they’ll stop opening them if you send too many.
  • More customers unsubscribing. If they opt out, you’ve lost the opportunity to market to them.
  • Damage to sender reputation. Too many unsubscribes and spam reports will affect your reputation with the mailbox providers.

Email frequency: the experts’ view

I asked some email marketing experts for their views on finding the right email frequency.

What’s worse? Sending too many emails or sending emails which aren’t relevant?

Kath Pay, Founder and  Senior Consultant at Holistic Email Marketing:

Trick question 🙂 Assuming that the emails you’re sending are relevant, then you can’t really send too many emails. If they’re relevant, then when the subscriber is ready to action them, they will.

Definitely sending emails that aren’t relevant is worse.

Jeanne Jennings, MD, Digital Marketing at Digital Prism Advisors and ClickZ contributor:

Both are bad. The absolute worst is sending too many irrelevant email messages. But if I had to choose between the two, the ultimate sin is sending emails which aren’t relevant – smart email marketers can always justify each message they send (and each bit of content in each message).

When you can’t do that, when you’re just sending the email without thought to content to meet a schedule, that’s when the value proposition for your audience begins to drop off.

Are the rules on frequency different for certain periods, especially during the holiday shopping season?

Jeanne Jennings:

Absolutely. People like convenience and customer service, and receiving emails containing discounts, gift ideas and offers during holidays and special events, are not only expected but are anticipated by consumers, as is the increased frequency.

Do you think brands should let customers choose email frequency as they sign up?

Kath Pay:

Best practice promotes this as being the best option, however, reality has shown that this doesn’t work. At the point of sign up, the subscriber doesn’t know how valuable or relevant your email offers are to them and as such, it doesn’t really make sense to do it at the point of subscription.

However, this preference centre works well at the point of unsubscribe, where you can offer them an ‘opt-down’ option and either reduce frequency or let them select only the types of mailings that interest them.

Jeanne Jennings:

It’s difficult to ask a subscriber to choose frequency before they see what you are offering via email – and determine how relevant iss it is to them.

I think it’s much better to develop an appropriate frequency and cadence via testing – but I do think it makes sense to allow users to opt-down if they feel they are getting too much email.

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How do you find the right frequency for sending emails?

Kath Pay:

You can achieve this by creating a hold-out group that keeps to the frequency that you’re currently sending at. Then increase (or decrease if you believe you’re sending too many) the frequency of the remaining group. This is not a short-term test, but rather a test that needs to be run for a period of time.

The more frequently you send, the shorter the period. For example, if you send once a week (control group) and increase the frequency to twice a week, then the test period will be shorter than if your control group was once a month.

To determine the optimal frequency, you need to monitor and track various metrics such as unsubscribes, complaints, opens, clicks and conversions – not just on a campaign by campaign basis, but on a subscriber basis over the test period.

The campaign results may initially show you higher unsubscribes, lower open rates and click-through rates, however, by measuring the actual subscriber engagement and conversions, you will be able to accurately determine the optimal send frequency.

For example if you send a campaign once per week and have a XX% open rate, but then increase the frequency to twice a week, the open rate per campaign will typically drop slightly. However, when you review the data on a subscriber engagement basis over the test period, you will see that almost twice as many subscribers opened the email…and this is also likely to be reflected in clickthroughs and conversions.

This can be further developed by applying the above process and identifying what frequency particular segments are happiest with i.e. best customers, ad hoc customers etc.

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