InsightsWhat’s the right frequency for email marketing?

What's the right frequency for email marketing?

Choosing the right frequency for sending emails is a conundrum. 

Email marketers will naturally want to send more emails if they’re working well, but the risk is always there that they’ll reach a tipping point where some subscribers will have had enough.

This is illustrated by this frequency curve (from Mark Brownlow’s old email blog).

At point a) frequency is increased and profits rise. Somewhere around b) is the optimal frequency, while at c) and d) too many emails are sent, users start to unsubscribe or report emails as spam and profits and deliverability are seriously affected.

email frequency


The decision for customers to unsubscribe is likely to be down to a combination of emails which are less relevant and some irritation at the sheer number sent.

I was prompted to think about this by Gap. I seemed to be getting lots from them, and a quick search for them in my gmail inbox illustrates the point.

gap email

That’s 17 emails in 14 days, which I’d say is a lot. I won’t necessarily unsubscribe, but it is annoying and it’s easy to see how other recipients might react.

On a separate point, note how many of these emails relate to sales using urgency to tempt people in: ‘last day’, ‘sale ends soon’ etc.

A couple of points here:

  1. Urgency is overused here to the point where it is likely to lose its effectiveness. I have three limited time sales in the space of a week, which tells me they aren’t limited at all.
  2. Too many sales. Gap is essentially teaching customers that is has an almost permanent sale. Why would they pay full price when a sale is always just around the corner?

The DMA’s Client Email Report (pdf) found that very few companies were sending more then 8 emails a month to subscribers, which makes Gap’s email frequency look excessive.

DMA email frequency Of course, Gap could be making a fortune by sending all of these emails, and its unsubscribe rates may be low. There’s no right or wrong answer here.

I asked Parry Malm, CEO of Phrasee about the topic:


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

Email is a form of advertising, a fact many forget. When advertising is good, increased frequency results in increased brand impressions and increased sales.

When advertising is bad, guess what? More frequency annoys customers.

How do you find the right frequency for sending emails?

There is no silver bullet to determine optimal frequency because it’s fundamentally not something you can test.

However, a little common sense will help. If you have something interesting to say, send an email. If you don’t, then don’t.

Are the rules different in certain periods such as the run up to Christmas?

Remember: email is advertising. At peak sales periods, you invest more in all forms of advertising – TV, outdoor, online.

Why not email? When people are in buying mode, your messages stand out better. More emails at Christmas, for example, almost always means more sales.

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

No, and here’s why: 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.


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