The Email Frequency Factor: How Marketers Can Prevent Falling Victim to Frequency Fever

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“Strategy and timing are the Himalayas of marketing. Everything else is the Catskills. “
Al Ries
(in Marketing Warfare, 1986, with Jack Trout)

Email marketers, trying to conquer their own Everest in their marketing program, agonize over many elements of their campaign: the subject line, the offer, the email’s design, etc. But, according to marketing guru and author Al Reis, these are molehills compared to the “Himalaya” of marketing — the strategy behind the campaign, and the timing.

Part of timing is frequency: how often should you email your subscribers? Naturally, you want to send often enough to keep your customers engaged and to maintain revenue or other goals. But, you must take care not to strive for too much, not to go to high where you’ll asphyxiate your campaign with too many emails, annoying instead of engaging your customers who eventually opt-out, the avalanche in their inboxes too much to keep up with!

So, what is the optimal frequency?

In reality, the question that email marketers should be asking is not simply what’s the optimal frequency, but “Given the nature of my content and the level of engagement of my recipients, what is the optimal frequency of emails to my list that will achieve the highest degree of customer responsiveness and conversion?” A mouthful indeed, but the right question for the email marketer.

Because the frequency is determined by a variety of things: your content, your customers and subscribers and how engaged they are with that content, and by the expectations you set for your subscribers when they opted-in to your list.

For the email marketer, your summit bid requires that you determine if you have to fortitude to determine the answer to the frequency question, then respect the limitations you discover. Everest climbers can sometimes be gripped by “summit fever” and when this happens they compel themselves ever higher, sometimes to their detriment. An email marketer in the grips of “frequency fever” puts their whole campaign and their entire email list in jeopardy if they succumb to the temptation of emailing too often.

So, let’s discuss content. Suppose you’re an online retailer and you have a newsletter that is sent, highlighting various products, perhaps promoting a “weekly special” or other offer. Do your products change often enough — do you have enough new inventory — to justify a daily newsletter? Perhaps not. You may not even have the resources to handle the demands of a creating a brand new newsletter each and every day. But maybe your business would support a weekly newsletter or perhaps a new mailing every 4-5 days.

How can you determine the best choice: weekly or slightly more frequently? You look at how engaged your customers are with your email, as indicated by open rates and clickthrough rates.

For example, I am signed up for a newsletter from an online sporting goods store which specializes in golf equipment. They have gorgeous drivers and sublime wedges at extremely affordable prices. I love getting their newsletter because I love looking at their golf clubs, envisioning being on the links. I open probably 95% of the emails I receive from them, and they email me twice a week or so. I am a very engaged customer.

If they were emailing only once a week, but achieving high open and clickthrough rates, that should indicate to them an engaged audience who might be receptive to more frequent emails. On the other hand, if their weekly email newsletter was not performing well, sending it more often would likely not improve the responsiveness and might even cause those already not-terribly-engaged recipients to opt-out entirely.