Choosing the Right Email Frequency

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Here is a scenario many email marketers might be familiar with:

Your boss comes along with the need to send an email to your customer database with a fantastic special offer. Having already sent an email that week you are concerned you might be bombarding your customers but he is the boss and at least it is a great offer.

So you send the email and the campaign is a great success. The next week at the department meeting the results of the emails sent the previous week are discussed and it has been the best sales week for email ever. So as the two emails led to this record week you now have to send two emails a week to the database.

As a couple of months go by there is some evidence that customers are fed-up with so many emails based upon comments coming via the customer services department. One week you persuade the powers that be to not send the second email. However sales are down as a result so you must carry on sending two a week.

Weeks go by and open and click rates are falling but this is put down to a variety of factors such as ageing data and managers question whether the emails are getting through as the reason for this steady decline. You raise the possibility that people switch off from your brand if you send too many emails but management say the pain of losing those sales by not sending the second email is too much. Anyway unsubscribe rates are only 0.3% so that cannot be it they say.

I have personally seen this in dozens of organisations. It is the classic mistake senior managers make in interfering with email strategy. They see the short term benefits of increasing frequency but not the long term damage.

Lets pull out the specific mistakes made by senior management from the scenario above:

1) Low unsubscribe rates

Everyone has low unsubscribe rates, even spammers! The effort to unsubscribe involves opening an email, enabling the links if they are blocked, scrolling to the bottom to find the unsubscribe link and after clicking still potentially having to login or complete another set of actions. As shown in our research paper “Consumer views on email marketing” consumers find it much easier in their busy lives to delete and ignore emails.

2) Open and click rates are falling because…

People which don’t really understand email immediately think that lower response rates are because your email is getting picked up by spam filters. Nope, 9 times out of 10 this is not the case. If you see a sudden drop off then yes deliverability issues could well be the case. However where the trend is over a period of time then it is far more likely that you are sending rubbish, irrelevant emails far too often. Think about if you received 3 emails in a row in the space of a week from a company and none of them were of interest or particularly relevant – would you open future emails? Probably not and that is why response rates fall.

3) “If I don’t send that extra email I will lose those sales”

In the short-term this statement is true. But what if you measure the long-term impact on open, click and conversion rates?

Here is a little case study that proves the fallacy in sending the extra email., a restaurant booking service religiously sent users two emails a week. If they only send one then sales halve.

To measure the long term impact of the increased frequency a control group of half the new customers that joined that month were held back from the second send.

After three months this control group was measured against those who had joined the site at the same time yet received the default setting of two emails a week. Open rates were 86% higher, unsubscribe rates 57% lower.

But the main stat that proves why sending too many emails leads to long term damage – those receiving only one email a week had made 14% more bookings than those receiving two emails over that three month test period.

Why? Too many emails can lead to a customer dis-engaging with your brand, losing them as a customer.

About Craig Loynes

Marketing Manager at Emailcenter, the UK's largest independent ESP. Connect with +Craig Loynes on Google+ or follow on for more email marketing insights.


Planning & Strategy