Just when I thought the email-marketing industry had put the "What is the best time to send email?" question behind us, I noticed a couple more blog posts on the topic this past week.
Like similar questions such as "What is the average open rate," either these questions are fundamentally unanswerable, or pursuing the answer does not lead you to a meaningful conclusion or action.
Further, I believe that a question like "What is the best time to send?" is simply the wrong question to ask. More on that later. First, let's look at five factors that make the "ideal send time" question so complex:
1. Artificial rules don't hold up. Don't mail on Fridays. Never send B2B emails over the weekend. Send B2B emails on Sunday. Don't mail to moms in the morning. Tuesday at 10 a.m. works best (in which time zone, by the way?).
You've heard them all. Even if you believe one of those scenarios worked best at the aggregate level, have you really tested all scenarios to know for sure?
Years ago, I worked with a motorcycle accessories site and was convinced that its normal Sunday broadcast mailing times were not optimal. We tested several different scenarios, but Sundays did in fact perform best.
In hindsight, Sundays seemed logical to reach people who rode their dirt or touring bikes over the weekend. But I also believe that years of Sunday mailings probably trained recipients to expect messages then.
Rules are meant to be broken. A rule that works for one marketer might not hold true for your entire customer base, let alone your individual subscribers.
2. Mobile changes everything. Did you see the recent Nielsen study reporting that social media and games were the most popular online activities, with email falling to third? You might have missed a finding in the same study that showed email is far and away the No.1 activity on mobile devices.
With many consumers' smartphones literally or figuratively attached to their sides, the idea that there is a single best time to reach them seems rather dubious now.
See all those people walking around and staring at their smartphones? Checking email regularly is clearly part of what they are doing, which complicates the theory that many consumers check their email at regular times throughout the day.
3. "In the inbox" isn't the same as "ready to buy." The "best time" issue assumes either that individuals will immediately act on your messages when they open them or that there is at least a correlation between inbox receipt and conversion.
However, people who check their personal email frequently at work or on their mobile devices might not act on them until later at home. So, when is the best time?
In theory, then, a more accurate picture would be to correlate historical purchase/conversion time with time of email engagement. But at minimum, an "ideal" send time would have to incorporate testing dozens of scenarios and be tied to revenue or conversion, not opens or clicks.
4. Behavior determines/triggers timing. The "best time to send" question is really one reserved for broadcast messages. Lifecycle and behavior-triggered messages eliminate the question because the consumer's actions or profile -- such as cart or browse abandonment, a purchase, posting of a review, birthday, purchase anniversary, etc. -- determine send time.
The difference, or shift in thinking, is to move more of your email program to one where the consumer or recipient's behavior in essence tells you when to send the email.
5. Better emails lessen the timing factor. As I wrote in an earlier column, the best time to send email is different for each of your recipients. Features like our own Send Time Optimization will get you close to that goal by increasing the likelihood that an email is at the top of a recipient's inbox.
In addition to all of the variables and approaches outlined above, the final step is to simply create more valuable and relevant emails. You may find that there are some less-than optimum send times for the majority of your subscribers, such as Sunday in the middle of the night. Outside of that, however, if you have the right combination of cadence and value, truly engaged subscribers will likely dig your email out of their inboxes wherever it lies.
The Better Question: "How Do We Create Value?"
At its core, the "send time" question is really asking "How do we increase the likelihood that someone will act or convert as a result of our email program?"
So, consider a more fundamental and strategic question for your program, such as:
"How do we create email programs that add value to the customer relationship and maximize conversions and revenue?"
This customer-centric perspective emphasizes message relevance over campaign schedule. The right time question cannot be separated from the other half of the equation: the "right message."
OK, I'm sure this won't be the last article I-- let alone my peers --write on the " best time to send" topic. But hey, I can dream.
What would Stefan say? Until next time, take it up a notch.
Have you had different experiences, or do you have a different theory on this question? Please share in the comments section.