Email strategy is shaped by the questions we ask. Most companies seem to ask if they are sending too much email. Even worse, they assume they are sending too much email. I can only assume this is based on a slew of reports and research studies that ask questions like, “Why do you unsubscribe from email?”
As a researcher, I have asked this exact question in surveys. It’s a fair question, and frequency is almost always the most commonly cited reason why people unsubscribe. Similarly, ask people how often they would like to receive email from companies and they are likely to check the option that says “weekly.”
This is where survey research can be limiting. We need more context in order to understand what people are really saying about email frequency. When asking a general question about why people unsubscribe or how often they want to receive email, they are speaking generically -- without context. They are probably thinking about the average email from an average company. (Hopefully you are shooting for something higher.)
However, ask the same exact person which companies do the best job communicating with them through email, and they aren’t likely to list a company that sends them email less than once a week. In fact, companies that send subscribers email multiple times per week are the ones that stay top of mind.
Part of good communication is communicating frequently, but frequent communication isn’t necessarily a good thing. Think of it in the context of personal relationships. If someone gets on your nerves, spending more time with them will only make matters worse. If you are attracted to someone, spending more time with them will intensify the positive feelings. Increasing frequency merely intensifies sentiment. Companies that send bad email frequently annoy customers. Companies that send good email frequently delight them.
This week I spoke with a company that limited their program to four email messages per subscribers per month. This may seem like a decent approach, but limiting frequency in this manner is really just admitting to mediocrity -- that you don’t have anything all that interesting to talk about in the first place.
Quality, value and relevance trump frequency. The best email marketers are the one’s that identify excuses to communicate more frequently than their competition and use email to stay top of mind. Does this mean that you should start sending your weekly newsletter twice as often? Maybe not, but here is what it does mean:
1) Establish a base program: Your baseline newsletter or promotional program should be geared toward reaching out to, and staying in front of, all subscribers. This is the only place where you really need to think about frequency.
2) Setup triggered programs: emails can be triggered from all types of activity. Site visits, browse behaviors, abandoned carts, downloads, comments, purchases -- anything where the user has initiated action presents a new opportunity for you to respond and stay top of mind.
3) Plan for occasions: birthday emails have become fairly common. They are also very effective. What about anniversaries? The anniversary of a subscriber’s registration date? What about weather? Should you send an email when it rains? At the end of a fiscal quarter?
4) Assume control of transactional emails: Something as simple as registration or a password reminder can be turned into a brand message that drives incremental revenue. Use these touchpoints to surprise and delight subscribers.
If you have good content, there is no reason to hide it behind frequency. Ultimately the answer to the question, “How often should we send email to our subscribers?” is “As often as your subscribers thing you have something worth saying.” There is no simple answer to this question, but I am confident there are still more opportunities to communicate with your subscribers in ways that will make them feel appreciated, while encouraging them to conduct more business with you.