Achieving Your Optimal Email Frequency

Last week I participated in a webinar with an email marketer who said in her presentation that her company sends as many as three emails per day to some of its subscription lists. Almost all of the questions during the audience QA that followed were variations of, “How do you do that? Can you teach me?”

Many participants were aghast that a brand was sending so much email, but as the marketer explained how they had gradually worked up to that impressive frequency, the initial audience apprehension at the volume gradually evolved into understanding. And then they went straight to envy.

That was half the lesson from this marketer – that increasing email frequency is possible. Despite the research showing inbox overload, the pundits’ claims of channel fickleness, and the anecdotes we all hear (and share) about kicking brands to our inbox curb, it is still possible to pump up email volume, deriving more of whatever value the email channel provides to your company.

Of course, what that specific value is depends on your company and how you use email. If you’re a publisher generating ad revenue from your newsletters or the websites they drive traffic to, increasing frequency translates directly into increased revenues. If you are a retailer, conference producer, travel site or any other e-commerce business, more emails can translate directly into more sales. And if you’re neither of the above but use newsletters and other emails to maintain engagement or move customers closer to highly considered purchases, increased frequency can lift results there as well. The first step in increasing frequency is to determine what results you want to lift, so you know which email(s) to multiply.

Here are a handful of other tactics to help you find your optimal email frequency:

1. Just try it. It may be you’re already below your optimal sending frequency, so before changing up your content strategy and adding new rules, test sending at a sustained higher frequency to a segment of your list. The impact of more emails (particularly the negative) may not be felt right away, so run your test to the same segment for at least five new messages. Track your key metrics – including unsubscribes – over the entire period and look for burgeoning trends.

2. Add empathic content. If your current content strategy is not expandable into higher frequency (e.g., if you are a conference producer already sending a Register Today email every week for three months leading up to your event), look to create a new newsletter for the same audience with content that leans more toward their business needs than your own. Your goal here is less to drive clicks, registrations and purchases than it is to increase relevance for your brand and protect its mindshare in the inbox. Emails that ask your subscribers to do or buy something often work better when they are not the only messages subscribers receive from you (which is also one of the reasons why social complements email so well).

3. Go narrower. Broad content is designed to hold a little appeal for as many subscribers as possible. It’s hard to unsubscribe from newsletters that may have something of interest each time they are sent. But it’s  equally difficult to get excited about receiving them and to truly anticipate their contents. On the other hand, narrower content appeals to fewer people, but with a much stronger pull. If you have a broad newsletter, try increasing frequency with an additional installment containing a deeper dive on niche topics. For example, if you publish a newsletter on energy and utilities, add one focused exclusively on solar power. If your conference marketing messages typically include the entire agenda, create some instead on what will be discussed within a single session.

4. Go wider. Many brands create all the content they distribute via email, using messages to drive traffic back to their own websites exclusively. Increasing frequency is therefore bottlenecked by the availability of proprietary content; you can only send out as much as you create. Another option is to curate complementary content. Add an ancillary newsletter on the exact same topic as your current one, but with articles collected from around the Web. Many brands already do this with their Twitter accounts, so rolling all of this up into a weekly or even daily email digest is not altogether onerous.

5. Normalize your analytics. Remember that since you are giving your subscribers an extra bite at the apple, your results for each individual message will probably not equal what you were seeing with your existing frequency. For example, if you expected 1,000 clicks from a message you sent every Monday, and you switch to Monday and Thursday sends, you might see your clicks on Monday drop to 750 and then drop further still to 500 on Thursday. In aggregate though, your increased frequency has found 250 incremental clicks. Weigh that against unsubscribes and the added resources of creating and sending that extra message to determine if you have increased ROI.

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3 comments about "Achieving Your Optimal Email Frequency".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , July 25, 2012 at 2:13 p.m.
    Not everything works for every business all the time. Can you imagine that even all of the emails you like come 3 times a day, not to mention all of them with more info or even what you get in one divided into 3 ?Augh !
  2. Jen Mcgahan from MyTeamConnects , July 25, 2012 at 2:46 p.m.
    Everyone has a point at which they max out on email acceptance. From a small business point of view (most of my clients are much smaller!) these strategies would also work. Whether you're trying to scale up to one/week from one/month, or even as in your article states up to 3x/day; I think the biggest hurdle is first dispelling the client's horror at the suggestion to send more.
  3. Mike May from Huge , July 25, 2012 at 3:17 p.m.
    I agree, Paula. Too much is way too much. But I'm seeing more and more evidence that some marketers are not sending enough email. If all you do is ask, it's hard to ratchet up the frequency. But finding ways to add value and engagement can happen in the inbox as easily as on Facebook. Jen, that was the big AHA moment in the webinar - getting past that horror at the thought of sending more. Once the other marketers in the audience realized it was possible, they warmed pretty quickly to the concept. Not all "best practices" are worth continuing.