Based on my experience, most email marketers fail not with relevance, but rather with the timeliness of their messages. Despite the advanced timing features ESPs offer, email is treated like other mass marketing mediums by marketing executives. If you don't believe me, just ask any CEO of an email service provider about the percentage of their clients who use their timing features. I can promise you an uncomfortable look on their face will emerge when you bring the subject up.
If the main objective of commercial email is to sell (widgets, ideas, relationships, donations, etc.) then a message's timing trumps most other best practices. All top salespeople will tell you the calendar is their best sales tool because it ensures timely follow-up around specific purchasing cycles. Top salespeople know that being in front of the customer at the right time is far more valuable than frequent and blanketed calls. Therefore savvy email marketers have learned from their sales counterparts to view time as a holistic window into their customers' needs, timing campaigns according to specific dates, relationship cycles and behavior instead of obsessing over the right time of day to send email. Below are some examples about how savvy email marketers use time to increase sales.
When most email marketers think about date-driven campaigns, the first thing that comes to mind is a happy birthday email. Although birthdays are important life benchmarks, they are just one of many criteria that can be used to build relationships with customers and anticipate spending patterns. Other lifecycle events that are rarely used unless they are industry-specific are births, graduations, wedding,s divorces, deaths, moving and religious ceremonies such as a bar-mitzvah or confirmation. However, since many email marketers are stuck on birthday campaigns yet execute them ineffectively, I've included the following example.
Sheryl, a marketer of plus-sized women's apparel, conducted market research zeroing in on the psychographics of her customers and discovered that around their birthday they felt unhappy with themselves because of the prospects of getting older while overweight. So instead of sending her customers a happy birthday email reminding them of their age, she decided to send messages that looked much different from her typical campaigns. Her messages contained motivational headlines such as "Older is Sexier" and "Big Girls Get Love Too!" three weeks before the actual date. After conducting a three-month test, she discovered the test group was 26% more inclined to complete a purchase around their birthday, with women ages 34 to 41 spiking to 32%. Now Sheryl has her birthday campaigns down to a science, automating the timing of every message.
Timing the Relationship
Ask any married couple, and they will confirm that relationships change with time, a fact that transcends personal to business and business to consumer. Companies with an extensive business history should have the ability to predict relationship cycles with their customers. Just look to your office water cooler for example of relationship timing. The water delivery company knows there are 40 people in your office who drink on average 24 ounces a day. Since there are 640 ounces in a water cooler bottle and the office consumes on average of one and two third bottles per day assuming a five-day work week, the delivery guy knows that you will purchase roughly 34 bottles each month. One day the deliveryman comes to the office and finds a newly installed soda machine. Based on previous experiences with other offices of this size, the water company knows to scale the order back by 20% to keep the customer happy. Identifying these pinch points in a customer relationship is tantamount to long-term success. Just as an old and happy married couple can complete each other's sentences and anticipate what the other will do, so too do successful email marketers when it comes to timing the relationship cycle of their customers. Timing Behavior
From click to sales timing to triggered follow-ups, timing behavior is the golden chalice of email marketing yet the most difficult to implement. Having the advantage of knowing who opens and clicks on what, and where they go after they click, gives unparalleled insight into your customers -- but it requires research and investment to parlay that data into effective behavior timing campaigns. Steve, an email marketing manager for an online electronics retailer, knows from research that if his flat-screen televisions are price-competitive, a Web site visitor has a higher probability of making a purchase within two weeks after conducting research on Cnet or other shopping-related sites. Therefore, he created a process using Web analytics to entice visitors who came from Cnet to give up their email address. If no purchase was made within six hours, the email address placed in an automated two-week campaign with a series of seven messages that included top recommendations from shopping sites. The campaign yielded roughly an 18% conversion rate within the two-week cycle.
Even though technology makes it easier to implement campaigns based on timing, one common thread sticks out in the above examples: research. Timing is a science that takes a combination of primary and secondary research compiled, well, over time. Timing is so valuable in marketing (especially email marketing) that only its counterpart can shadow its importance, money!