Timing Is Email's Trump Card

I always get a chuckle when my email marketing colleagues push "relevance" as an industry best practice. If we as marketing experts have to remind the common practitioner to ensure their message matches their market, it proves email marketing is an institution with bottom-of-the-barrel admission standards.

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.



Date-Driven Campaigns

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!

1 comment about "Timing Is Email's Trump Card".
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  1. Vincent Delorenzo from Oracle, February 12, 2009 at 5:37 p.m.

    After reading Mr. Ashery's article and Mr. Schott's comments, I would have to weigh in the favor of Mr. Ashery's blog post, extensively.

    Mr. Schott is reading into this article a bit too deep and seems to be coming to his own conclusions as to the intent of the article and the advice it serves.

    Let us examine Mr. Schott's argument opposing Mr. Ashery's reported miscalculation of how "Sheryl" concluded that her new found messaging format to her audience around the time of their birthday was not the exact target to achieve the best results. Sorry for the play on words but it was wide open.

    First thing to examine is results from previous campaigns and either in open rates, clicks, conversions, overall ROI or whatever the metric happens to be that is measured...that is the constant for this equation.

    Second thing to examine would be split testing various creatives, times of delivery, subject lines, offers, etc to see what yields the greatest increase in whatever metric(s). Obviously the more relevance you can add to the equation whether through dynamic content or anything else warehoused in your database is only going to aid in obtaining greater results. However, there is no silver bullet answer that is going to lead you to the land of overnight exponential ROI. It is something you have to educate yourself on constantly and no two circumstances from any one organization are ever alike, there are always variables even from one day to the next so the best a marketer can do is analyze the data and look for the positive results and discard the negative results and move on from there.

    My assumption would be that Sheryl made a very bold move making her "B-day" campaign so blatant, however I would also have to assume that she did not just have an epiphany and decide to launch this tactic without carefully testing and analyzing her results on her own test group prior to a full scale launch.

    As far as relevance is concerned, of course relevance is a best practice, along with a slew of others to go along with it for "the best foot forward approach". A "key to email marketing success" would simply mean that if your message is relevant you can toss everything else out the window in lieu of just being relevant. This would suggest relevance is the silver bullet answer to email marketing enlightenment. Actually, there are many business cases for irrelevant messaging; it really depends on the situation. If irrelevant messaging in turn leads to more targeted and more segmented future messaging once the appropriate audience is discovered / determined, then wouldn't emailing be the best way to not only make these discoveries about the strengths and weaknesses of your "irrelevant" audience but also be a great indicator of what other mediums and budgets to apply toward this newly discovered relevant group? Really, how do you think true relevancy is discovered in the first place?

    As for timing it really is a science from what I can see, here's a simple case and point. Relevancy is a function of timing and let's say the simple fact that maybe you have determined that your relevant list of recipients through analysis prefer to receive their daily newsletter from you when drinking their morning coffee, you send out that news letter at 7am in your time zone. Your readers are spread across the planet and speak in many different tongues, if your messages aren't deployed by time zone and native are most likely leaving money on the table and not achieving the true ROI that you could be by tuning into the science of where they live and how your message is interpreted, even if the content is to indicate that timing is not science is really just sweeping under the rug an issue that is a little more complicated from a logistics standpoint, but by all means is very important, so important executing based upon analysis and timing is in fact, a science. You see, science is based upon proven fact with analysis to back it up where as theology is more of a science for people that can't base their statements with facts and simply want to believe something extraordinary happened by a higher power.

    With that being said, I just can't see the reasoning in Mr. Schott's comment unless he has done testing of his own that would lead him to believe that taking a stab at the leadership of a formidable competitor to his own organization leads to a better ROI for his firm.

    This is just one man's view, but email marketing success is really outlined in Mr. Ashery's article with the factual scenarios he laid out before you, Mr. Schott's conclusions seem a bit more theological when you dig into them.

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