Are You Sending Too Much Email?

At some point in your email career -- maybe even in your last staff meeting -- you or someone on your team wondered, "Are we emailing our customers/subscribers too much?"

I can't answer that question for you, because so much depends on the unique characteristics of your own email program. However, you can map out a thinking process that lets you reach your own conclusions. My self-help guide, which follows, can get you started. 

Why Are You Asking This Question? 

These are some of the scenarios that might get you wondering whether you're sending too many messages:

  • You see a spike or steady growth in spam complaints, unsubscribes or both, which can reduce your deliverability and boost list churn.


  • Average overall engagement per message begins to decline.


  • You ramped up a lifecycle marketing program using triggered and targeted messaging which makes you wonder now if you can reduce your general broadcast cadence.




  • You have a multichannel, multi-touch approach using print, social and mobile and worry that your customer email touches are turning into pokes.


  • You, or someone in management who likes the short-term revenue increase that typically comes with higher frequency, are concerned about the effects on longer-term lifetime value.


Are You Asking the Right Question?

I don't like asking "What's the optimum frequency?" or its cousin, "How much email is too much?," because neither has an answer other than "It depends."

I prefer "How can we send more relevant email more often with fewer resources?"

Email industry folks like to debate whether the industry collectively is bombarding recipients into numbness. However, when you look at your own list, you'll probably find more touches generally produce more revenue, at least in the short term.

My friend and occasional debate partner Dela Quist, CEO of the UK agency AlchemyWorx, argues that most companies haven't come close to sending too much email.

"Email is under-exploited by marketers because of a conditioned -- but entirely misplaced -- fear of over-mailing," he said in a recent company newsletter. "Whilst we certainly agree that there is a maximum threshold for email communications, most people are far too fearful to get anywhere near it by testing higher frequencies."

Factors That Drive the Frequency Question

There are perhaps dozens of factors that drive the decision-making process around optimum email frequency. Here are 10 to get you started:

1. Role of email. How does your company use email? Is it viewed as a branding and inexpensive direct marketing channel or a strategic customer retention vehicle?

2. Recipient Demographics and Psychographics. Do you have a broad range of customer types who use email differently? My daughter might find more than one email a month from your brand too much, whereas her dear old dad could be just fine with two or three per week.

3. Type of Content/Expectations Certain types of content or email programs naturally justify a frequent cadence such as "Wine of the Day," "Today's Headlines" or "Daily Deal." Regardless of the relevance, recipients know what they are going to get each day. However, four similar emails a week with random promotions from a wine retailer might be three too many - because the cadence simply doesn't match expectations.

4. Relevance. Relevance trumps everything. Ten emails a week could be just fine for most of your recipients - if the content is personally relevant. Are you upping the cadence of batch and blast emails, or are you adding emails that are increasingly relevant based on recipient data?

5. Engagement. A subscriber who is regularly opening and clicking on your emails is demonstrating a certain level of interest and engagement and is likely not going to freak when you increase cadence somewhat at certain times, such as over the holidays.

Someone who rarely or never interacts with your emails might finally say "Enough!" and hit the spam button when you dial up the frequency.

6. Stage in the Lifecycle. If I have just bought a new car, I might expect a series of emails about the service program, details about the financing, new-owner tips and the like. Six months later, I'm probably just looking for those oil-change reminders and service coupons.

7. Time of Year/Holidays/Events. Consumers have come to expect seasonal changes in frequency such as the annual flood of emails during the Christmas holidays and around special occasions like Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and the Super Bowl.

8. Inbox Competition. Your emails do not exist in an inbox vacuum. For example, my wife loves travel deals and subscribes to about 10 travel-deal newsletters. Higher cadence increases the chance that one of these emails magically shows up at the right time with the right offer.

However, she may ignore most of those random messages if she's singularly focused on booking our vacation to Disneyland and finding a nearby hotel.

9. Brand/Relationship. A consumer is likely to be open to receive more emails from brands they love or patronize regularly. As a road warrior, I receive promotional and frequent flyer emails from a number of airlines. But as a Platinum status member with Delta, I find their emails have much more of my mind share, than say those from United, which I fly less frequently.

10. Business Needs/Economy. When economic times worsen or a company is not meeting financial goals, sending more email is often a key means to generate more revenue. Years ago I analyzed a retail client's more than doubling of email frequency and showed them that over 12-18 months of this increase, they would actually lose money caused by the increase in churn, lost revenue and cost to reacquire customers. The company was having a challenging year and the owners had to focus on growing near-term revenue -- regardless of the longer-term impact.

Only you and your subscribers can decide whether your company is sending too much, too little or just the right amount of email. While you can test cadence and find the potential "optimum frequency" across your entire list, each individual subscriber will ultimately tell you if you've pushed the envelope too far - or not enough.

Please share below any factors I may have missed and any of your own stories -- good or bad -- about the email frequency question.

Until next time, take it up a notch.

2 comments about "Are You Sending Too Much Email?".
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  1. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, March 10, 2011 at 5:18 p.m.

    Loren, it's a very typical question my clients ask. And yes it does depend because it relies on the relationship you have with your list. Are they just a number in your database or do you have a very familiar relationship. This can then determine email send frequency. Cheers Kurt Johansen http://www.kurtjohansen - Email Marketing Strategist Australia.

  2. Georgia Christian from Mail Blaze, March 11, 2011 at 4:46 a.m.

    As always, a thought provoking read Loren. I am interested to see what other points come up in the comments.

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