Why Email Is Not 'Either-Or'

Does email reach and frequency trump relevance in email marketing, or is relevance the key to success?

My position in this long-running and frequently recurring debate is that you need all three elements to build a world-class email program and generate optimum results.

There's no denying that reach -- a large list -- and frequency are major drivers of success, especially during the holiday season. Obviously, sending another email to a million subscribers on your list will generate much more revenue than sending a cart remarketing email to 100 abandoners.

That isn't the point and is a ludicrous argument.

We're seeing record volumes of marketing email sent and eye-popping revenues being reported right now. One company I spoke with just achieved its all-time record for online sales in a single day on the Sunday following Thanksgiving. The company attributed most of the sales and the record to email.

However, relying on frequency alone isn't a sustainable year-round practice, nor is spending all of your resources on list growth.



Email success isn't an either-or proposition. It takes a combination of approaches and knowing which is appropriate in different situations.

How Behavior Affects the Frequency Issue

Frequency has its limits. If you're reaching your maximum frequency with broadcast email, how can you increase revenue without sending more email?

Here, you find your answer in individual, one-to-one automated messaging.

For many companies, broadcast email is their lifeblood and foundation for success because it will have the greatest reach and the largest potential to drive the most conversions and revenue.

You need broadcast email to send messages with mass appeal like a site-wide discount, and to stay top-of-mind over competitors. Even your more engaged customers might not regularly exhibit the kind of behavior triggering timely and relevant emails. Broadcast emails can be just the ticket to drive such customers to take an action that puts them back into a behavior-based program.

More Changes in the Broadcast Paradigm

Behavior-based messaging and automation are changing the "one-size-fits-all" paradigm that is the heart of broadcast messaging beyond the standard weekly sales promotion or newsletter.

Take the "welcome" email, which is a triggered message. The established model sends the same welcome message to all subscribers. So, it also has a "broadcast" element because everyone gets the same message.

This approach is going to be replaced by one-to-one onboarding programs whose dynamic content reflects customers' preferences and behaviors before they opted in. (Read more about this in my earlier column, “The Welcome Email is Dead!”)

This stepped-up onboarding process shuttles your new subscribers onto a more relevant path to purchase almost at the start, which can enrich your bottom line and help stave off inactivity down the road.

How Automation Builds Reach, Frequency and Revenue

Adding one automated message to your broadcast program will not vault your email program into the upper stratosphere of revenue. Although conversion rates for such messages can be extremely high, they reach a relatively smaller audience.

However, building a series of automated programs, each with multiple message tracks and a significantly higher conversion rate than broadcast email, can layer incremental revenue on top of your broadcast email revenue.

For many companies that take this approach, automated messages typically comprise a very small percentage of their annual email volume, but deliver 20% to 40% of annual email revenue. This is why the either-or argument is a waste of time.

Also, your most loyal customers have higher expectations for your email messages than you can deliver with a one-size-fits-all broadcast message. You can meet this challenge with automated messages that deliver personalized content at the right time.

Email as an Ecosystem

Let's stop debating whether reach, frequency or relevance drives the most success in email. A sustainable email ecosystem relies on multiple approaches. The greatest success comes when you make all those moving parts work together.

Do you agree? Or, do you have a different take on the mix of reach, frequency and relevance? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, take it up a notch!

5 comments about "Why Email Is Not 'Either-Or'".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Lynn Dalsing from ividence, November 30, 2012 at 1:12 p.m.

    This: "That isn't the point and is a ludicrous argument." I couldn't agree more. It's important to remember the power of reach (if it didn't matter, there wouldn't be so much emphasis on growing your email list). It's just as important to start getting at why people are acting rather than just throwing everything at a wall and seeing what sticks. Thanks for a great article as always.

  2. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, December 1, 2012 at 11:16 a.m.

    The numbers in your example seem a bit off. If your list is one million, I'd expect far more than 100 cart abandoners per week. The effective reach may be reduced because a large proportion of subscribers have actually disengaged.

  3. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, December 1, 2012 at 11:18 a.m.

    Good article BTW

  4. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, December 1, 2012 at 4:22 p.m.

    Pete, Thanks for the comments. I wasn't trying to associate the number of potential cart abandonments to the 1 million list size - perhaps I should have. You are correct, that number would likely be higher. But as you know I am a huge proponent of cart abandonment remarketing - but even with a higher number of abandoners, it still would not equal the revenue from a "batch and blast" email. But the point is if you are only doing broadcast emails and not these highly relevant "low volume" automated messages - then you are leaving A LOT of money on the table.

  5. Sione Palu from Feynmance, December 3, 2012 at 3:35 p.m.

    The following may not address your post, but I think it is relevant. The title is from MIT: "Measuring effectiveness and value of email advertisements in relationship oriented email messages" , download :

Next story loading loading..