Commentary

What's the Best Frequency? Who Cares

One question that email marketers continue to ask all the time is "How often should I email my subscribers?"

If you are a publisher, this is still a reasonable question. But for most other businesses, it's so last-century, so old-school, so Web-1.0, so... you get the picture.

The better, though more complicated, question might be: "What demographics, preferences and behaviors can I use to drive a continuous program that maximizes the lifetime value of my customers?"

In the old, direct mail world, you sent to a list until it didn't make money anymore. With email, consumers tell you when you've gone postal on them by opting out or hitting the "This is Spam" button. But this paradigm is driven by sending regular, non-personalized "broadcast" emails.

If you can move to a system of emails fine-tuned to your customer relationships, you can likely email less often without sacrificing ROI, or even send more frequently and you won't be penalized by ISPs.  Most importantly, you'll become even more valuable and relevant to your customers.

Email is the Swiss Army knife of marketing, giving you multiple tools to communicate with prospects and customers. I thought of 30 different kinds of email messaging that can be sent while I was listening to a session at the Email Evolution Conference recently: everything from welcomes to trigger-based messages to one-offs to confirmations to cross-sell/up-sell messages.

This vast array comprises "lifecycle marketing," where the impetus for sending a message isn't just the product or service you want to sell but a trigger, event, need or other factor of your customer's, combined with your organization's offerings and goals. Further, many of these messages can be automated (see David Baker's MediaPost column on triggers http://blogs.mediapost.com/email_insider/?p=595), meaning you create the email, set the parameters, and let the technology take over. When you shift to this kind of customer-focused marketing, you turn the concept of frequency on its head.

How One Multichannel Marketer Missed the Boat

A few months ago, I bought a refrigerated wine cellar from a multichannel retailer whose catalogs I have been receiving for 15 years and emails for one or two years. This cataloger sells only wine-related items, from books to glassware to custom wine cellars. A wine unit like mine is one of the most expensive items it offers. Previously, I had made only a minor purchase. Now, I've vaulted myself into a high-value customer segment.

You wouldn't know it from my inbox, though. After I purchased the cellar, I received a basic order confirmation along with an average nine emails a month, none of which acknowledged this significant purchase. At least one promoted the exact cellar unit I bought!

My purchase should have put me, and other high-end cellar buyers, into a lifecycle program. I was easily able to envision at least two dozen individual emails, all related to my purchase, persona and behavior, and all potentially able to drive more sales. Here are just seven types:

1. Order Follow Up/Customer Support: Besides the confirmation, send "It was shipped" and "Did you receive it/have any problems?" emails. Each could also include some upsell message for extended warranty, etc.

2. Cross-selling/up-selling: Next, a series of emails promoting related products such as Riedel glasses, decanters, wine inventory software, premium openers, books, or tasting kits.

3. Product replenishment: The filter should be replaced every 12 months. Remind me early and around my purchase anniversary to change it with a link to the filter page on the Web site.

4. Special programs/offers: Send me a birthday reminder and gift-certificate program for my wine-loving friends. How about a special VIP invitation or discount to your regional wine-tastings and magazine?

5. Refer a friend, receive a gift: Most wine drinkers don't do it in private. Some of my friends spend more than I do, too.

6. Check up: "How are we doing?" surveys, reminders to update preferences, post comments on the product.

7. Behavior-based: Where I click on the Web site or in the regular emails should trigger messages, especially if I abandon a cart.

Yours truly is a motivated buyer. But the nine-a-month, one-size-fits-all approach is not prompting me to pull out my credit card again. In fact, on average, I open only one or two out of the nine. Send me an email promoting the inventory software, and I'd likely pull the trigger.

So, the next time you are waiting for a plane or riding the train home from work, list all the email messages your company could be sending to add value to your customer relationships. I guarantee you can come up with 15 different ones, or I'll eat this column!

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