New Insights On Time Of Day For Email

Recently I worked on a research project in collaboration with Ball State University's Center for Media Design -- also known to the MediaPost community for their Notes From the Digital Frontier blog. While the primary focus of the paper was on the media consumption habits of different personas including teens, college students, and established professionals, the paper also highlighted a unique perspective on the age-old question about the "Best Time of Day" to send email.

I know that many of us grow weary of questions about the best day or best time to send email. In short, the best answer is to test it for your program and determine what time works best to drive responses from your subscribers. All of the studies I have seen to date on the topic focus on the results. Important? Absolutely. But they do not give us anything in terms of context. Why does one time work better than another? What is going on in the lives of our subscribers when they read our emails or click through to our Web sites? Looking at the results tell us nothing of what was happening with subscribers moments before they took action. We speculate about the context of our subscribers' actions, but it's just that -- speculation.



The research from the Center for Media Design provides a customer perspective that makes the marketer in me start to salivate. No matter how many statistics we collect on response rates or how often we survey email users, we simply cannot collect the type of information that the researchers at Ball State have collected. They have a field research team that follows consumers for a full day and records how they interact with different forms of media in 15-second increments. Throughout the day, observers record what media participants are using, where they use it, and for how long.

This life-in-the-day view of consumers provides a new perspective on the time of day question that I believe is relevant as we think about what messages should be sent when. Here is a short list of the observations made about the way consumers interact with email throughout the course of the day:

  • Email engagement peaks in the morning. Many users, myself included, start their day by rifling through their email inboxes. Mornings allow email users to spend uninterrupted time in their inbox.

  • In-out-in-out in the afternoon. As the day progresses, users tend to have more fractured interactions with email. Email is checked intermittently throughout the day between meetings and errands. Thus, in the afternoon, there are more email episodes (any time users check into their email inbox), but those episodes are shorter in duration. Between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., users are likely to have five individual episodes of 3-5 minutes apiece, compared to the 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. period when users are more likely to have a single episode that is substantially longer.

  • Overall time in the inbox is fairly consistent throughout the workday. Between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., email makes up between 30% and 35% of the average user's media exposure. This drops off during the late afternoon and early evening, only to peak again in the late evening (between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.) as users go back to their inboxes to wrap up the day.

    This behavioral view of how consumers interact with email at different times of the day may help us address what types of email messages are right for different times of the day. Assuming you send more than one type of email message (e.g., newsletters and promotional mailings) the best time for one is not likely to be the best time for the other. Fewer interruptions and more continuous time spent in the email inbox makes mornings a more logical choice for the delivery of newsletters and long copy emails that require more time for the subscriber to read. Alternatively, promotions or invitations to attend a seminar may make more sense later in the day as people are in "quick-hit" mode.

    While this information still will not definitively answer the question about the best time of day to send for your program, it is worth serious consideration as you start to design that next time-of-day test.

    To get a copy of the study along with the chart on email reach and episodes per day, grab a copy of the Messaging Behaviors, Preferences, and Personas Whitepaper.

  • Next story loading loading..