Email marketing guide: Step 5 Defining your integrated email communications strategy

Rules of Thumbs : There is a fine line between being seen as a spammer who sends too much email and selecting a frequency which maximises returns. The next step involves selecting the best frequency for you.

Set best email frequency

Q. Has your email frequency have been reviewed lately?

Does we have an optimal email frequency? Is it one email a quarter, week, month or day even? Is less more or is more more?!

This is a basic question every digital marketer has to try to answer to maximise profit of email activity. We are looking to achieve the right balance between email overexposure and underexposure. With overexposure, the recipient receives email from the same company so frequently that they don’t have the time to read it or feel their email is being flooded. They become ‘emotionally unsubscribed’.

Worse than this is if they hit the report as spam or junk button, as this has deliverability implications. On the other hand with underexposure, opportunities and sales are lost since the customer does not receive emails sufficiently frequently.

Evaluating current email frequency and customer response behaviour

The first step to help decide is to assess the impact of your email marketing frequency on customer activity and perceptions. If frequency is too high, subscribers will tune out. Though this is not a one dimensional question.

Value and relevance play their part, sending irrelevant email less frequently doesn’t make them relevant – they are just less frequent irrelevant emails.

Providing value and relevance is a way to gain acceptance and emotional permission to send frequently. The obvious thing to measure is aggregate open and click rates and most email broadcast systems are good at this.

Best Practice Tip 24 Review your frequency and email types against competitors
Look at the average number of emails you and your competitors send to subscribers per-week, month or year. This can be a good starting point for determining your own email frequency.

The growth of the daily deal sector has demonstrated that even a daily email may not be too much. If the customer expectation at sign-up is a daily email and those deals are truly deals which are relevant enough then daily is acceptable.

I can say It doesn’t need to be that every email is perfectly relevant, just that on balance sufficient interest and value is delivered that the customer is happy to receiving the mails.

Beyond this you must use statistics that most systems can’t report readily, so you need to do some more analysis to identify:

  • Average frequency of email received and plot profile by frequency for different list members to see the proportion of the list who are receiving too many or two few emails – see chart.
  • List activity – the percentage of your list that open, click and buy within a period, e.g. quarterly or annual.
  • Recency of response – what is the average for the last open, click or purchase – a good tip is to store recency in your email database as a field for analysis. 
  • Break down list activity and recency measures by different type of list members – it may be that the frequency is working for some segments but not others.

  • Break down list activity by time on list – common sense dictates that the longer they are on your list the less responsive your emails will become.

  • Some e-mail systems do have statistics on per subscriber open and click activity or “engagement score”. If so, you should review if (combined) use of this functionality will be sufficient for your reporting needs.

Best Practice Tip 25 Review unsubscribe and email activity levels through time
Graph the response rate and unsubscribe rate of your e-marketing campaigns weekly or monthly independent of campaigns. Try to maximise the number of clicks and minimise unsubscribe rates. Have a good look at total engagement as averages and percentages will always go down with higher frequency, but results probably will go up.

Testing options to decide on the best email frequency
It’s not an easy question to answer by gut instinct, so testing is better. So how do you decide on frequency? Here are some ideas and examples showing how you can approach frequency testing.

First, you need to think about defining a random control group to test frequency changes against.

Here you continue with current mailing frequency for the control group and then vary the frequency for other groups and review changes in response and in particular revenue per 1000 subscribers. In one case a bank tried frequencies of 1,2,3,4 times per month and found the right frequency this way

If you have a single email newsletter as in the Toptable example, testing is relatively
straightforward. It’s more complex if you have a range of different types of emails such as -newsletters, promotional offer emails and also individually tailored event-triggered emails. Different offers or creative to each segment will also have to be overlaid upon this.

Other options to solve the frequency dilemma include

  • Reduce email frequencies automatically for lower responding customers. Set
    a database field for activity or engagement level for each customer to help implement. Amazon is good at this and increases frequency through event-triggered emails sent in response to someone browsing, searching or buying – that is one of the smartest approaches.
  • Change frequency for different segments. One frequency size doesn’t fit all. So
    if you find that open or click response is lower for certain segments, then decrease the frequency when they are inactive and look to understand why the response rate is lower in that segment to correct the fundamental cause.
  • Give customers a choice on frequency. You do this through their profile page or
    ‘preference centre’. An alternative option is to provide opt-down as well as unsubscribe choice. Opt-down can offer a temporary pause option from emails or unsubscribing to certain types of emails and thus reducing frequency. Teletext Holidays found they recovered five percent of customers by offering opt-down in the unsubscribe process.
  • Increase direct mail for customers with a lower email response. This is sometimes called ‘touching’. To test the value of this use a holdout group. This small group, perhaps five percent of your list or a specific segment doesn’t receive the communication (for instance email or catalogue) at all.
  • Re-engagement campaigns. Re-activation campaigns use content or discounts
    to encourage email subscribers to become active again. Sometimes a preference
    update or a renewal of opt-in is asked. Permanently inactive email subscribers can hurt deliverability and can muddy the water in reporting.

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