How to strike the balance between over and under emailing customersby
Marketers have faced the dilemma of email frequency since the dawn of email – what is the appropriate frequency of emails they should send to their customers?
Under-emailing can result in missed revenue opportunities, lack of inbox presence and inconsistent sender reputation, amongst other issues. However, over-emailing can be a problem too; it often leads to decreased engagement, increased opt-outs and more complaints.
The elusive “magic number” is something every marketer strives to find; the problem is that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to frequency. If the “right” frequency really is non-existent, should you just pick a number and hope for the best?
Here we will explore the effects of both under and overmailing, to show how tipping the balance in either direction can undermine the effectiveness of a marketer’s email programme.
The effects of undermailing
Conventional logic would lead us to assume that decreasing the send frequency would be the safest approach. Indeed, fewer emails should result in less frustration from subscribers and therefore fewer complaints. To assume this, however, would be inconsiderate of the significant problems associated with undermailing.
Firstly, the most obvious pitfall of undermailing is how it can deplete brand awareness; potential customers can’t buy from a business if they don’t know what products and services are on offer. By limiting emails sent out, businesses decrease the chance of catching a subscriber in a buying mood and increase the chance of wasting money, causing return on investment (ROI) to decrease in the process.
By limiting emails sent out, businesses decrease the chance of catching a subscriber in a buying mood.
The modern inbox is a battlefield with research suggesting that almost two in five (38%) individuals saying that they receive more than 41 messages from brands per week, up from 33%in 2015. If emails are few and far between, subscribers may not recognise the brand or remember signing up to receive content.
Undermailing can also affect email’s overall measurability. It’s worth noting that if you send less email, you have less data points to measure, therefore it becomes less effective as a result. This is also the case for segmentation and split testing, as these two practices are volume dependent
The effects of overmailing
There are obvious results from overmailing, such as decreased subscriber engagement and increased opt-outs, make the average email marketer more prone to undermailing, however, this doesn’t make the knockback effects of overmailing less critical to an email programme.
Subscribers have several options when frustrated with a high volume of emails from a brand. The most likely is to take no action; they will simply start to ignore the emails, which, in turn, leads to a less engaged subscriber list. This will ultimately reflect onto a brand’s recognition and their customer relationships, which would both be negatively impacted from relentless email frequency.
Disgruntled subscribers may also go a step beyond ignoring their emails and actually unsubscribe from the email programme. This is a lose-lose situation as once a subscriber is lost, all potential revenue opportunities are also lost and the ex-subscriber is left with the memory of a bad customer experience. Taking this one step further, some unhappy customers may complain directly to the sender or, even worse, to an industry body such as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
Some unhappy customers may complain directly to the sender or, even worse, to an industry body such as the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Complaints and unsubscribes can eventually lead to reduced visibility and, in many cases, brands could find that their email is not even reaching their subscribers’ inbox. Indeed, if too many subscribers are engaging negatively due to over-emailing it can make mailbox providers look twice at that brand’s incoming emails and may lead to them filtering or blocking future messages.
This low deliverability will reduce the brand’s exposure, resulting in missed revenue opportunities, as well as lower lifetime value – not just for subscribers who have disengaged, but for the entire email list.
In fact, lost revenue can prove to be one of the biggest problems for overmailers. Sending more email may generate more short-term revenue, but it can also lead to higher levels of subscriber churn. For example, if a business mails more often, but loses an additional 100,000 addresses a year through increased opt-outs or complaints, and if each address has an average annual spend of £10, businesses are forfeiting £1 million in lifetime opportunity cost.
Frequency optimisation depends on engagement
Over and undermailing customers really affects how customer interact with brands and their products. However, it is vital for marketers to track how their subscribers interact with email as a whole. Segregating subscribers based on how they interact with email can make email marketers much more equipped to judge their overall email frequency tolerance.
For example, it’s important for marketers to have insight into the types of email accounts their subscribers are using. If businesses are able to identify email engagement and usage, they can tailor their email frequency planning to whichever account they see fit. These could include primary, secondary and dead accounts.
Primary accounts are the most actively engaged, meaning subscribers regularly show inbox activity such as reading, deleting, and moving messages. Secondary accounts receive a high volume of promotional messages, but few personal messages; these subscribers are less engaged than primary accounts.
It is vital for marketers to track how their subscribers interact with email as a whole.
Finally, dead accounts are what you expect – old or unused email accounts that show very little engagement. Unsurprisingly, it’s recommended that business focus on their primary subscriber group as they are the most engaged, valuable and sensitive group.
Optimising the send frequency ensures subscribers receive the right amount of messages over a given time period, increasing the chances of positive engagement with the brand, as well as potentially maximising spend and minimising churn. As such, there is no static ‘magic number’; these data sets are constantly changing according to subscriber engagement.
By collecting relevant data to understand how subscribers use their email addresses, marketers will be able to consistently ensure they are sending that person the optimal volume of email.
Guy Hanson is email council chair at the DMA and senior director professional services at Return Path.