Practical Ecommerce

Optimizing Your Email Frequency: A 5-Step Plan

Frequency is always an important topic for email marketing.

As marketers, we are afraid to overload our customers. We often forget that email is a channel that requires consumers’ permission before communicating with them. As consumers, we don’t opt in to viewing Staples television commercials, Dunkin’ Donuts billboards or hearing Geico pitches on the radio. These media channels are not concerned with overloading us with frequency. In fact, that’s usually their intent. Email, however, is different. Consumers are very sensitive to what they receive in their inboxes and they decide whom, exactly, to allow there. So where do you start to build the right email frequency strategy?

Step 1: Set Benchmarks

Take a very close look at your existing email program. Set your benchmarks for things like:

  • Opens;
  • Clicks;
  • Conversions;
  • Unsubscribe rates;
  • Revenue generated per campaign;
  • Revenue generated per email sent;
  • Average order size;
  • Lifetime customer value.

Identifying lifetime customer value is very complex. However, it is vital to know a customer’s overall behavior while interacting with your emails and how that relates to his or her ultimate purchase decision.

Step 2: Measure Your Benchmarks Against Different Segments

If you have the capability, segment your file based on customer types or behavior, such as purchases, clicks or opens. This will give a more detailed picture of how the different parts of your file perform. It will make for the best overall strategy to treat these differently in terms of frequency.

Step 3: Test Different Frequencies

Analyze the number of emails you send and record your stats. Track how the benchmarks start changing to determine whether the increase is bringing the desired results without causing negative impacts, such as increased unsubscribe rates.

The author received seven Lands' End emails within a 10-day period.

The author received seven Lands’ End emails within a 10-day period.

Step 4: Identify Your Plateau Point

Identifying the point at which you are not seeing any positive lift in your email metrics for the increase in frequency can be very difficult to determine. There really is no single right way to measure, aside from pulling together all your stats and reading the big picture as best you can. Listen to feedback. Stats and benchmarks play only one important role in how your customer perceives you. If you are receiving anecdotal negative feedback, it is probably a sign you may be over emailing.

Step 5: Know All the Implications to Increasing Your Frequency

More then ever, ISPs are monitoring increased volume to non-responsive subscribers as part as your reputation score. Over emailing non-responsive subscribers could potentially hurt your deliverability over the long term. Short-term profits may not equal maximizing long-term customer value if you cannot get your messages delivered.

Don’t forget about automatically triggered email emails–such as order confirmations and shipment notifications–increase frequency, too.

A Real-Life Example

I subscribe to Omaha Steaks’ email program but I haven’t purchased from the company in over two years. Theoretically, it may make sense to reduce frequency to a subscriber with my behavior. But, I recently received an email from Omaha Steaks promoting free shipping, and decided to purchase something for a relative’s birthday. If I hadn’t received that email that day, I would not have bought the product, nor would I have thought to go to the site to shop.

So, don’t dismiss a customer simply because he or she hasn’t been active for a period of time. This is especially true given current economic conditions. As consumer confidence grows, your buyers for the last 12 months may not be representative of those that buy from you in the future. Buyers who have gone dormant for a long period of time may become active as the economy improves.

Bottom Line

Remember, your subscribers requested to get information from you. Be upfront with them during the subscription process of how many email communications they can expect. If you have the capability for them to choose their email frequencies, even better.

Carolyn Nye

Carolyn Nye

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Comments ( 2 )

  1. Michael Turcsanyi November 4, 2010 Reply

    Another point of optimization is identifying sub-segments important to the retailer to communicate to on an ongoing basis. Customer Segments can be defined by purchase behaviors (products, brands, categories, spend, time), brand recognition of the retailer, and other demographic info. This allows retailers to create highly targeted emails for promotions or customer service notifications. It is important that the content (subject, text, images) are totally in-line with the segment you’re targeting. Either way, the more relevant the message the more likely the customer will open, click through, and purchase.

    Key to enabling this type of Customer Segmentation is within the Order Management system’s ability to expose and make creating these lists easy.

    MJT, OrderDynamics

  2. cord November 4, 2010 Reply

    hi carolyn,

    I really appreciate your article covering the most important steps. Like you mentioned automatic triggered emails are also a part of the whole story. These kind of emails can be adopted to the stage in the lifecycle of a customer based on their behaviour – this kind of personalization is very strong and leads to a good conversion rate.

    As a european amazon-customer I clearly can see how amazon is sending out emails based on behaviour: In the weeks after an order I get a high frequency of emails which is then decreasing – looks like they found out that short time after an order follow-up emails are most effective.

    At the online store am working for (runs on osCommerce) we are utilizing personalized life-cycle adopted automatic follow-up emails as well – based on the opensource framework "MailBeez". This addon is available for the most import os shops like Zen-Cart, CRE Loaded, osCMax, xtc-modified, Gambio, Digistore and probably other forks of osCommerce.

    MailBeez allows to set-up sequences based on modules, so you can configure e.g. what kind and in what timely steps emails are send out after let say an order. With the Google Analytics Campaign integration it is easy to track how effective the campaigns are and play around with different frequencies.

    Cord