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The Surprising Data about How Often to Send Promotional Emails

PAM NEELY - SEP 1, 2015

As a marketer, sending promotional emails is probably a common revenue generating tactic in your marketing toolkit.

How often you send emails can have a significant effect on your company revenue and email engagement rates. But it’s not as simple as just sending more emails to generate more revenue.

In this post, we reveal some surprising data about how often you should send promotional emails and what to consider when deciding how frequently to send yours.

How do subscribers respond to changes in email frequency?

There are four common ways an email subscriber can react to changes in email frequency:

1) They unsubscribe/mark your emails spam.

This is the dreaded result that no marketer wants to happen. But guess what the #1 reason people unsubscribe from emails is? It’s because the sender emails too often. A survey done by TechnologyAdvice earlier this year asked 472 U.S. adults, “For what reasons have you marked a business’ emails as spam?”

Here’s how they answered:

 

Email frequency came up again in that same study when respondents were asked how marketers could improve in their emails. The #1 answer to that question was “less frequent emails.”

More than twice as many people chose “less frequent emails” than any of the other options given. Email frequency is something subscribers care about. A lot.

Lesson: Nailing your frequency, providing value in the content you send and personalizing your messages are all important, but it all comes back to respect. The days of spray and pray marketing are over and today’s consumers expect highly-targeted messages that give them what they want when they want it. Before you send an email, ask yourself, “what value does my subscriber gain from receiving this message?” and “How can I provide the most value to the subscriber by making this relevant to them?”

2) They disengage.

If you start sending too many emails that are low-value, the most common effect is that you’ll see open and click-through rates drop. But other metrics can be impacted, too.

Return Path recently published data on how mailing frequency affects read rates and complaint rates. The charts below are from their recent ebook, “Frequency Matters: The Keys to Optimizing Email Send Frequency.”

As you can see from the charts, for many, as the email frequency increased, so did the complaints. And the read rate decreased as frequency increased. The readers’ simply didn’t keep up with the volume.

Lesson: Test your send frequency on smaller portions of your list to measure impact. Remember, getting more opens and clicks without a change in visits or revenue may not equate to anything tangible so always test before you dive it head first.

3) There’s no noticeable change.

Doubling your email sends and seeing no appreciable change would seem like a bit of a letdown, right? But it happens.

Often one portion of your subscribers will respond well to an increase in frequency. They’ll boost your sales and engagement a bit. But the other portion of your list may choose to tune out the additional emails, erasing the gains you made from the other group. The result would basically be a wash.

Lesson: An effective way to combat this is to use segmentation. Segmentation enables you to target content to exactly the right audience. You can also create segments based on custom data your contacts share with you.

4) You get more sales and engagement.

This is the outcome everybody hopes for. It’s what happened for the UK insurance company Aviva.  And they didn’t just double their email sends – they increased them by nearly twelvefold.

Aviva had been mailing only once a year, usually in the month before a customer’s annual policy expired. But after hiring the UK email agency Alchemy Worx, they developed a plan to send more emails out. Aviva did this very carefully, after:

The result?

In another example of how increasing send rate can boost engagement, digital marketing company SimpleRelevance increased the send frequency of a travel site from twice a month to weekly emails. They also added dynamic templates for customized content.

The result?

There’s an important common denominator between those two successful campaigns, and it isn’t just increasing the send frequency. Both campaigns underwent significant optimization in tandem with the increased mailing frequency. Aviva’s subscribers were surveyed to learn what content they wanted. Avivia also redesigned their newsletter. For SimpleRelevance’s client, their subscribers went from a one-size-fits-all template to dynamic content based on how subscribers responded to several channels, not just email.

Lesson: If you’re tempted to increase send frequency (especially in time for holiday shopping), it might be smart to reconsider the emails you send at the same time. Subscribers might not mind hearing from you more often, so long as your messages are valuable.

How often are other email marketers sending their emails?

The best and most recent data to answer that is from the UK Direct Marketing Association’s 2015 National Client Email report.

As you can see, the number of emails sent per month varies quite a bit.  But the largest group of marketers – 39% -send 2-3 times a month.

While good studies are always valid, they haven’t been done on the list that matters most: Yours.

How often should you send your emails?

Fortunately, there’s some data on how often people like to get emails. But remember, they didn’t ask your subscribers. The chart below from MarketingSherpa gives you an idea of optimal send frequency.

This survey was conducted in January 2015. It’s based on how 2,057 adults answered the question, “How often, if ever, would you like to receive promotional emails (e.g., coupons, sales notifications) from companies that you do business with?”

Clearly, the two most popular choices were “At least monthly” and “At least weekly.” The third most popular choice was “weekly”, and the fourth option picked most was “monthly”.

Weekly emails are so effective that many marketers send them. Monthly emails can be effective, too. But there’s always a concern that mailing monthly may be so infrequent that subscribers might forget who you are, and thus be more likely to delete your messages.

According to Return Path’s ebook, “Frequency Matters: The Keys to Optimizing Email Send Frequency”, “under mailing” can cause some thorny issues, like:

As always, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, so we encourage you to see what works best for your subscribers.

A good option is to let each subscriber control how often they get emails through a preference center.

Video marketing blog ReelSEO does a good job of this.

When a subscriber clicks through they land on a preference page that looks like this:

The preference center gives subscribers a simple way to select how frequently they want to receive emails and puts them in control of communications.

Wrap up

Changing how often you email your subscribers can have varied effects, both positive and negative. Your subscribers may:

It’s unlikely all of your subscribers will decide to do just one of those things. You’re going to get blended results. The best solution is to carefully test what works best for your list. If you decide to increase your send frequency, optimize your emails with helpful content so your subscribers get more value from receiving more emails from you.

 

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