**This post has been updated as of February 2019**
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.
Should promotional emails feel like promotions?
Before we discuss the data, it’s important to consider what promotional emails really are. Should your emails feel like ads? Should you blast subscribers with content about your latest product?
The answer, of course, is no. Promotional emails can and should illustrate the value of your product, but they should do so in a thoughtful and organic way.
Ways to promote your product in an organic way:
- Interesting blog posts
- Customer stories
- Birthday emails
Interesting blog posts
Interesting blog content is a simple way to elevate your brand. If your email promises to answer a relevant question your subscribers have, they’ll be more likely to open your message and click through to your content.
Not only does this raise brand awareness, but if users feel endeared to your brand or know what sorts of services you offer, they’ll be more likely to purchase from you in the future.
Customer stories are a way to share authentic examples directly to your subscribers. By sharing customer stories, your subscribers can instantly see what they’ll get with your brand, as well as what they’re missing.
Plus, if you feature familiar companies, subscribers may be more inclined to trust your business and what you offer.
Sometimes we even include customer stories in our own branding, because they really work. See our Morning Brew customer story for an example of how to create your own.
Similar to customer stories, testimonials provide genuine stories from real customers. However, testimonials are often more snackable. Instead of an in-depth data dive, testimonials give subscribers quick insight into why they should use your product.
Testimonials can be as simple as a quote from a thought leader, or they can have a ton of production value behind them. Video testimonials are a great example of snackable, valuable content with high production value.
Did you recently update your website, release new products, or discover exciting news about the business? If so, this is a perfect update to share with your customers.
Long-form content like white pages and blog posts are great for updates, but news doesn’t have to be shared this way. You can easily share an update in a few sentences and couple your message with a powerful CTA for great results.
Birthday emails are an upbeat way to promote your product in a way that doesn’t feel too salesy.
In order to gain your subscribers’ birthday data, simply include a birthdate section in your sign up form. Alternatively, you can send a survey to your subscribers asking for this information.
Once you have the birthdays, send an automated email based on your subscribers’ birthdates. This email should include a freebie or coupon. Not only will this show customers you care, but it encourages sales.
Now that we’ve discussed some organic avenues for promotional emails, let’s discuss the data: how subscribers feel about email frequency and promotions.
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:
- Surveying subscribers to see what kinds of content they would most like to receive
- Increasing the mail frequency slowly
- 48% more requested insurance quotes
- 304% more unique clicks
- 45% more email revenue
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.
- 278% increase in average monthly pageviews
- 60% fewer bounces in email sends
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 promotional emails?
We’ve covered what happens when you over- or under-send emails. So, where’s the sweet spot? The chart below from MarketingSherpa gives you an idea of optimal send frequency.
In this January 2015 survey, 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?”
The top four choices in order from most to least were: “At least monthly,” “At least weekly,” “weekly,” and “monthly”.
Weekly emails are so effective that this is most common with marketers. 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.
Let your subscribers choose.
As Digital Marketers, we know that that data is the holy grail of successful email marketing. Metrics can tell us a crazy amount about our audience, but we can learn a lot about tailoring our approach directly from subscribers.
A good option is to let each subscriber control how often they get emails through a preference center.
Video marketing blog Tubular Insights does a good job of this.
The bottom of their emails looks like this:
When a subscriber clicks through on the link that reads “update subscription preferences,” 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.
This is helpful for a few reasons:
- It allows your audience to engage—and therefore invest their time, even if it’s just a few seconds—with your brand.
- It takes the guessing out of list segmentation. Let a subscriber tell you what they want from your company before it gets to them unsubscribing or any of the other unfortunate consequences of too frequent emailing.
- It shows that you respect them and their preferences. Letting your audience know that you care about their needs and wishes is the cornerstone of relationship-building.
Changing how often you email your subscribers can have varied effects, both positive and negative. Your subscribers may:
- Engage less often
- Engage more often
- Engage with additional emails at the same rate as they had before
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.
Use data on your unique audience to optimize your email content and frequency. Remember that giving your subscribers high-value content when they want it is the key to getting the most ROI out of your email marketing efforts.
Want more about promotional emails? Check out our email marketing essentials for the scoop on every other aspect of directing a powerful, successful campaign.
**This article was originally posted September 1, 2015**