Too Much of Good Thing?


Written by Account Executive, Kim Chapman

A debate in the email-marketing world has been going on for over a decade: how often to send out emails.

When brushing up on my research, I found advice/factoids concerning this topic from the early 2000s all the way up to this past month. Here are some tidbits:

  • At a minimum, communicate with your customers once a month. If not, you are not staying top of mind.
  • Send e-blasts a maximum of once per week; click-thrus and opens both drop dramatically once you get more frequent than weekly.
  • Declining open rates could signify an increase of indifference towards your brand, possibly caused by over-mailing.
  • If you’re considering an email campaign more frequent than once per week, you have to ask yourself whether the information is really that time sensitive.
  • At a minimum, you should send weekly if you are selling a product or service.

While some of this information is helpful, it seems a bit contradictory. So what’s a marketer to do?

I also stumbled across a live debate post between two HubSpot marketers: Sam Mallikarjunan, Manager of Experimental Marketing, and Dan Zarrella, “Social Media Scientist.” Sam believes too much emailing leads to attrition. Dan says that, in general, sending more email is better.

At one point, Sam states that one of the main reasons people unsubscribe is because of excessive emailing. Dan counters by saying something interesting: That people do not know why they do what they do. In other words, they aren’t unsubscribing because they are getting too many emails. They are unsubscribing because they are getting too many irrelevant emails.

He goes on to say that there is no drop-off in click-thru rates whether you are sending one or 30 emails a month, and that unsubscribe rates actually decrease the more email you send. (The reason for this, according to Dan, is that if people are going to unsubscribe, it’s going to be after they’ve received the first couple of emails, because they genuinely have no interest. If people are interested though, and they become used to the emails, they are unlikely to unsubscribe, no matter what the frequency.) Dan’s main point is this: The key is not frequency. The key is relevance and value. To drive this home, he alludes to the fact that there need be no frequency cap as long as there is relevance and value. While this may be a slightly extreme statement, his point seems to make sense to me.

There has been many times when I’ve unsubscribed from a marketer who is sending me frequent emails. BUT, it’s always because the marketer isn’t relevant to me, and/or the emails don’t have enough value. If there were a marketer out there that provided relevant value, I would welcome his or her emails any day of the week. Oh, wait. I do. And so do tons of other people. Sites such as Groupon and Daily Candy are perfect examples. And there are many more. Gilt tempts fashionistas daily with designer fashion sales, while mom-targeting Zoolilly offers daily sales on top-quality apparel, gear and other goodies for moms, babies and kids.

Of course, no two marketers are the same, and testing is important. Then you can analyze, segment and treat your different segments accordingly.

Here are some considerations for marketers:

  • Actives (people who open your emails all the time): Send them emails more frequently
  • Recent subscribers: Use concentrated efforts to solidify the relationship and keep your brand top of mind
  • Recent purchasers: Email them soon after purchase with “thank you”/discount offer

For people who aren’t active, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and assume that too many emails are being sent, or that these customers are no good (assuming your list has been scrubbed). Always consider relevance and value before frequency. Maybe it’s as simple as re-assessing your message or offers for these customers.