Did you ever know someone who was over keen? Who didn’t respect your space? Maybe they had something valid to say, but in the end you just had too much and tried to avoid them somehow?

As marketers, we have to be careful not to fall into this category with our email campaigns. It’s a fine line between staying top of mind with your reader and, well, bugging them. Quite simply if you “blast” them with too many newsletters, your image will suffer and eventually they’ll probably either unsubscribe or hit spam.

He’s Just Not That Into You

Email frequency has been found to be the most important reason for unsubscribing from a newsletter for consumers, cited as driving over a third of opt-outs. How many people just hit delete and emotionally unsubscribe? Yet 65 percent of email marketers don’t differentiate email frequency by customer according to AgilOne. And 60 percent of marketers don’t offer email preferences (pdf) (such as frequency) to customers according to Experian Marketing.

We all know that scarcity breeds perceived value: diamonds, drugs, alcohol, limited edition, whatever ... and this holds true for email marketing: < = > or in longhand: less can equal more. Finding the email frequency sweet spot is a bit of a Holy Grail for marketers -- just enough to keep readers stimulated, but not too much to annoy them.

Slice and Dice


A single optimal email frequency is a bit like a single pair of jeans that flatter everyone: it doesn’t exist! Marketers can take notes from the launch of Levi’s Curve ID jeans to suit different body shapes -- to get a better fit they offer different options.

Similarly a one-size-fits-all email frequency isn’t optimal. Your enthusiasts will be hungry for more and your more relaxed subscribers will be overstuffed. It makes good sense that it’s better to tailor your mailing frequency to how engaged your reader is.

The more they’re into you, the more they’ll want to hear from you. That way their level of interest and the frequency of your emails are in sync. The trick is to break down or segment your subscribers into several groups according to their level of engagement.

Behavioral Indicators of engagement include:

  • Time since last purchase (within the last month, between three to six months ago, more than six months ago, etc.)
  • Value of last purchase
  • Social network interaction with your brand: followers on Twitter, fans on Facebook, pinners on Pinterest, product review on your website, etc.
  • Open and click through rates

Test to Know What Works Best

Having segmented your database by levels of engagement, how do you know how often to mail? By testing. “The classic way to know if it’s working is to test it. Never trust your hunches.” says Paul de Fombelle, general manager of Mailify, Latin America and Spain.

Say you currently mail everyone in your database every week, whoever they are. You take two random representative groups and mail group A every two weeks and group B you continue with every week. (Group B is the control group.) For the month of June 2014 this would give for example:


After a couple of weeks you could compare the two groups to see how they reacted to the email campaigns. Classic metrics to follow are: the unsubscribe rate, unique opens, click throughs and purchases. According to what’s more important to you, you’d see which group reacted better. And following this, you could send the winning frequency to the rest of your 800 customers. Send your emails at the same time and on same day to keep these variables constant (otherwise different times and days could pollute your results.)

Empower Your Subscribers

Email marketing is sometimes compared to having a conversation with your subscribers. But if you’re having a conversation, you should listen to the other person. So an alternative way to managing frequency is by giving your readers the choice in their email preferences.

For example, King Arthur Flour is up front about what you can expect on the frequency and content:

king arthur flour.png

And Fab presents email frequency settings in a neat way below:


You can also take a proactive approach, such as the one by TopMan below to wake up your "sleeping" subscribers and thus clean your database of the emotionally unsubscribed. These readers may even remember why they subscribed in the first place if you give them some special attention.


Key Takeaways

  • There’s no hard and fast rule for email frequency. It’s specific to your business, database and readers’ level of engagement.
  • Test to know your subscribers' preferred frequency.
  • In general the more actively the reader engages with you, the higher the frequency of the newsletter
  • Email preferences put your customers in the driving seat and let them decide their frequency.

Jeans Image from Potamos photography

Title image by Eric Isselee (Shutterstock)