inbox with a ridiculous number of unread messages (10,652)
PHOTO: Gideon Tsang // CC BY SA 2.0

Emails represent a critical marketing tool for many organizations. But while a single email may go unseen because the person is too busy or just overlooks it, sending too many emails will result in the person ignoring the message, flagging it as spam or blocking all future emails. What's a marketer to do?

No Magic Formula for Email Frequency

"There’s no perfect email sending frequency or cadence that marketers should follow,” said Sam Rexford, Chillreptile head of content. While various websites offer benchmarks for marketing frequency, Rexford calls such benchmarks nonsense.

“If you have a deep understanding of your audience, why they subscribe to your content, and what they hope to get out of that content, you can begin to test frequency to find the right cadence for your brand," said Rexford. “I know marketers that send emails to their list daily, and some that hit their list two to three times per day, and their audiences eat it up. Why? Because they subscribed to consume specific content, and as long as that content remains valuable to them, they will stick around.”

The key is adding value with amazing content, but Rexford cautioned, that doesn’t mean constantly selling the audience, but providing your audience with insights, education and information that will truly benefit them and help them overcome the big problems they are facing.

“If you can position yourself as an authority in your field that can help your audience level up their game, they will continue to consume your content and open your emails,” Rexford said.

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Keep Emails Short, Punchy and ... Fun?

If the emails do add value, then an organization can email three-to-four times a week, according to Mike Miller, founder of Wilderness Times.

“Most emails are drab and nauseating, and provide no solid takeaways from reading them,” Miller said. “Now that I think about it, it seems the majority of marketing emails I get are nothing more than advertisements or coupon codes. Instead, write something that your readers will enjoy reading. Make it so that they look forward to opening your emails. Always include a call to action or pitch, but make sure the email is fun.”

Multiple, shorter, more focused emails are better than longer, more wordy emails, especially in today’s short attention span culture, according to Miller, who sees email as a happy medium between a tweet and a blog — short enough to read them on the train, but long enough to effectively deliver a message.

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'Let Your Customers Drive the Pace'

The prospect’s journey state is one of the most important determinations of optimal email frequency, according to David LaVine, founder of RocLogic Marketing, LLC.

“When they’re in learning mode they’re much more likely to be interested in gobbling up information at a quick pace than if they just got done making a large purchase or if they won’t be making a decision for several years out,” LaVine explained. “Also, some people prefer to go out and find the information they want, while others prefer to have it presented to them. When it comes to content alignment, if you send too many irrelevant emails mixed in with relevant emails, over time your audience will start to ignore your email altogether and eventually unsubscribe.”

For potential customers who are closer to making a purchase, incorporate a flexible and personalized frequency based on their interests and engagement, LaVine added. “Your main goal is to move toward letting your potential customer drive the pace.”

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Context Matters

“I would focus on the context: transactional (orders, customer service updates) vs. marketing (promotions, sales),” said Kent Lewis, founder of Anvil Media, Inc. “Both should be tested for optimal response rates and positive customer feedback. The results will vary by companies, even in the same industry or city.”

Lewis said the average ecommerce transaction may generate several emails: order confirmation, shipping status, arrival confirmation followed by a request to review, take a survey or for customer service to check in. However, that same ecommerce brand may only contact select database contacts for annual sales or monthly newsletters.

He added that industry is another important consideration. For example, an ecommerce retailer or manufacturer may hit its contact database with daily or weekly emails featuring new or sale products and have little or no subscriber loss. Conversely, a business-to-business equipment manufacturer may lose subscribers if it sends more frequently than monthly or even quarterly emails.

Related Article: The Next Evolution in Email Marketing: Beyond Personalization

Put the Power in Your Prospect's Inboxes

One thing marketers agree on is this: reactions to emails will vary between different prospects and customers. While some people will welcome emails, particularly those of value, others will find a brand's email frequency doesn’t meet their needs — either falling under the too much or too little bucket.

So the key to frequency is making sure the subscriber is expecting the number of emails you are sending, said Jeff Moriarty, marketing manager for Moriarty's Gem Art.

“When they sign up to subscribe, you should give them options. For example, a weekly newsletter, or a deal of the day newsletter,” Moriarity says. “If they subscribe to either, they know ahead of time how many emails they are going to receive. If they are expecting less and you are sending more than they thought they approved of, they are going to remove you. So for circumstances such as that, if they click to unsubscribe, make sure to give them other options, such as less frequency, but put exactly the amount of emails they will receive.”