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How much email is too much email? That is the question.

Marketers need to strike a fine balance between staying top of mind and relevant to their customers without overwhelming them or coming across as spammy.

The frequency in which companies send email messages varies depending on the industry, business model and time of year, and should also be influenced by targeting and segmentation.

Ultimately each company will have their own formula for email marketing, but there are still some useful case studies available that can act as a starting point for testing new campaigns.

One that recently arrived in my inbox came courtesy of insurance company Aviva, which achieved a 48% increase in the number of car and home insurance quotes requested by prospective customers after adopting a ‘send more email’ approach.

Previously Aviva had only contacted prospects in the month before they were due to renew their policy, but the insurer embarked on a new campaign in 2013 to reach out to prospective customers more often and throughout the year.

After analysing metrics from Aviva’s previous campaigns, email agency Alchemy Worx estimated that Aviva could at least double the proportion of prospects clicking on its emails each year by changing its contact strategy.

Email frequency was increased incrementally after conducting surveys to determine what type of content users wanted in a newsletter, what elements of insurance were most important to them and what their perceptions were of email and frequency.

The programme afforded Aviva the opportunity to promote the benefits of its products in much greater breadth and allowed the company to include useful information on factors to consider when choosing an insurance policy. 

Click here to see a full size version of one of Aviva's emails

In addition to product-focused messages, the programme included a content-driven newsletter with value-added content such as tips for looking after your car or property.

This new strategy resulted in a quadrupling of both the number of unique clicks (304%) and total clicks (292%) from the emails sent.

But while an increase in email frequency proved to be successful for Aviva, these two studies show that the opposite can also be true...

Frequency is more important than relevance

According to a survey by BlueHornet more than a third (35.4%) of consumers site frequency as the main reason they unsubscribe from email newsletter.

The study also found that almost half (47.1%) of respondents would always or sometimes ‘opt-down’ and receive fewer emails rather than hit the unsubscribe button, if that option were on offer.

The survey was administered to a national panel of 1,002 consumers across the US between the ages 25 and 40.

Frequency goes up, engagement goes down

A study from MailChimp has established that frequency and engagement are negatively correlated, meaning that as marketers send email more frequently their customers tend to engage less with each campaign.

The methodology was quite complex, but essentially it looked at the click rate for marketers that had substantially varied their send frequency over time.

The results showed that the campaign click rate decreased as email frequency increased.

Here are the results from two companies, which shows the impact that frequency has on engagement:

Example 1 

Example 2

So which approach is best?

In reality there isn't a concrete answer to this question. Email frequency is influenced by a range of factors, as mentioned at the top of this post.

The best advice is to test your email marketing and segment your audience so that messages are tailored to customer behaviour.

As Tim Roe explained in his post on why ‘more email means more money’, marketers stand to benefit from sending additional, targeted campaigns to their most responsive customers. 

Frequency isn’t just about sending more or less emails to everyone; it’s about sending the right amount of emails, to the right people.

Finally, marketers should also try altering their email frequency depending on the time of year. For example, guest bloggers Andrew King and Parry Malm have both discussed the merits of increasing email messaging in the lead up to Christmas.

David Moth

Published 20 January, 2014 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1682 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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Christopher Payne

Thanks for publishing these charts. Very helpful information on email blast frequency. It seems multiple lists to let the user choose is the best option in retaining email viewers and getting a good bang for your buck.

over 2 years ago

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Locksmith Queens NY

Thank you very much for the info.

You helped me a lot.

Thx for sharing

over 2 years ago

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Jakob Nielsen

I don't think the two parts of this article contradict each other.

Aviva didn't as much change its mailing frequency as it changed its email content strategy, to introduce an email newsletter. Previously, it only sent out a transactional email once per year. (Which would equate to 0.08 sends per month in the MailChimp charts.)

Within the content format of an email newsletter, a too-high frequency would indeed drive unsubscribes and reduced engagement for those customers who remained on the list. But introducing a newsletter (which they reportedly didn't have before) wouldn't necessarily be seen as too much email, since it's a new content format.

So rather than purely counting the number of email messages sent, one should differentiate between different types of messages (transactional, useful content newsletter, pure promotions). Each type certainly has its limits for "too much", but they are different media formats (with different user experience) even if they are all delivered by email.

over 2 years ago

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John Fleming - Marketing Director Webtrends

I think that this article demonstrates that there are no general rules which can be attached to email sending. What is good for one is not good for someone else. There are so many contributing factors that make successful email campaigns. The old adage of sending the right message to the right person at the right time still holds true but is easier said than done.
Whilst segmentation and personalisation seem 'old hat' it is now more important than ever to use these techniques as people are self selecting which emails to open even though they may have opted in to receive them. Having recently conducted a straw poll in the office I found that over 60% of people have more than 100 unread emails in their personal inboxes - a true reflection of this practice.
Personalisation and segmentation has come along way since the early days, its no longer just gender, age and including the prospects first name in the body of the email - using recent and past behaviours from browser history and past email opens as well as past purchase history coupled with big data feeds (geo-location, social media likes etc) the message can be much more focused and personal with the likelihood of conversion increases accordingly.

over 2 years ago

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Zettasphere

The same metrics are not being compared which is why the results apparently contradict.

The first measures the total amount of traffic across *all* campaigns whereas the second is measuring campaign metrics.

If total campaigns has gone up, then even if open rate was to decrease, more traffic can still be generated.

The real question here is how to measure engagement. Classic campaign metrics, open rate, click rate are not good business success measures when you start adding in frequency as a variable.

This post explains why and provides a better way to measure engagement http://www.zettasphere.com/the-problem-with-classic-email-campaign-metrics/

over 2 years ago

Adele Ghantous

Adele Ghantous, Managing Director at Lapis Angularis

This article demonstrates that testing is key... something that email marketing experts have been saying for many years. Every brand is different and consumer interactions with the brand will vary. So to identify the best frequency, day of week and time of day, marketers have to put in a lot if effort to test these various tactics. Add to that content types, the process becomes more complex. At the end of the day, we go back to the same old recommendation: test, test, test... and test regularly as behavior will change over time.

over 2 years ago

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Rene

Isn't main point missing, which John from MailChimp made? I think it's not that engagement and frequency are negatively correlated, because this is sth that every email sender knows intuitively. However, the main point is: there is a point of maximum of traffic, which you can draw from a campaign, and it's neither the point of maximum nor minimum frequency: http://www.emailmarketingtipps.de/2013/04/25/whats-your-best-email-frequency-heres-the-math/

over 2 years ago

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Simon Robinson, Senior Director Marketing & Alliances EMEA at Responsys

A batch and blast approach will only end up breaking brand loyalty when modern consumers expect personalised content that is relevant to their interests and preferences. With the customer and marketplace constantly changing, marketers cannot rest on their laurels. Indeed, if they assume audiences’ likes and dislikes, marketers risk delivering content that is poorly targeted against individual interests. Therefore, email testing is essential – not to confirm existing assumptions, but to look for new trends and consumer behaviours that will inform the marketing campaign. Find out and deliver content that is relevant to your customers – whether that be product information, sales information or even editorial content – and you’ll achieve the one-to-one engagements that will ultimately lead to long-term customer loyalty.

over 2 years ago

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