There are many factors that can impact the success of email campaigns. Subject lines, for example, (should you include emoji?), level of personalisation, and the type of promotion included. 

Another oft-debated element is the time of day the email is sent. But with today’s ‘always on’ consumer constantly glued to tech devices, does this really matter anymore? If so, what exactly is the optimum time to reach them? 

Here’s a look at how changing user behaviour could be having an impact on email marketing, plus insight into whether send time and other tactical elements really do make a difference.

Targeting tech-addicts

Deloitte’s 2017 Global Mobile Consumer survey suggests that the average user checks their phone continually throughout the day. However, there are certain times when usage peaks – specifically first thing in the morning and last thing at night. 

89% of consumers check their phone within the first hour of waking, while 82% check it before they go to sleep. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that people are automatically looking at emails, but common sense suggests that it is quite likely.

MailChimp’s research from 2014 backs up the notion that morning is the optimum time to reach users, suggesting that 8am to 10am typically generates the most success. Similarly, Hubspot’s 2015 study suggests 11am.

But what about the growing number of people who are checking devices late at night – even throughout the night? There has been suggestion that marketers should consider this when debating send times. Experian’s 2012 study (albeit somewhat outdated now) says that 8pm to midnight leads to the highest response rates. Campaign Monitor also suggests this time is ideal for targeting users who are winding down from work and more likely to casually check their emails before bed.

Overall, it seems that while open rates might peak in the morning, meaningful action (such as click-through’s or purchases) tends to take place later on in the day. This falls in line with changing consumer behaviour, whereby people are doing their own additional research before making a purchase at a later point.

So, with technology usage at an all time high (and at all times of the day), there might not be an optimum time to reach consumers – however it is down to marketers to figure out when is the best time to reach consumers at the point when they are most likely to react. 

The impact of mobile

Econsultancy’s Email Marketing Best Practice Guide suggests that the old B2B adage of ‘send in time for the recipient to be sitting at their desk’ no longer applies. This is unsurprising, given the rise of mobile, and 54% of email now being opened on a smartphone

The rise of mobile also means that, along with those people checking emails from their bed, many are also taking the opportunity to multitask on their morning commute, sorting out their email inbox as they also listen to music, browse the internet, and check social media apps.

Despite this, research suggests that marketers could still be failing to optimise their emails for mobile – which could be hugely impacting mobile conversions. A study by Movable Ink (which Marketing Week also highlights) found that while 71% of marketing emails were opened on mobile in Q1 2015, just 25% of conversions occurred on this device (compared to 39% on desktop).

From short subject lines to button sizes, there are many ways to optimise emails for mobile. When it comes to reaching on-the-go consumers, it is clear that having a mobile-first strategy is vital.

Don’t dismiss the weekend

While it’s important that emails are designed for small screens, it’s also helpful for marketers to consider other factors that might make emails more engaging at varying times of the day or on different days of the week.

For example, though the weekend is not typically thought of as a good time to send emails (many studies report the weekend as generating the lowest open rates) – users who do open emails at this time tend to show greater levels of engagement. 

For brands that include in-depth content in emails, this means that the weekend should not necessarily be seen as a no-go area. Quite the opposite in fact, as it could be the best time to reach people when they are more open and willing to spend time reading, watching, or clicking through to further browse.

Meeting expectations

Users might be more willing to engage with emails at certain times of the day, but do their expectations of email content impact success?

According to Monetate, the answer is a firm yes, with 83% of customers now expecting brands to personalise experiences for them. Experian also suggests that personalised emails deliver 6x higher transaction rates.

One way to meet this need is through real-time marketing – which essentially refers to email that is triggered by specific consumer behaviour, e.g. an abandoned basket, or using data such as weather or past purchases to push a related offer.

Conveniently for marketers, this somewhat negates the time of day question, as it will always depend on the contextual circumstances of the recipient. Meanwhile, it also ensures that emails will be highly relevant and more tailored towards the user’s specific needs.

Key takeaways

So, what do email marketers need to remember?

There is not one optimum send time – only insight, based on demographics, past-engagement, and so on. Many ESPs now have a function called Send Time Optimisation (STO), which allows emails to be sent at a time when they’re most likely to be read (based on past experience).

All devices are equal. Sure, desktop might lead to more conversions, or mobile might generate better open rates, but marketers should take all devices and channels in to consideration, and optimise for all in order to account for shifting user behaviour. 

Context trumps timing. Again, negating the argument that send time is one of the most important factors, contextual data and insight is likely to lead to greater engagement. With real-time triggers creating hyper-relevant and personalised emails – it’s surely a no brainer for marketers looking to improve campaign success.

Nikki Gilliland

Published 22 January, 2018 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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