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An important question on the mind of the modern email marketer is: 'how often can I send marketing emails to my list?'

It’s not surprising really; online sales hit record highs this Christmas and New Year, email is now a core revenue-driving channel and is proving to be very important.  

So how do you manage that fine balance between short term revenue and longer term list value, to make the most of the sales potential now and protect the value of your list for the future?

In this post I will set out the key elements to consider when deciding who to send to and how often.

The recent introduction of email priority schemes by many of the webmail clients has changed the email landscape somewhat. These schemes are primarily focused on improving the user experience of the recipient, by helping them manage an increasing volume of opted in email. This email (known as Bacn) differs from spam, in that it is (or was) wanted, but just not at the moment. Unfortunately this is the category that most marketing emails fall into and the challenge is not about getting into the inbox, but it’s what inbox we get into!

A recent report by Return Path noted that 81% of the Gmail accounts it analysed had Priority Inbox enabled, and only 17% of the inbox was deemed as 'priority'. In creating these processes, the ISP’s are attempting to help the recipient, by looking at how they treat the mail, and use this information to decide how to prioritise it in the future. It doesn’t take too much of a leap to link someone ignoring your emails, with your emails eventually becoming de-prioritised.     

Defining engagement

All emails addresses are created equal, but some become more equal than others. Email lists are full of different types of recipient, from the most avid opener and clicker, to the email that has been on the list several years, but is yet to see any activity. The split between active and inactive can at first be quite a scary metric. It’s not uncommon for a list (that has not previously segmented by engagement) to have half its volume showing no activity for the previous twelve months. So this is where you start, segment your list into groups of people who have opened or clicked an email, and how recently they have done it (30 days, 60 days or 90 days) - then of course those who have done nothing plus how long they have been in the list. 


Unless you get paid for clicks and opens, the next stage of the process is very important. Correlating these email engagement segments with sales data such as RFM (Recency of purchase, Frequency of purchase, Monetary value of customer) will show you which segments are most closely related to sales. In my experience, where an email address is available, a majority of repeat online sales come from recipients who are actively opening or clicking your emails.

The logic of using engagement segmentation to manage email frequency is that if they are reading your emails, they are interested and engaged and can be influenced. If they can be influenced, you can persuade them to buy. By focusing increased communication frequency on the most valuable section of the data base, you are chasing the money and the results will be an increase in sales. 

Of course, targeted, relevant, personally engaging content, could also keep your audience opening and clicking your emails. But to achieve this on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, for your entire email list, would be a tough proposition. Using email engagement to manage frequency is the easiest way to obtain the most from your list while protecting its future value.  

Managing frequency

Mailing too often, is closely linked to unsubscribe or complaints and can frequently cause previously active recipients to stop opening your emails. It is still possible to reactivate these emails that have not responded for quite some time, simply by giving them a rest. Take the email addresses that have not responded in any way for the last twelve months (or whatever you have defined as inactive by your previous analysis), and allow them to lie fallow for two or three times their normal mailing frequency.  It is surprising how often this technique works, with someone who hasn’t opened or clicked an email for 18 months, suddenly responding to a campaign after a rest for a month or two.  

Refine the rules

Nothing is set in stone, especially if your product or service has specific peaks during the year, or specific stages of the customer lifecycle. Baring this in mind it is important to understand when the different customers are more or less likely to be interested in receiving emails from you. Ok, not an easy thing to do, but the uplift achieved by these sophisticated plans and programmes make the extra time spent on the strategy and the tactical implementation, worth it.

Testing is also very important to refine the segmentation. Once you have identified several significant engagement and value segments, testing differing frequency and content strategies will help you squeeze the maximum value out of your list. By focusing on the most engaged and valuable customers, you will obtain far better uplift in sales for your investment than if you try to wring value from the lapsed segment of your database.  

In conclusion, sending more marketing emails is a great way to drive extra sales in the New Year - and using engagement segmentation and RFM, you’ll know who to send them to.

Tim Roe

Published 9 January, 2012 by Tim Roe

Tim Roe is Director of Data and Deliverability at Redeye International and a contributor to Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via LinkedIn

22 more posts from this author

Comments (3)



Great article Tim.

almost 5 years ago


James Frost, Managing Director at Coastdigital Limited

Enjoyed this, thanks. Particularly interested in the Priority Inbox 81% comment and the Managing Frequency "lie fallow" recommendation.

almost 5 years ago

Tim Roe

Tim Roe, Deliverability and Compliance Director at RedEyeEnterprise

Thanks for the comments; I was also quite surprised by the Return Path figures on Priority Inbox usage. Using Microsoft SNDS and Return Path tools we have done extensive testing and monitoring on the effect that online engagement has on inbox placement. Although the priority inboxes do make the identification of the “default” setting for any particular IP address harder to gauge with regards to folder placement.

This is due to the settings being user defined and more individual than the general settings the ISP’s used in the past. I think it is now more important to use open/click/revenue data on an individual level, to monitor engagement. The consumer is now in control and they’ll only have the stuff they like, in the inbox.

almost 5 years ago

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