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. 

Correlate

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.