How often should you be emailing your subscribers? It's a question we get asked all the time. The quick answer is 'as much as they will let you' because we know that sending more email increases revenue. But it's not that simple.
Indiscriminately ramping up your send frequency without any strategic thought is easy. Making your subscribers happy to receive more of your emails is hard. One works, the other doesn't.
So this month we'd like to offer some competitor analysis of the effective use of increased frequency from well-known clothing brand, Boden.
Understanding the value of competitor analysis
First, how can we offer this type of analysis if Boden aren't one of our clients? With access to Return Path's Inbox Insight Tool. It uses a multi-million-person subscriber panel across more than 250 ISPs to gather send and read data for 100,000s campaigns every month across the US and UK.
Of course, read volumes and send volumes can only tell you so much. But we do know from over 10 years of analysis that opens are a much better proxy for revenue than open rates. And they do offer insight into some of the tactics used to effectively increase send frequency and send volume. That's something we can't usually talk about because it uses confidential client data.
Boden's high-frequency email campaigns
Boden have been running high-frequency email campaigns for years. So when their 4-day tiered sale won our Subscribers Choice Award in Q2, we did some competitor analysis to see if sending 4 emails in 5 days had any impact on the visible metrics - send and read volume.
We analyzed every email sent by Boden over a 3-month period surrounding this promotion. Combining read volumes with send volumes gave us the following chart:
The second spike at the end of March is the 4-day tiered sale. From the 2nd March up until the start of the sale on the 21st, Boden sent 5 emails in 19 days - or 1 email every 3.8 days. For the sale itself they sent 4 emails in 7 days- 1 every 1.75 days.
A similar strategy was used towards the end of February, the first spike in the graph. From the 2nd February until the 25th, they sent 5 emails in 23 days 1 every 4.6 days. And for the sale they sent 3 emails in 5 days- 1 in every 1.75 days.
In both cases a burst of frequency - effectively more than doubling the send volume over a very short time period - nearly doubled the number of opens. Or to put that another way, doubled the number of times the content of the email was seen.
The chart above displays the same read and send data from January up until August. The send volume and open volume graphs track each other closely. Granted, read rates will take a slight hit but the increase in read volume is what's important. It's likely that the increased volume includes a significant proportion of subscribers reading an email in that campaign for the first time.
So what about deliverability? One of the biggest barriers to sending more email is the fear that it will increase the rate of unsubscribes or spam complaints. However, the same data shows no discernible impact on inbox placement or spam complaints. In spite (or perhaps because) of this high frequency strategy, Boden have very high inbox placement and very low spam complaint rates. Interestingly, the highest levels of frequency also coincide with Boden's biggest discounts. So is it the offer or the frequency driving the opens?
Frequency must be proportionate to value
When Boden increase the value in their emails, such as a great discount or sale, subscribers not only tolerate a higher frequency but appear to respond positively to it. Clever structuring of the mechanics of an offer, such as a tiered sale or x offers in x days, provide the reason to increase frequency, which in turn increases the potential reach of that offer. What's more, because the offer and creative don''t have to change significantly, the resource required to create multiple emails is minimal.
And finally, the ebb and flow of the cadence breaks up the monotony of an email that lands consistently at the same time every week or month. Change often generates a lift in response simply by breaking an established pattern, something we shall be blogging about shortly.
Effectively increasing frequency is hard
So contrary to popular opinion, successfully sending more email is much harder than sending less. It takes greater skill in strategy, creative, offers, subject lines, reporting & analysis, data management, list building and even deliverability. Tactics such as segmentation and targeting, far from being used to reduce frequency, should be cleverly employed to increase the number of opportunities a customer has to interact with a brand. The only 100% certainty in email marketing is a subscriber cannot engage with an email they don't receive.
Methodology Using data from Return Path's Inbox Insight tool, Alchemy Worx conducted this study by examining the inbox placement, reads, deletes and spam complaints of 487 Boden email campaigns sent from 1 January to 10 September 2013.