How Many Marketing Emails is Too Many?

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In our estimation, the twenty year history of email marketing can be charted into three distinct time periods. Each time period is marked by a unique theory about best email marketing practices.

Stage One

In the very early days, the wild west of email marketing, companies could send as many emails as they wanted to. Email was so new and consumers were just getting used to the medium as a way to keep themselves aware of what deals and promotions were available. It was so new and effective that consumers were very responsive.

Stage Two

This early stage gave way to the crowded inbox period. This period is marked by an increasing consumer desire to eliminate clutter. Companies, for the first time, were seen as sending unwanted emails that we, as consumers, didn’t ask for. Email because a primary source of all kinds of communication – friends, coworkers, etc. And marketing and promotional emails were just noise in an already crowded channel.

In this middle period, companies were put on notice. Too many emails would get you on the blacklist. Consumers were eager to unsubscribe and hit the spam button. Marketers had to be more cautious, which ended up leading to higher quality – both in terms of email content and strategy.

It also led Google, and other email providers to develop better processes and filters to design email that was more convenient for the end user. That meant separating promotional emails from other types of emails.

Stage Three

Now we are entering, or have entered, a third stage of email marketing. This third stage is designed around these new filters and folders, where consumers have more choice and more control. The companies that are winning with email marketing now have responded to consumer demand and behavior, earning and working to maintain constant authority from their customer base, who actively subscribe to emails that they receive value from.

The bad thing is that companies that never figured out how to win with email are now lost. The good news, though, is that for the companies that managed to successfully transition or develop smart email programs for this stage are performing even better than before.

Recent reports attribute up to 40x returns on email marketing investment. It remains the marketing channel with the single highest ROI.

How Many is Too Many

The question of how many emails is too many is one that each company has to answer for themselves. And that’s why it’s a question we all have. Because there is no best practice solution, no answer that I, or any other expert can offer.

So long as you are delivering value, and seeing the response rate required to exceed your investment in the medium, you can keep sending those emails. So long as you are personalizing the experience for your users, segmenting and scheduling your sends so that emails have a purpose, meeting or exceeding consumer expectations, you will continue to succeed.

No amount of marketing emails is too much if you are keeping your subscribers happy.

The Case for More Emails

Email marketers are worried. We are worried about people unsubscribing from your lists. We are worried that email service providers are going to blacklist us as spammers.

And so we are cautious. We don’t send as many emails as we’d like, because we don’t want to piss people off.

But I’m here to make the case that we should be sending more emails. That means more frequent sends.

First, a couple of truths:

  1. Frequency is the number one reason people unsubscribe.
  2. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to email frequency.
  3. Studies show that the more emails a person receives from a brand, the more likely they are to take action.

Based on the above, it is clear that we need to strike a balance between sending too often, and not often enough. But to air on the side of caution, and send only as many as you believe you can “get away with” misses a large opportunity.

Your subscribers will tell you when you reach the limit.

As long as you are measuring engagement metrics, you can keep sending more and more often until you reach your threshold. You’ll know when you have sent too much, and you can scale back from there.

We don’t need to rely on intuition, or gut instinct, or fear to guide our email marketing strategy. We can rely on hard data. If your unsubscribe rate is low, send more. Measure performance. If it stays low, send more.

There is no reason to be worried.

Email Marketing – What is the Right Frequency?

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The most common reason that people complain or unsubscribe from a brand’s emails is that they never asked to be sent an email. But right after that, it is “too many emails”.

So if you’re implementing an email marketing program, or just updating an existing one, how often should I send my emails should be one of the first questions you answer. This chart shows a recent ReturnPath study of email behavior:

  • Sending more than weekly is better for your complaint rate but worse for getting in the inbox. It had no impact on read rate (open rate).
  • Sending weekly is better for getting in the inbox but worse for your complaint rate. It also had no impact on read rate.
  • But sending less than weekly had a positive impact on inbox placement, complaint rate, and read rate.

So start with that information. For some companies, sending more or less frequently will be preferred (even a requirement). For example, Groupon sends every single day (multiple emails).

The general rule for you should be less is more. The less you send, the better the response might be on each email. But it is important to keep testing the days and times you send, to see if you can build in more frequent emails without negatively impacting results.