The new email marketing: it's all in the...timing

Latest posts | Feed | By Mark Brownlow

various clockfacesPart 12 of an ongoing series...

(We're looking at the strategies and tactics that distinguish a smart email marketer from a bulk email marketer. See the New Email Marketing index page to access the rest of the series.)

The ancient Greeks had most aspects of life covered. Including email marketing*. In his seminal poem "Works and Days", Hesiod wrote:

"Observe due measure, for right timing is in
all things the most important factor."

The right message to the right person is only the right message to the right person if it arrives at the right time. So email marketing has always posed the million dollar question, "What is the right time to send my email?"

The result is hundreds of articles and blog posts on "the best time to send," "the best day to send" and the "best frequency for my emails."

The new email marketing asks the same question...but answers it differently. Not with a day of the week, or a time of the day, or a publication frequency, but with another question. A broader and more relevant one:

"When is the recipient most likely to respond to an email?"

Once again, much of email marketing is about asking the right questions before looking for the answers.

When you ask this question, you immediately see how timing is tied up with other key elements of your strategy: what you send and who you target.

And since timing is so intimately connected with content and targeting, anything you do to improve the last two reduces the burden on the first.

Which means all the things associated with ensuring relevancy, whether through simple segmentation or more complex techniques.

Asking when the recipient is most likely to respond might still lead to an answer that is a day, time or publication schedule. But it also encourages you to develop a more detailed contact strategy and to explore new kinds of emails and targets.

After all, many advanced tactics used by emailers are simply reflections of this more mature approach to timing...

Consider lifecycles

Most commercial email involves regular promotions sent to a more or less targeted group of the hope of serendipitously landing in front of at least some who are ready (right now!) to buy / download / read / donate.

The lifecycle approach recognizes that not everybody is at that action point. So we could send different content at different intervals, depending on exactly where these recipients are on, for example, the buying cycle. As Anna Billstrom notes...

"...lifecycle emails train a customer into becoming a better one, and they enhance the relationship between customer and company."

The challenge, of course, is defining those stages on the cycle, deciding what content and cadence fits each stage and defining the criteria you use to allocate subscribers to each stage.

Stephanie Miller, for example, suggests segmenting a list into new buyers, active buyers and lapsed buyers. John Arnold, for example, defines information, interest and incentive stages in the buying cycle and has tips on how to recognize when a subscriber enters each stage.

Consider triggers

Trigger emails are a beautiful implementation of the "when is the recipient most likely to respond to an email?" way of thinking. Sally Lowery defines a triggered email as:

" that is generated based on a meaningful change or event in a customer behavior or profile."

Welcome messages are a standard example (a response to a sign-up). Other examples would be an email sent out on a customer's birthday (example), post-purchase follow-up emails (example) or an email sent to a customer who viewed an item online, but never completed the transaction (example).

Trigger emails are direct response. Not in the sense that they necessarily seek a direct response from the recipient. But because the email itself is a direct response to an action or piece of data that tells us something useful about the recipient.

Stephanie Miller (again) writes:

"A purchase, an abandoned shopping cart, browsing on the site, a download, a call to customer service, a return, an upgrade, a contract renewal, a visit to account settings or a preference center...all these are key moments of truth in the marketer-customer relationship. Take advantage of them to send messages that speak to the status of the subscriber at that moment."

The challenge with trigger emails, of course, is setup and rule setting. What are the triggers and what is triggered? Sally Lowery and Jeff Hassemer both have pointers on where to start.

With trigger emails, timing is determined by the recipient's behavior or profile. And that in itself is a concept that can take you in (yet) another direction...

Consider letting recipients choose

The last part of this series defined new email marketing as giving choice and control back to subscribers.

This applies equally to timing. Why not let subscribers decide when and/or how often to get email when they sign-up? Though be aware that their stated preferences might not be the ones that bring you the most profit.

Or why not let subscribers decide indirectly, through their previous interactions with your emails? Loren McDonald, for example, describes how mailing new messages to people based on the time of their last open boosted revenue by 52%.

Clearly, like good comedy, good email marketing is all about.


Part 13 coming soon...

*It was, for example, Plato who introduced the idea of the preheader text, saying "The beginning is the most important part of the work."

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Permalink | August 08, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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