Marketers know the importance of creating a positive experience for customers. We want our messages to be on time, on target, and welcome. Somehow, when it comes to email cadence, this laser focus has a tendency to get a little blurry and lead to email fatigue.
This can result in a significant loss of future revenue.
Email frequency: mail deep, mail often?
Despite our best efforts to recognize the need to create a personalized and thoughtful email campaign, when push comes to shove and upcoming forecasts need to be met, email best practices get thrown out the window and bad habits have a tendency to creep in.
“Mail deep, mail often” — sound familiar?
And thanks to email’s low cost to play, even the most modest sales through email seem worth it. Yet, the reality is many businesses are failing to consider the significant longer term cost of hammering inboxes.
One of the reasons this fast and furious approach is so common is due to the fact brands are measuring their email performance campaign by campaign. Little, if any, measurement is based on a cumulative customer experience, which begs several questions:
- How many of your customers fall on multiple, independently managed internal lists (e.g., online purchaser, in-store purchaser, loyalty member, product category purchaser)?
- How many of your customers do you over-email in a given week?
- How many are you not reaching out to enough?
- How many of your “email conversion” customers were likely to buy anyway — with or without that last email?
- What has email frequency done to your attribution methodology?
Email is a tool to keep your brand top of mind. Top of mind, however, does not mean top of inbox. In fact, if you are at the top of your customer’s inbox too often, you’re more likely to lose the privilege of being in their inbox altogether.
Understanding the soft opt-out
Our research has shown email frequency has a direct correlation with opt-outs. The more often you mail, the more likely you are to hit email fatigue and force an opt-out.
Today, brands must also recognize those customers I like to call “soft” opt-outs. Soft opt-outs are subscribers who use auto-classification folders and non-monitored email accounts to deal with your email by choosing to never actually deal with your email.
Hard and soft opt-outs have something in common: future spend from either group is significantly lower than those subscribers with some level of positive email engagement.
So those extra emails may move some people to buy — I say may because some analyses show little or no increased customer purchase frequency based on increased email frequency. The other, often overlooked, side to this story is your excessive emails are also causing subscribers to walk away from the conversation with you entirely.
This has serious future revenue implications.
Measuring the cost of an unsubscribe
So, customers who explicitly unsubscribe or soft opt-out are no longer interested in what you offer, right? Not necessarily.
Some will continue buying, though typically at a lower rate than those who engage. And they often purchase at a lower basket spend amount. Are they not reaching for a broader, deeper basket because they’ve become tone deaf to your marketing efforts?
Measuring the lost revenue from opt-outs, both explicit and soft, can be straightforward. And the size of the numbers will likely surprise both you and your boss. While it’s not likely all of that lost revenue could be captured, even a piece of it can be substantial.
How to re-engage your email fatigued customers
Reducing (new) customer churn will forever and always be a hot and relevant topic, especially when you consider a 5% increase in customer retention rates results in more than a 25% increase of profits (Bain).
If morphing an inactive customer into a potentially loyal, engaged, repeat purchaser is something you’re interested in, I’ve jotted down (in no particular order) a few email marketing best practices to consider:
Lean into your data
When do most of your customers make a second purchase? At RRD Marketing Solutions, analytic consulting work drives and validates the customer (re-)engagement strategies we devise for our clients. With the right analysis and modeling, you can start to identify buying patterns, the likeliness of a customer coming back to make another purchase, and which triggers can help spur things along.
With the right analysis and modeling, you can start to identify buying patterns, the likeliness of a customer coming back to make another purchase, and which triggers can help spur things along.
Triggers are appealing because they adhere to a “plan once, design once, use often” philosophy. That means manual data compilation, analysis, and email deployment on a case-by-case basis is a thing of the past.
Focus on the feedback
According to PwC’s 2016 Total Retail Survey, “superior online customer reviews” is one of the major reasons consumers remain loyal to their favorite retailer. When it comes to building trust and loyalty with new or disengaged customers, sharing the story of a satisfied shopper — or highly recommended product — could work wonders.
It’s also worth asking your customer: How satisfied have you been with that first purchase?
If that’s what you really want to know, then it might be wise to reach out to those customers — who’ve gone radio silent — and ask for their take. The PwC survey also found “67% of consumers say that either reading or writing social media reviews and comments influences their online shopping behavior.” Satisfied or unsatisfied, reminding a past customer their opinion is valuable can be a win-win.
“67% of consumers say that either reading or writing social media reviews and comments influences their online shopping behavior.”
Control, it’s what subscribers want
And speaking of feedback, asking “yes” or “no” is not enough.
Go beyond the basic opt-in, opt-out options that consumers are so used to working with. According to Mapp, the number one thing a company can do to keep a customer from opting out of its email list: 40% say give them the option to receive emails less frequently.
To fight off email fatigue, offer up some middle ground to subscribers by letting them choose message frequency (daily, weekly, monthly) and specify preferred message content, such as:
- Recently reduced items
- New product announcements
- Location-specific promotions
- Consumer reviews
Also, subscriber permissions aren’t meant to be accepted with a set-it-and-forget-it mindset. Odds are good that the preferences and needs of a customer who opted in over a year ago have since evolved. Ward off fatigue by prompting subscribers to update their preferences regularly.
It’s worth repeating. From welcome emails sent way too soon to “special” offer emails sent way too often, today’s consumers are quick to tune out the noise of an over-communicating brand — especially in their inbox.
In a recent email fatigue analysis for an international retailer, we discovered that sending five fewer emails a month would result in a 40% reduction in their unsubscribe rate.
Start Getting Personal
Email personalization is a must. I think these three stats best summarize the need to embrace and execute on it:
- Nearly half (46%) of consumers who opt out of or unsubscribe from emails cite irrelevant messages as the reason. (Sandra Zoratti)
- Approximately 40% of consumers agree that personalized emails and content are the way to go if you want to keep them from clicking “unsubscribe.” (Mapp)
- 79% of consumers say they are only likely to engage with an offer if it has been personalized to reflect previous interactions the consumer has had with the brand. (Marketo)
From shopper demographics to purchase history, more than half of consumers (57%) are okay with providing personal information (on a website) as long as it’s for their benefit and being used in responsible ways (Janrain). By capitalizing on the effectiveness of email personalization, those special offers you send out to new or long-lost customers will feel and be much more exclusive.
It’s time to lean on all that data you’ve collected and focus on producing a relevant message or offer, not just a clickable subject line.
Test without fail … to fail less
In a report from email marketing provider GetResponse, which surveyed more than 1,800 marketers and analyzed more than 700 million emails:
- Nearly half of email marketers test subject lines
- 42% of marketers do not send targeted emails to their database
- Only 4% use behavioral and survey data for personalizing emails and targeting
So how can testing help avoid email fatigue? Well, here are a few email best practices.
- Unsure of a new email format or approach to messaging? First, test it out on a small subset of customers. Their response can help predicate your strategy for a larger group.
- Maybe you’ve identified four promotions that speak to your subscriber’s preferences. Does that mean four emails? Not necessarily. Try pulling everything together for one combined promotion. This can help prevent fatigue and also provide your customer with additional purchase options.
- Back in 2011, fewer than 10% of emails were opened by a mobile device. By September 2016, Litmus research revealed that number had grown to 56%, and no doubt will continue to climb. What am I trying to say? Pay attention to mobile. Test shorter content lengths and call-to-action placement to encourage quicker engagement.
Have patience with your email cadence
Are your subscribers in it for the long haul? RRD Marketing Solutions continues to help clients increase email engagement and effectively back away from the fatigue threshold. If you find your brand’s email marketing efforts at the precipice of doing more harm than good — or maybe you just need a second opinion — it might be time to reach out for some support.
With a better understanding how going overboard on email frequency can have long-term, negative effects, the next time a sales push arises — and it will — we want you to be that rational voice amid the frenzy. Your customers will appreciate it.
Suzanne Cashman Rain is vice president of analytic consulting at RRD Marketing Solutions.
This post was originally published April 14, 2017.