Let’s face it. No one likes spam. The most widely accepted legal definition of spam is “unsolicited, bulk email”. If you send a quick note to your mom and she’s not expecting it, that might be called “unsolicited”, but it’s not spam because you didn’t send it in bulk to everyone’s mother. If you send a Mother’s Day email to every mother who signed up to get one, that’s bulk, but it’s not unsolicited, so it’s not spam either. If you sign up to receive email from a company and you wind up getting more than you expected, that’s also not spam. It may or may not be poor marketing, but it’s definitely not spam since you gave permission to the sender.
So how often should you send solicited bulk email? Context is king. It’s pretty widely accepted that once a month is the lowest frequency you should send out marketing emails (which are different from transactional emails like purchase receipts, shipping confirmations, etc.). Less than that and the recipient will likely forget who you are and why you’re sending. The whole point of marketing is to keep you on the top of your customer’s mind. The highest tolerable frequency might be several times a day and then only under certain circumstances, such as broadcasting event updates during a trade show or conference. Sending something every day can be done by certain types of businesses that specialize in time-sensitive offers like bargain shopping and travel sites where recipients expect this frequency. For most small businesses, however, the magic number seems to be once a week.
Sending at the same time every week helps quell the perception that you are sending too much. The recipient begins to expect an email from you at regular intervals. Sending at irregular intervals can create the perception that you are spamming since the recipient doesn’t know when to expect it. In one case, I sent out a newsletter publicizing an event once a week for months. As the event drew near we decided to increase the frequency. The first week that we sent two emails (to a list of over 2,000 people), we got one very loud complaint, “Stop sending every day!” I contacted the recipient. I showed her that we weren’t sending everyday but asked why she had gotten that impression. She said she had come to expect an email from us every Tuesday, but when she saw one on Thursday, she just assumed I had sent one on Wednesday and that I was intending to send one Friday as well. Our opt-out rate (the rate at which recipients “unsubscribe” from email lists) spiked slightly that week also, so I’m certain others had similar reactions. The human mind.
The moral of the story is that to find out if you’re sending too much, check your opt-out rate and the reasons that people specify for opting out. One of the leading bulk email services, Constant Contact, says that a rate of 2% or less is generally acceptable. Much more than that and you may want to reduce your frequency to see if it improves. It’s very common for a brand new campaign to have a slightly higher opt-out rate since the list has never been tested, even though it’s permission-based. Don’t be afraid of people opting out if it’s within the acceptable range because they’re doing you a favor. After all, you want to maintain a list of people who are interested in you and your business.
In some cases, clients have sent out surveys asking customers how often they want to hear from them, but that’s like asking someone how much advertising they want to see on free TV. Respondents will invariably skew towards less email not more. Base your marketing campaign on the bottom line results your business experiences. While it’s laudable to be considerate of your customer’s marketing preferences, it’s better to monitor their behavior than it is to issue a survey.
And, finally, please remember that it’s just email. While people refer to spam as an “intrusion” you actually haven’t entered their homes or put their lives at risk. Start with the highest frequency that makes sense to you and adjust it based on your recipients’ engagement. If you’d like to discuss what frequency is right for your business, please feel free to contact me and we’ll brainstorm it together – my treat.