Without the Right Data, the Debate is Pointless
By Ken Magill
One of the most contentious ongoing debates in email marketing is over how frequently to send and how deeply to go into the house file.
In any organization, there are typically two camps: One is held to numbers and argues for more email frequency to as large a swath of addresses as possible. The other wants to protect the brand, avoid the organization being labeled a spammer, and argues for restraint.
Both camps have a point. Done properly, sending more email can result in more revenue. But done improperly, sending more email can result in serious deliverability issues, preventing the marketer from reaching even its best customers’ inboxes.
It’s all about tradeoffs, and finding the right balance lies in the data, according to John Landsman, director of strategy and analytics for eDataSource.
“When you see people sending deeply into audiences that have not responded in 90, 120, 180 days, you see people who are running into trouble [with deliverability issues],” says Landsman. “The issue is selecting the audience correctly. If you select the audience correctly, you have far more elastic tolerance for contact frequency.”
Landsman says he has witnessed countless situations where management is horsewhipping the email team to recklessly grow the email house file and ramp up volume. But if the email team stands a chance of curtailing reckless email marketing practices, he says, they must be able to back their arguments up with data.
In arguing against reckless sending: “You can’t not tell them why,” he says.
“Contact frequency is a test issue,” he adds. “Different audiences within a mailer’s list are going to respond to mail differently based on how engaged they are with the business.”
The trick is to identify the different audiences, segment them and contact them appropriately, Landsman says.
“I have sat through enough client meetings where senior marketing executives are pushing to mail more, mail deeper and do things with acquisition and opt-in that aren’t particularly kosher,” he says. “They want that audience and they want that contact at almost any expense.
“I understand when people say ‘the more we mail the more we make’ and that’s generally true, but there is a matter of diminishing returns as you go deeper into the more questionable audiences,” he says
As a result, it is important for marketers to know the downside of mailing more frequently and deeper into the file, Landsman contends
“You need to know what that costs you,” he says. “Yes, you may make more money, but how many opt outs are you getting? What’s going on with the way people are deleting your email without reading it? What’s happening with respect to the spam folder? Because those are all the downside of doing [crappy] things.”
The question is not whether to send more email. The question is to whom should a marketer send more email?
Enter segmenting. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has been in marketing for any length of time that 20 percent of a typical email file drives 80 percent of email-related sales.
Yet, most marketers haven’t identified or segmented these two groups. If a marketer wants to increase frequency, the 20 percent is the group most likely to respond positively to such an increase.
“There are customers for whom mailing more is a good thing,” Landsman says. “And there are businesses for whom mailing more is a good thing when they understand what the costs of that are and they understand the costs of unsubscribes and other attrition.”
As for the 80 percent, Landsman recommends modeling past inactives who have become active and marketing to lookalikes in the inactive segment of the file.
“There are bad customers that can be developed and this a modeling thing,” he says. “To the extent that you can create a migration from a less active category to a more active category, that requires you to understand historically who’s done that, what they look like and what predicts whether someone can be migrated. Then you talk to those people who look like those who have migrated.”
Bottom line: “There is a relationship between managing audience contact intelligently and deliverability. If you send them irrelevant email and they don’t engage as a result and you continue mailing into those unengaged audiences, you get into [deliverability] trouble.
“Marketers should use the data they have to send email to the customers most likely to buy what they’re trying to sell and ensure that the contact frequency is appropriate to the level of engagement of those customers. It’s a test thing.”