After signing up for a department store credit card, I was annoyed when I began receiving an email a day from a store where I shop only sporadically. Six days later I unsubscribed from all their email.

I thought the daily email blasts were too much. Clearly the retailer had made a huge mistake by turning off a happy customer. As I spoke with more avid shoppers, I discovered not everyone shared my point of view. I was annoyed because I am not their typical customer. The emails were really directed at women who shop at their store regularly. For that audience, daily updates on sales and new items are a welcome and helpful communication.

So how much is too much? Like many things in marketing the answer depends on your market, your relationship with your customers, sales cycle and objectives.

  • Frequency of purchase. The more often your customer is likely to buy your product or service, the more often it is acceptable to contact them. For department  stores, grocery stores and online shopping sites, the most loyal customers are likely to drop by several times a week, so daily updates are okay. In contrast, if you are selling items purchased only once or twice a year, dial it back. Consider a monthly or quarterly newsletter
  • Length of sales cycle. If your product is not an impulse item, but something the customer will typically research over an extended period of time, then a monthly or semiweekly update with information designed to help them weigh alternatives will be welcome. In contrast, if you sell a product with a fairly condensed sales cycle, then a series of rapid fire emails every day for a brief period of time may help direct sales your way.
  • Customer relationships.  Not all customers are equal. Regardless of your business, you have a core inner circle who use your product frequently and in many cases, a wider circle of casual users and an even wider circle of prospects. Not all these people need or want the same information. For example, we have an email list which is comprised of companies whose websites we built. To this niche audience we send updates when WordPress makes a change, reminders to update their operating system and invitations to private classes. The open rate on these emails is typically 70%. It’s high because this is a very targeted email to a group of customers with whom we have a specific relationship. This is where I think the department store made their mistake; when I signed up for the credit card, the automatically assumed I was in their inner circle.
  • Know your objectives. Email, like all marketing, can be used to inform, persuade, or sell. Short educational and informational emails, sent regularly to a permission-based list, help keep you top of mind. In this situation, consistency is the key. I noticed our open rates and engagement actually increased when we switched our schedule from three times a month to weekly. When our schedule was more random, we got lost in the inbox. When we adjusted our schedule so readers could count on us arriving on the same day and the same time every week, our open rate increased. If your objective is to sell immediately, a more random schedule where you surprise your readers with special offers may prove more effective.
  • Have something worthwhile to say. None of these rules will help if you don’t have good content. Plan your messages first, then set your schedule.

Want to learn more about effective email marketing? Check out our guide to successful email campaigns.

photo credit: gajman via photopin cc