Saturday, May 22, 2010

Advice on Optimal Email Frequency (Part #3 of 3)

It's easy to critique email programs and to philosophize. To end this series, we suggest the following approaches …

  1. Continually test your messages for the best approach, relying on both clickthroughs and open rates as testing criteria. For promotions, often the former; for general interest communications, the latter (even though it is an increasingly flawed measure due to mobile devices, etc.).

  2. Experiment with truly new formats periodically, giving each of them several chances to catch on and outperform the current formats you use. For example when we launched an e-newsletters with our donor base at CRS, we tested the basics (length/tone of subject line, acronym vs. organization name), content (which lead story to feature first, second, third and so on), content format (full article in text, headline only, x lines ending with ellipses leading to the web article). As I recall my staff didn't like it, since this alone entailed perhaps 45 unique combinations, but it was more easily done over several issues, testing the combinations, choosing winners, ties and losers, then testing again to ensure the content didn't drive the findings. (It's interesting as I dug through my own emails to see that the format we tested in has continued to change, so that it looks far more like a personal letter than before ... I hope this also reflects testing more so than personal preferences.)

  3. Pending test results, I'd also seek to maintain a frequency of regular communications focused on industry news and information to be weekly at minimum, then delivered at a regular, consistent time that's convenient for the members.

  4. Rely as much as possible on using your newsletter formats to carry promotional messages for events and products with navigation bars, banner ads, and advertorial copy—i.e. use frequent contact, but put the promotions in their place, a little less important than the content that members tend to value and not see as self-serving to the organization. As with print media, most of us notice ads better when we're reading editorial content than when we're given a purely promotional insert. Standalone promotional emails will seem to perform better, but to use a traditional mailbox analogy, if you're presented with a magazine and a pile of flyers, chances are you will discard the latter and at least glance at the former.
Of course, one might object that, as associations, you have a different relationship with your constituency than traditional advertisers. This is true as long as you avoid engaging in a long term practice of carpet bombing them with email.  -Kevin

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