Sending Email: When’s the Best Time?

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It’s an endless question, haunting email marketers everywhere: “When should I send an email marketing campaign for optimal results?” Is it weekdays between 2-5pm? Or maybe it’s on the weekends? You can find all kind of conflicting advice about email timing.

Dr. Flint McGlaughlin, Marketing Director at MECLABS, says it’s an important question, but the answer must be tailored to the company, the customer and the context. In the webinar “When Should You Send an Email,” he reveals five factors marketers can employ to determine the optimum time to send an email, and reflects on a case study of a well-known financial institution that increased its clickthrough rate as a result.

This particular study involves one of the world’s largest banks. The bank’s goal was to increase the number of completed applications. The bank tested the clickthrough rate of 14 different send times over the course of a week: Monday through Sunday at 3 am and 3 pm. (Before reading the rest of this – what’s your guess? 3 am or 3 pm?) Time was the only variable; the email subject lines and body copy were all the same. (Okay, here’s the answer: The 3 pm sends outperformed the 3 am sends by at least 13.5%.) As for how the days scored: Tuesday was the lowest, at 10.47% and Sunday the highest at 12.90. That’s an improvement of 23.2%, highest over lowest. Here’s the whole story:

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After analysis, some possible reasons for higher clickthrough rates on Sundays include fewer distractions, mobile devices allowing recipients constant access to their email, and the personal nature of financial information making it more likely to be read outside of work.

Your context is probably quite different from that of a large bank. Most marketers have a good sense of their own customers, but it’s plagued by a gap between what you know and what’s yet to be discovered. In order to fill the gap, marketers have to experiment. This leads to three key email marketing principles:

  • There is no “one-size-fits-all” time/frequency for an email send.
  • The universal goal of email timing is to synchronize your email’s delivery with the cognitive psychology of the customer’s purchase cycle.
  • There are five consistent factors from campaign to campaign that will impact your customer’s purchase cycle, including:

1. Decision cycle - The optimal frequency of an email is directly related to the decision cycle of the offer (how often a decision is required) – the shorter the cycle, the greater the frequency.

2. Utility – When the nature of the product becomes more complex, it’s a bigger purchase commitment and has a longer sales cycle. This necessitates a focus on high-utility emails. Essentially, this relationship requires greater lead nurturing.

1-24-2013 1-48-22 PM3. Relevance – The relevance of an email can be based upon two factors; the internal motivations of the customers’ desires and the external events surrounding a recipient. The timing of your email must account for both. The image below illustrates differences between examples of internal and external relevance.

4. Nature of the product – Email timing is affected by the probable emotional response produced by the encounter someone has with your product and its nature. Some have an emotionally negative connotation, such as aging, health, and morality; others are emotionally positive, such as hobbies, leisure, and self-improvement. Emotionally positive products are more likely to have a higher optimal frequency.

5. Expectation set – The expectation of email timing is set by two elements: 1) The implied promise of industry standards and 2) the implied promise of the email capture from messaging.

So, in a nutshell the definitive answer is:  It depends. You have to test your way to the answer. “There are five components that help you determine what might be the optimal frequency for your email, and once you’ve taken these into account, you can set up the proper test to refine your way in,” closed Dr. McGlaughlin.
To learn more, watch the free recorded webinar “When Should You Send An Email? How one of the largest banks in the world discovered when to send its emails.”

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