Finding the Right Contact Frequency for Your Email Program

Slalom Marketing Solutions Architect Michele Grant

Michele Grant is a Marketing Solutions Architect with Slalom's Atlanta office. She is passionate about creating integrated, multi-channel marketing strategies that take advantage of the latest in marketing automation and resource management technologies.

You’re doing your quarterly email review presentation, and inevitably, someone asks, “So, don’t you think we’re mailing too much?”, or, “You said we didn’t have room in the email calendar for my mailing, but I see we didn’t send any email on the third Tuesday of the month; why didn’t you send my email then?”

Contact frequency. It’s a complex issue, and everyone has an opinion. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to a contact frequency policy. Every business is different, with different consumers and different goals, but there is one guiding principle that can help you determine what your contact frequency policy should look like.


Balance the goals and objectives of your business, your email program, and even the individual email message, with the needs, desires, and expectations of your recipients.

And don’t limit yourself by creating a global, master, one-policy-to-rule-them-all approach. What’s to say that your contact frequency won’t legitimately vary by program or type of message? Doesn’t most of this messaging–user action triggered, behaviorally targeted, automated messaging–live outside of the current thinking about contact frequency? Everyone wants to receive an order confirmation message for an order they placed today, even if they received one for an order they placed yesterday.

And who’s to say your policy shouldn’t vary recipient to recipient? We’ve been using preference centers to ask subscribers what they want to receive and sometimes how frequently they’d like to receive it, but we can also determine if we are mailing too little or too much to a particular recipient based on that individual’s response metrics.

So how do we know if the balance is being maintained? We observe and listen to the following:

  • Are open rates increasing or decreasing? Do the subscribers on your list who receive a higher volume of your emails tend to open more or less of those emails?
  • What happens to clicks when you experiment? If you try to balance mailing less with increasing the amount of content in each message, what happens to your click through rates?
  • Does your conversion rate (not volume or amount) fluctuate as you send more or less? Do your emails work harder (higher conversion rate), or are you wasting effort?
  • Is anyone shouting “STOP!”? Do your unsubscribe rates go up if you change the frequency of emailing, up or down? Do spam or abuse complaints? Are you getting a higher instance of negative feedback about email in your call center, Facebook page, product reviews (yes, people comment on email in product reviews)?

And after we ask ourselves these questions, we either make the necessary tweaks to our mailing volume, or we continue to experiment and test. Keeping your contact frequency balanced requires constant tiny shifts to accommodate the ever changing needs of your business, new ideas and techniques in email, and the unique and variable demands and expectations of today’s consumers.

What are your experiences with contact frequency? Please let me know by leaving a comment.

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About Michele Grant
Michele Grant is a Marketing Solutions Architect with Slalom Consulting in Atlanta. She's passionate about creating integrated, multi-channel marketing strategies that take advantage of the latest in marketing automation and resource management technologies.

8 Responses to Finding the Right Contact Frequency for Your Email Program

  1. Chris says:

    Your recipients will tell you almost anything you want to know if you know how to listen. Thanks Michele for reminding us what to listen for and putting in one place all the relevant points we should all be considering when looking at our own Frequency Rates. If email marketers are not yet this familiar with the tracking matrix of your recipient base then you need to be, that is where the real insight it at!

    • Michele Grant says:

      Chris – you are spot on! Keeping tabs on response behavior (of all types) is critical to understanding the health of your email program. It can be difficult to find the time to do these things while juggling everything else on your plate, but we at Slalom have our hands on some useful technology to help manage tracking response, and I’ll be writing about that soon!

  2. Julia Patterson says:

    Great post! Another important factor many marketers overlook is that the appropriate cadence and frequency won’t be a constant for any individual recipient (or brand), which makes monitoring engagement on an ongoing basis so very important. This means, in a nutshell, the testing and tweaks need to happen continuously for best results.

    • Michele Grant says:

      Testing and tweaking – great way to put it Julia! Again, another thing marketers find really hard to manage in their fast-paced world, but should be dedicated to finding time to do.

  3. Jessica Chandler says:

    Really like the post! Agree completely that there shouldn’t be a global policy. Providing customers with options regarding content and frequency of contact lets them decide and you to tweak your programs appropriately.

  4. Chris Murphy says:

    Great article Michelle. I think that it comes down to balance and relevance like you say. As long as we can see that the messages that we’re sending remain relevant to our recipients, frequency as a stand-alone metric becomes less important.

    On this topic, would you suggest that we allow recipients to choose their own frequency on preference centers or determine this for them? I’m conflicted on this point and haven’t done the necessary research to determine if the effectiveness of providing this option.

    • Chris, I think the usefulness of asking via a preference center depends on a couple of factors, 1: do you have the ability to provide the subscriber with content at the requested frequencies 2: do you have the operational ability to segment your list by frequency (not every ESP makes this easy). I also think that most subscribers don’t know what they want, not really. Why is it that you can tolerate an email a day from Groupon, but can’t stand your monthly estatement from your airline? As the marketer, I can see your level of engagement in my emails and try to create a frequency (and content) that helps engage you. Does that help?

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