How can we determine optimal e-mail frequency?

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The question of frequency often arises before that of strategy simply because it is easily measurable.

But what if the most relevant message of the week is the third message and you limit your recipient base to a frequency of two? You might have damaged your program. Because frequency variables and tolerances are directly relative to your brand, your audience engagement and your e-mail program itself, it is almost impossible to answer that with a blanket statement that specifies a frequency everyone should follow.

There are a number of things to keep in mind when trying to identify optimal e-mail frequency, including, but not limited to:

  • What are the characteristics of the audience and/or segment?
  • How brand loyal is your recipient?
  • Does the e-mail program offer substantial value to the recipient?
After you answer these questions, the next thing to do is test a few frequencies. Some organizations can send daily, while others with less cultlike followings would see unsubscribe rates spike if they began sending weekly. Whether the intent is to sell or to inform, each e-mail should include valuable content. If the content is relevant to and anticipated by the recipient, frequency becomes a secondary consideration. Some marketers believe that the more e-mail they send, the greater the rate of conversion. While this might be a sound approach for managing your sales funnel, it is not applicable to your e-mail marketing efforts. Approaching your e-mail programs this way will yield recipient fatigue, spam complaints and list attrition. Set standards and frequency caps per program type, and stick to them. If you're getting pressure to exceed those caps, you can defend them by determining the value of an e-mail address to your organization. Place a number on it, and the loss of an address to an unsubscribe becomes tangible and real.

Kara Trivunovic is senior director of strategic services at StrongMail Systems (, a provider of e-mail marketing solutions.

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