How often should I e-mail my subscribers?

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Answer: Usually, when marketers ask about frequency, they are trying to determine how much is too much. They cannot afford to wear out their welcome by sending so frequently that messages will be ignored. Alternatively, budget or time limitations can make it difficult to create enough content to meet frequency expectations. Failing to deliver on content promised to subscribers can be as detrimental as mailing too often.

The solution to both of these issues is simply to focus on relevance. E-mail recipients are primarily concerned with how well the information meets their current needs. Some information will be relevant every day, such as news, while other information will be relevant much less often, such as home mortgages. If the relevancy expectation is met, frequency is moot.

In addition, consider program objectives. E-mail can be used to cultivate and close sales, establish long-term relationships, or both. Your e-mail should be timed according to your sales cycle. You can create a particular e-mail once and then send automatically according to timetables relevant to each subscriber. Establishing long-term relationships is based on shared interest, so communications should align with natural events pertaining to those interests.

The challenge is when marketers try to combine sales and relationship-building into a single communication stream. Frequency needs to be tailored to subscriber segments based on trends in click-through rates or RFM measures. Ultimately, the goal should be to identify which lifecycles are applicable to the subscriber and then provide communications that are relevant to the subscriber’s current objectives.

While there is not a simple answer, one thing is certain: If subscribers are treated without differentiation, you will be irrelevant to most of them, and e-mail marketing results will diminish over time. Instead, focus on providing relevant and well-timed communications.

Morgan Stewart is director of strategic services for ExactTarget (, a provider of outbound e-mail software solutions.

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