Email Primetime: Connect with Customers on Their Schedules

Posted by Scott Roth on

Timing is everything in marketing. Catching customers not only when they are active, but are also actively interested in buying is tough. The best marketers understand the value of timing, and put a lot of money and effort into identifying the optimal time to reach their audiences.

Take television for example—buying commercial time not only in on the right channel, but at the right time is key. This is understood not only by companies, but by the networks themselves. Marketers who want to advertise to a large audience have to be willing to pay for it. Commercial spots during TV primetime have a higher price tag attached, most notably during large televised events like the Super Bowl. Therefore, marketers have to determine whether the high cost of airing during primetime is justified by the potential or expected revenue.

Beyond the high cost and inefficiency of primetime commercials, TV advertising presents a second problem: a limited number of campaigns. Unless your company has boatloads of money, you can’t run your commercial 24/7. This means missing potential customers who tend to tune in at a different time.

The challenge of efficiently connecting with targeted customers when they’re in market is one most advertising channels face. However, there is one exception: email. In email marketing, your audience is your entire list. On it are consumers who have not only have expressed interest in your brand, but have given you direct access to them through a channel that is unique to them: their inbox.

Despite having a direct path to interacting with customers, many marketers are still failing to spark interaction. This is largely because they are not the only ones who have this access. The average consumer receives more than 500 email marketing messages in a month. With that much email overload, they typically open very few.

In spite of low open rates, marketers have grown to accept this low bar and use it as a benchmark to evaluate their programs. This send-to-all scenario is similar to television in that marketers are sending at one time, attempting to catch the majority of their audience. By trying to appeal to everyone, they end up appealing to relatively few. But they don’t have to accept this trade-off.

Similar to the approach that direct marketers have always used to test content and analyze data to understand customer preferences, they can look at historical data on email subscribers’ behavior. That allows them to find out what day and time customers have interacted with commercial messages in the past.

Today, this tactic is widely used to boost response and create more personalized subscriber experiences. Through this analysis, marketers can uncover the optimal time for a particular email consumer segment. When considering the TV advertising analogy, this is the equivalent of moving away from primetime and running ads on cable networks with far smaller, but better defined, audiences, or creating direct response ads for late night viewers.

The next generation of this approach has two aims:

  1. To transition from segment-based campaigns to individual-based messaging
  2. To make this transition without forcing the marketing department to shoulder the resource load

Examples of this are already turning up in email, and true send-time optimization is one of the clearest. Many marketers are opting not to send all messages for a campaign at once, accepting that—even with complex segmentation—many will lie around in the inbox buried between competitors’ emails. Data-driven email marketers are now delivering messages to each subscriber when he or she is actively engaging in the inbox and shopping. This may not be the complete 1-to-1 marketing experience that futurists have been predicting for the past decade, but it’s a real and important step in that direction.

The underlying technologies are not only delivering messages when individual buyers are in-market, they’re doing it behind-the-scenes. This allows email marketers to simply hit “send” once, and let the system’s logic automate delivery at each subscriber’s optimum time.

Only email can deliver this kind of personalized marketing at scale. No other channel can so easily collect and apply engagement data that shows how individuals want to interact with brands. Leading marketers already analyze subscriber behavior to communicate with people at the right time, when they’re in market. They’re selling more and building stronger customer relationships. More importantly, they’re widening the gaps between their programs and mass mailers’ “primetime” approaches. It may not be long before consumers expect and respond to marketing email only when they’re shopping and ignore messages—and ultimately brands—that show up at the wrong time.

This article originally appeared as a byline in ClickZ.   


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About Scott Roth

Scott Roth joined Return Path in 2014 as Chief Marketing Officer responsible for leading marketing and demand generation efforts across the globe. A visionary marketing executive with more than 15 years’ experience in marketing technology, Scott has been a growth catalyst for industry leading SaaS companies: salesforce.com, ExactTarget, and Webtrends.

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