Thursday, June 25, 2009

Is Time-of-Day Sending Overhyped?

I can't recall the last time I waited in my inbox at 10:01 on a Tuesday clicking the "Send/Receive" button repeatedly eagerly anticipating the next edition of my favourite corporate newsletter. I'm not particularly bothered by what times emails arrive, as a recipient. I strongly doubt that I'm alone in that.

So why is the email industry enamoured by time-of-day sending optimization? I suspect it comes down to a combination of three factors:

1) Marketers are dying to find ways to improve their effectiveness at connecting with their audiences

2) As email service providers, we can easily build time-of-day sending control into our systems, and it seems like a compelling and simple answer to marketer's needs

3) Tactical metrics like open rates may even show a swing across emails sent at different times of the day, "proving" the effectiveness of this technique

However, this is avoiding the problem. The only true, long term way to better engage with an audience is to repeatedly deliver content that is interesting and relevant to their interests at the particular stage of a buying process they are in. This is not easy. As marketers, we need to work to understand the stage in the buying process each buyer is at and deliver content that is relevant to them. Unfortunately, it is much more difficult to understand buyer interests and needs than it is to simply time an email campaign.

So why does some of the data appear to show a real difference in effectiveness of email campaigns depending on when they were sent?

Much of that comes down to how email is handled in various situation and how that affects the measurement of data. Remember that measurements such as open rates are far from 100% accurate as they rely on the rendering of an image in the email to indicate that it has been opened.

If, for example, an email is sent to me before or during my commute to work, I'm likely to open it on my Blackberry. Images are not rendered and it does not show up as an "open". The effectiveness of the email has not changed, just our way of measuring it.

Time-of-day sending can be very relevant in certain situations, like with media types outside of email, such as voice or SMS, or if an email is being sent on behalf of a sales person, and would seem strange to appear at 2am. However avoiding the challenge of delivering relevant, compelling content in order to focus on time-of-day sending is spending effort in the wrong area.

I look forward to your comments. Are there situations where you have found time-of-day sending highly relevant?
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
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Anonymous said...

I found when sending to people who aren't at their computers all day, for example, contractors, it helps to send first thing in the morning. They are able to check their email and then head out for the day.

Dominique said...

I agree that emphasizing time of day send is overrated. I don't care what time an email comes in; if I'm engaged and want to read it I will. Otherwise I just delete it and move on. Many B2B email marketers think that early morning is the ideal send time. But many people simply delete those messages that clutter their inbox upon entering the office and opening up outlook. I believe that timing is important in relationship to triggered messages primarily.

Jeff Ogden said...

I think you make a very good point, Steve. My questions when reviewing an email are:

1) Was it written just for me?
2) Is it meaningful for me?
3) Do I know and trust the sender?

Nothing about time of day.

I also subscribed to your blog and am reading your book. I also invite you to review mine, Steve, at

Marshall said...

Many of our campaigns are signatured on behalf of the sales rep; therefore we attempt to send during business hours. This accomplishes two things: 1)an impromtu call can be taken by the rep 2) supports the illusion that the email was sent by the rep

We have found that emails sends early and late in the business day have a slightly higher response rate - as supported by the MIT Sloan study

The ability to set send times specific to the "owner" is a feature that we'd love to see. If you agree, you can vote for it on the Eloqua community site.

David Meerman Scott said...

I agree with this, Steven.

Related to the email sending thing is when to send a press release. The PR agencies I used to work with when I was VP marketing at a few public B2B companies always said "never send a release on a holiday week or in August. Well guess what, if everyone sends in early September, you have a lot more competition for the release. And the weekly tech pubs still need content in August. I'm always the contrarian. When "everybody knows" that something is true, it provides an opportunity for contrarians.

More in my post "Everybody is Wrong"

Bill Nussey said...

Steve, I am also somewhat (pleasantly) surprised at how much attention this feature is getting but I would argue that it does deserve some level of attention. The simple fact is that when marketers use this feature, they consistently see material increases in opens, clicks and conversions. Since it requires no extra work or cost, it offers marketers a very nice lift in overall ROI.

Steven Woods said...

Folks, thanks for all the discussion - great to see the topic generate a lot of conversation.

David, your points on being contrarian in order to avoid the crowds are also dead-on, and another reason it would be hard to have an "ideal" time for sending.

Dominique, Jeff, agreed also, the content (and trust in the relationship that the content *will* be good) are the main keys to success.

Marshall, definitely - if there's an expectation of being personalized, it absolutely has to be at an "expected" time of day.

Bill, great to hear that you're seeing results - especially if measured through to conversions in order to discount time-of-day effects on whether a user uses a blackberry vs a desktop client. I have a lot of respect for your company and the offerings you provide.

Paul A. Broni said...

I don't know if it's "overhyped" or not, but I know from experience that time of day absolutely matters.

Having said that, if your email is irrelevant to the recipient, it won't matter what time of day you send it.

However, we're all getting a lot of email, and whether or not we open and act on an email now or later could very well have to do with when we receive it and what else is going on in our day at that moment.

I do believe that, for the most part, mid-day delivery for B2B recipients is best, not first thing in the morning or overnight. We have found that sending at 2pm EST is usually best since that's either before or after lunch for most of the US, but still late enough and early enough in the day to get attention.

Of course, we've seen consumer lists where weekend deployment was actually best, as consumers were not distracted by work or school and had time to read things that were fun.

My $0.02. YMMV.