Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How much is too much? Frequency management and control

One conversation I end up in a lot with clients is the "how many times can I email a person per month?" conversation. Unfortunately, there is not a magic number, and attempting to govern around one can be damaging.

The reason that there's not a magic number is that email is only useful in the context of building a relationship, and in a relationship communication frequency changes dramatically depending on the type of relationship and where that relationship is at the moment. Think of this question in terms of your communications with your friends and family - how many times per month do you communicate with your spouse? kids? Aunt Hilda? Neighbors? Old friends from school days? The answer is that it depends on the relationship.

It's the same thing in B2B marketing. If you are actively engaging with a prospect, and they are highly interested in what you are offering, they will want, and appreciate, frequent communications. However, if you're only lightly engaged with someone, and they have only displayed minimal interest, you will turn them off with more than a communication per month in many cases.
The answer is that you have to manage this from the bottom up, rather than the top down.

There is not a top-down X emails per month number that you can manage to. Instead, you need to understand your audience in terms of how much you have communicated to them and, more importantly, how engaged they are with you, and use that to guide communication frequency.

Use your understanding of your audience's response to your marketing (their Digital Body Language) to segment them into groups. Use communication frequency and response frequency(email opens, clicks, form submits, web visits, etc) to define three segments:
  • High Engagement: you have sent them many communications, and they have shown great inbound interest

  • Moderate Engagement: you have sent them some communications, but their inbound activity remains occasional

  • Low Engagement: you have communicated with them, but they show little to no inbound activity
From here, you can then use these segments to build a bottom-up frequency management structure. Look at your communications and define what category they fall into. If they are a "required" or "all recipients" category, you may not suppress against any of the groups (eg, registration confirmation for events the recipient just registered for, or the quarterly thought leadership newsletter). If the messages are in an "active interest" category, you may suppress Low and Moderate Engagement segments from receiving them (up to the minute news, detailed product information, etc), and if the messages are in a "moderate interest" category you may only suppress the Low Engagement segment.

This gives you a good bottoms up model for structuring your communications strategy to avoid over-communicating with some of your recipients (causing Emotional Unsubscribes: http://digitalbodylanguage.blogspot.com/2008/12/emotional-unsubscribes.html) without preventing the formation of deeper relationships with those who are showing great interest.

I look forward to your comments or experiences with managing communication frequency.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
Come talk with me or one of my colleagues at a live event, or join in on a webinar


Anonymous said...

Great piece! I posted it on twitter as well. http://tinyurl.com/db7g7k