The Trouble in Targeting "The" Customer Rather Than "Your" Customer
Email marketers know that people tend not to open marketing mail that gets sent on the weekend. We spend Saturdays and Sundays maximizing our time in the sun and the breeze by watching TV and bad movies on cable, erm, I mean rollerblading and picnicking in the park. People also don’t open mail on Monday because they are trying to catch up from that weekend of TNT marathons and they don’t open anything on Fridays because they are too busy trying to decide whether the coming weekend should feature disaster movies or quality films starring California’s governor.
That leaves Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for any serious email marketing effort. Some say Tuesday early afternoon is the best time for optimal open rates. People are ready to tackle the drudgery that is the inbox, and your mail is the first thing they see. Others say Wednesday, as perhaps people have conquered the worst of it and feel they deserve a reward such as idle email shopping. Choose either day, but make sure you send early afternoon.
Finally, testing and research have given us definitive answers for something and we never have to worry about it again. We now know not only the ideal days but the ideal time. Hooray!
Except I’ve found a potentially fatal flaw in this plan.
And that is that everyone is now sending marketing mail on Tuesday and Wednesday, early afternoon.
I don’t get much email marketing because I unsubscribe to just about everything as soon as the first piece of mail hits my inbox. Someone who declares email bankruptcy must become ruthless with incoming mail.
And yet there I was last Wednesday at around 1pm, and on came the mail. REI wanted me to know about their May events calendar. Alaska Airlines wanted to make sure I knew I could buy people flowers and earn miles at the same time. Microsoft Office Live Small Business thought I might want to know how to get my business online for free! Choice Hotels has my room ready! The mail just kept coming.
And I realized, all that research was going to have to start over with the addition of a new variable. Not only do marketers have to avoid sending mail when people are off for the weekend, they have to avoid sending mail at the same moment everyone else is sending mail. And so Thursday at 10am will become the new Tuesday at 1pm. At least until everyone adjusts their email schedule. And then it all will start over again.
Of course, rather than look at averages for “the” customer, you could look at the particulars of your customer. I was thinking about this last Wednesday at 1pm when my mail started filling up, but apparently I’m not the only one.
Last night on the plane, I was reading Fast Company and happened upon this article about how Barneys is personalizing mail based on individual behavior on the web site. Targeting mail seems like a much better approach than the old fashioned blast, although I’m not sure about their assertion this rosy new relationship with the customer means that people embrace getting up to five emails a week. They do say they’ve had a ten-fold rise in response rates, which totally makes sense. If you send a promo for hip new purses to your entire email list, you’re percentage of conversion is going to be lower than if you send the purse promo to teenage girls and the power tie promo to older men.
Although Barneys is getting better at segmentation, they seem to be hesitant to go the next step: stop sending mail to people who don’t respond. I have never shopped online at Barneys and haven’t been in a store in at least eight months. But that doesn’t stop them from sending me mail day in and day out. Mail, by the way, that I never open. (I finally opened one last week solely to click the unsubscribe button.) The incessant mail (10 messages during a 12 day period last month) actually made me less likely to shop at Barneys because I was so irritated that they continued to clog up my inbox.
Ryan Warren of Exact Target brought this up today at the eMetrics Industry Insights Day. He said that sometimes the best thing you can do is stop sending mail to people who don’t open it. Spend you energy on those who like getting your mail and take action on it.
His data supported Barneys’ direction. He said that only 11% of companies send targeted mail and only 7% leverage click stream data, but doing so can raise conversion rates from 1.1% to 3.9% (and can raise click through rates from 9.5% to 14%).
He talked about sending mail not on Tuesday afternoon at 1pm but based on when the customer was interacting with the site. For instance, if you have a travel site and someone puts a trip on hold, send them an email to remind them the hold is about to expire. Or if they were checking out a vacation package, let them know when the price drops. Or better yet, if you know they’re in Seattle and they were browsing trips to Mexico, email them when you see that the Seattle weather forecast calls for rain. (Although now that I think about it, you might need to tweak that last one, or you may end up with the Barneys mail sent every day dilemma.)