Does send time matter for email marketing?
06 Jun 2016
The debate topic at the last DMA Email Council meeting was: Does email send time matter?
Those of us on the Council all like a debate and for this topic that enthusiasm was no different! There was a clear divide in the room between two different camps; the ‘yes’ it does matter camp and the ‘no’ it doesn’t matter camp.
This part of the blog post is from the ‘yes’ it does matter camp with a few reasons as to why we think send time is important in optimising your email marketing.
A simple yes or no answer isn’t straightforward to arrive at; there are a number of factors that come into play, but we argue that the nuances and challenges don’t mean that send time isn’t important.
Some factors to consider affecting send time:
• Context of the email
• Type of subscriber that will be receiving the email
• Type of business, product and industry
• Expectations of the subscriber
• Seasonal trends
• Behaviour of the subscriber
• International time zones
It’s pretty evident with those points in mind that there isn’t a one size fits all solution to the ‘right’ send time. If there was, we marketers would all coalesce around it and quickly it would be ‘right’ no-longer. Let’s debunk the notion of a global ‘right time’ straightaway.
Having said that, with 125 emails received in many consumer inboxes each day, being at the top of the inbox and staying there for a while is virtually impossible. In our opinion this makes finding the timing sweet spot increasingly important. You don’t want to be on page 2 of Google's search results do you? The same applies to the email inbox.
It’s pretty clear that sending a 48hr flash sale offer email after the offer has ended would mean that the send time wasn’t right, so there has to be a level of common sense when approaching send time optimisation. The same can be said for basket abandonment emails where the optimal time is typically <20 minutes after a customer leaves their basket. If the email is sent after that time, it is increasingly likely the customer has bought from a competitor.
Behaviour, context and targeting
But how to deal with those communications which aren’t tied too tightly to other events, perhaps onboarding sequences or a newsletter?
We advocate focussing on the behaviour of your subscribers. The first place to start is to profile your subscribers to understand when they open, click, go onto your website, purchase your product or another desirable action towards contributing to your bottom line. This will help you understand the most valuable time for each segment of subscribers to receive your message.
For those with the ability to deal with individuals or very small segments, when does each individual customer want to receive your email? What does their interaction and behaviour with your email campaigns tell you about them as an individual? If you can figure out an average time of website, app or email interaction – we argue it’s worth reaching them in the hour prior to make sure your communications are front and centre when they start dealing with their inbox or before they become distracted by other tasks. If this is negligible effort, and with many data solutions today this is a realistic goal, why not take the step?
For those of us dealing with regional or global audiences, we should consider time differences. If we speculate that for a given business and segment 7pm is the optimal time to send an email, perhaps because you’ve a largely 9-5pm database and a B2C retail offering, sending at 7pm in the UK and 5 hours later for a Eastern Seaboard US should solicit a stronger overall response than using a blanket send time approach.
Context is also important, if a customer is walking into your store, sending a notification of the relevant products you have on offer might prove fruitful. Sending this email 2 weeks later may not be as successful.
Live content means that each time an email is opened it can automatically update based on factors such as the device used, location and third-party data sources. You might argue that live content renders send time irrelevant, but while the content can be augmented the inbox position and subject lines cannot. Remember if you’re using fixed content try not to delay for so long that the message loses relevancy.
Lessons from Social Platforms
Algorithms for email matched programmatic ads on platforms such as Google and Facebook who optimise for time of day, based consumer behaviour and extensive tracking. While we shouldn’t be swayed by a parallel industry too firmly, this strongly suggests that their gigantic data sets show that time of day is an issue for many (all?) consumers, in responding to marketing messages.
The prime counter argument we heard from the ‘no camp’ was that there were more important things to worry about. That may be the case if your data or creative isn’t in a solid state. It might make the kind of optimisation discussed here difficult to the extent it in not viable. But if you are on a solid footing and you have data, people and platforms to support time send optimisation (it really needn’t be that tough, with smart approaches) why not take the marginal gain?
To summarise, there isn’t a one size fits all perfect time to send. Analysis is the best way forward to find the optimal time for your subscribers. As always, test what works and learn from what doesn’t for your industry, company, database, segments and individuals. We acknowledge there is effort involved in creating the kind of time optimisation discussed here but with advances in platforms and technology, you might well find that there is ever so slightly more gold in them there hills with a bit of careful targeting, depending on your business and commercial model this could really matter.
Contributors: Jenna Tiffany at Communicator, Steve, Sarah, Maurice at Altaire and Andy Kidd at WorldRemit.