One of the most heavily debated topics in the marketing communications segment today is when to send e-mail based newsletters, communications and promotions to customers. Nearly everyone you meet has a different opinion. Some experts will tell you to send the e-mails in the morning. Others recommend lunchtime. Some experts believe sending on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday is best. Others take a the view that off-hours – nights and weekends are best.
So what is the answer – I don’t know! Nor does anyone else. The only one that knows is the customer themselves. Here’s a new idea – Why not ask the customer when they want to be sent an e-mail from your company? You already ask customers whether they prefer HTML or text? And which types of content they want to subscribe to? And how frequently they wish to be contacted?
Instead of trying to find the one best time to send an e-mail to a large, diverse pool of recipients each with different reading habits and work schedules, why not offer a choice of days for customers to receive e-mails? You can release multiple distributions of e-mail communications according to end-user preferences. For example, you might offer a choice of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Sunday.
I would choose the weekend for most of the e-mail communications that I care about. I usually spend a few hours on a Sunday afternoon trying to catch up on work. I have much more time to browse content sent by third parties because my phone is not ringing and I am not rushing to go to another meeting. Others may prefer to have e-mails sent on a Tuesday or Wednesday because their calendar is less rigorous that day. Some may not state a preference at all in which case you can subscribe them to the default communication date based upon prior open rate analysis.
Interesting debate and like you I don’t have a complete answer. I question though whether it is wise to ask people which days and/or times they wish to receive newsletters as the addition of these questions on a subscription form may actually put people off registering in the first place? I’d also ask if it is necessary; advanced platforms such as Eloqua (used for sending and tracking email campaigns) can already reveal to you who opened an email and when. Once you have sent a few newsletters you could use this data to customise delivery schedules for individuals in the future – possibly a more accurate way of collecting the data as does a user behave in the way they anticipate they will at the time of sign up?
There is one final question this raises for me – are newsletters still the best way to deliver this information? Rather than pushing information out when we as marketers decide should our focus not be on things like RSS feeds which we encourage people to subscribe to therefore allowing them to pull the information when they want it? Perhaps the answer is that we should do both – the more ways we offer information the more likely it is to be read, be that via a push or a pull mechanism and if using the same content for both there is little additional work involved…
As usual you raise excellent points. I agree that RSS would be a better model than e-mail. And tools such as Eloqua can provide insights as to the highest days/times for open rates. My question would be then, why not send out the same newsletter to different groups to increase open rates? It would be sort like an A/B test, but varying only distribution time/day versus actual content. It seems that many of the marketing communications leaders I know only want to do one push of an e-mail newsletter.
I think the main issue is that marketing communication leaders often feel the need to get newsletters out as soon as they are ready, perhaps because they are being pressured to do so by others, because it contains time sensitive information or maybe they have a schedule of communications and have to stick to it strictly? There is no technical reason not to send in groups and indeed it is something I have done on many occasions; it doesn’t involve much extra time and batches can all be scheduled up front so it is not as if you need to be in the office to physically hit send. Email has become a key communication tool for most marketers but it strikes me that there are still many who perhaps don’t realise the potential of what can be done with today’s technology…
I can see the use of newsletters evolving greatly in the coming years; my personal view is that newsletter content should end up being posted in a blog style – adding new content as it is ready rather than spending weeks building enough content to justify a newsletter. This “blog” automatically drives an RSS feed too so people have an alternative way to pull information and makes it easier to access from mobile devices which is an ever increasing method of consuming information. The “Newsletter” then simply becomes a weekly, monthly, or whatever your schedule, digest of the news blog entries. This could even be an automated process with users selecting the frequency they wish to receive digests or perhaps opting to receive an email each time there is a new article available.
When you think about it this method should not be so strange to us – many of us are already using social network tools such as Facebook; we go to the site to read posts by others, we have applications on our Blackberry or iPhones to view key information on the move, some (like myself) use RSS as a way to quickly view updates and then we can opt to receive alerts by email when someone posts a message on our wall. People are already accepting this method for consuming information and indeed driving it now we just need the corporate world to catch up and realise that we can do all those things too… we can get a better return on our content and… it’s what our customers and prospects want!