Frequency cap in email marketing and newsletters

So you want to reach without overreaching. Every single marketer ever has been in your shoes.

It's a delicate balance to reach, and getting there isn't easy. You want your audience to see whatever you're offering. Hopefully, they'll engage with it, too, but overexposing them to your message can have the opposite effect.

As marketers, we should always think about our part in avoiding content fatigue for our audience.

Because we sure as hell are the reason for the fatigue in the first place.

Ad platforms have known this for years, and have featured frequency capping to avoid banner burnout, which is the point where visitors are being overexposed and response drops.

This may be true for campaigns of a direct-response nature measured by click-throughs (like a Google Ad campaign), but it might run counter to campaigns of a brand-building nature measured by non-click activity, like newsletters.

This response from Lenny Rachitsky to Web Smith's tweet about a cancellation mail was the inspiration behind this edition:

It sucks that value isn’t tied closer to feeling informed vs. the ability to consuming everything. Then again, if you had a proverbial newspaper in front of you, would you read it cover to cover, every single day?

While it may make sense to keep frequency low at higher stages of the funnel, that's not the case for lower stages.

Prospects who know your brand and have expressed interest in your content generally have a higher tolerance for your branded messages. Ad fatigue sets in later. And that's especially true for retargeting campaigns.

Here's a graph expaining effective frequency in a visual way. After the video, I'll deep dive into this for the email channel, particularly. Let me know if you want me to go over this for other channels.

Achieving effective frequency over email

Choosing the best frequency for sending emails is challenging since we are looking to maximise response, but avoid 'over-mailing' which can lead to unacceptable levels of unsubscribes and an increase in inactives since our audience may feel they are being spammed.

The thing is, even if they don't unsubscribe they will become "emotionally unsubscribed". Perhaps worse than an unsubscribe, since at least you'll know who's not interested any longer, you might just get muted or filtered by the recipient.

On the other hand, with 'under-mailing', opportunities to keep a strong narrative, introductions to products/features you're thinking of launching. etc, will be missed.

The DMA's National Email Client Report now known as the 'Marketer Email tracker' shows us that, generally, there is a trend over the past four years where companies are contacting individuals less on a monthly basis.

The research from the DMA highlights that 17% of companies are still sending 4-5 emails a month to their contacts, 8% 6-8 times and 8% more than 8 times a month.

Have in mind that this data is cross-sector.

Some businesses, like retailers and publishers email at least weekly, possibly daily. The research also excludes the effect of lifecycle emails like welcome emails, personalization, and dynamic content which can help make content more relevant and contextual but can increase email frequency.

Options to solve the frequency dilemma and how to test it:

  • Reduce email frequencies automatically for lower responding customers. Set a database field for activity and increase frequency through event-triggered emails sent in response to someone browsing, searching, or buying.
  • Change frequency for different segments. One frequency size is never going to fit all. So if you find that open or click response is lower for certain segments, then decrease the frequency when they are inactive.
  • Give customers a choice on frequency. Give options to change content and frequency preferences through their profile or a survey.

Last thing to have in mind

Consider that the impact of your campaigns may extend beyond click through rates and conversions. Your narrative, personality, everything that makes your brand what it is may affect how your audience see themselves.

Your identity spills over to your readers and could make them feel like they already have the traits implied by your editions. This is extra hard to measure in a tangible way, as brands with strong personalities might benefit from a higher than average amount of touchpoints.

The key is - know that these behavioral metrics exists, and play on your strenghts. Your audience might tell you what works or don't through purchases or unsubs - but they will always tell you.

Keep your ears close to them at all times.

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