Over-Communicating: The “Best Practice” That Is Killing Your Email Marketing

Written by Ed Higdon on . Posted in Uncategorized


It has been a longstanding best practice in retail to send as much information to as many customers as possible through email. This “more is more” thinking has led many companies to bombard every shopper with a barrage of communications, sometimes on a daily basis. Why has this best practice prevailed, and is this truly the most effective way to generate customer action and strengthen relationships?

How Did Retail Become An Industry Of Over-Communicators?

When asked why they believe that more-is-more outreach is the best strategy for email communication, many retailers will likely say something like: “Our data shows that we make 30 cents on every email that is received/opened/clicked. Therefore, the more emails we send, the more money we make. Since we are not capturing thousands of new emails a day, if we want to make more money, we obviously have to send emails to our list more frequently.”

On its face, that logic is not incorrect. In fact, the reasoning makes perfect sense. However logical it may be, the strategy does not account for communication fatigue, it does not allow time to develop targeted, focused communication strategies, and it does not consider that fact that engagement is not independent of frequency.

The Relationship Between Frequency And Engagement

When it comes to email communications, retailers must understand that engagement and frequency operate dependently. According to a study by Mail Chimp , engagement decreases as email frequency increases. This is likely a direct result of communication fatigue. The average email user receives more than 45 messages a day and that number climbs to 167 per day in a corporate environment. If a customer is bombarded daily with irrelevant marketing emails in addition to all of the other emails they receive, the results will be poor. At worst, customers will unsubscribe with a negative feeling about the retailer and, at best, they will just ignore or delete the communications.

To be fair, a “spray and pray” mentality can work for retailers who have cultivated massive email lists. With millions of addresses on the books, it’s not the end of the world if a few drop off here and there. Regardless of how large your email list may be, however, there is always a better way to communicate than simply blasting your list early and often.

Think Relevancy, Not Frequency

Let’s consider the strategies of two retailers. Retailer A sends mass communications to its email list on a daily basis. Those communications are generalized, sent to all customer segments, and contain generic announcements and offers. Retailer B reaches out to specific segments of its email list on a weekly basis. It sends targeted communications based upon customer segments and profiles. Customers who haven’t shopped in a while might receive a rich offering for a deep discount on all non-sale merchandise. Highly profitable customers, on the other hand, may receive specific product deals based upon their purchase history. Which retailer do you think ends up getting a bigger return on its email communication investment?

The idea that less communication is more only works, however, when the retailer commits to developing deals, offers and announcements that are relevant to their customers. That strategy may include the occasional blanket email blast, but strategically timed, hyper-focused and targeted messages will always generate better results.

How Much Communication Is Too Much?

There is no single, one-size-fits-all approach to communication. Every customer base is unique, and the only way to determine the right balance of communication frequency is to analyze customer data, develop strategies, and test those strategies. What works for a large retailer like Target may not work as well for a regional chain of hardware stores. The key to real email success is developing an understanding of your customer preferences, and tailoring your approach accordingly.