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Monday, Oct. 18, 2010 at 9:08 am

The More You Repeat Yourself, the Less Customers Listen

By Brendan Regan
October 18th, 2010

1CalendarThis post is focused on email marketing, but I think you’ll agree that the principles can be applied to other aspects of online marketing. For those of you who send emails to past customers: how often do you send those emails? Has your frequency changed over time, or did you “set it and forget it”? Is anyone testing frequency?

To illustrate, I’m going to pick on an unsuspecting merchant who’s been pestering my inbox of late. Take a look at the last four emails they sent me, just focusing on the subject lines:

October 12th

October 10th

October 9th
Get Your BOOTS BOOTS BOOTS – Extra 25% Off Coupon Code SITE WIDE Fall Super Sale (+Free Shipping)‏

October 7th
WOW – Extra 25% Off Coupon Code SITE WIDE Fall Super Sale (+Free Shipping)

The first thing you might notice is that the offer seems pretty compelling, at least at parity with what other merchants in their space are probably offering. A 25% off promo code plus free shipping can be pretty persuasive if I’m in the mood to shop TODAY. But, what if I’m not in the mood to shop right now? What if I’m more of an early or middle stage prospect?

If that’s the case, I’m going to be annoyed with the frequency of the emails. I have no interest in reading a merchant email every other day, and I doubt many prospects have that level of interest. I should add that I’ve only bought from this merchant once, so it’s not that I’m an uber-customer who’s shown a huge propensity to buy their product.

The other thing you might notice about the subject lines is that THEY’RE YELLING AT ME! Be careful about the use of capitalization in subject lines. It’s quite easy to test, so run some simple tests on open rate.

1chaletAnother warning I’ll give is to cut down on superlatives like “super” and “wow.” If I had $1 for every superlative that ever clogged my inbox, I’d be living in my chalet in the Alps today instead of writing this post!

Finally, and most importantly, is the fact that the offers and subject lines are too similar, and I’ve already started to discount them in my mind. Like the boy who cried wolf, if you keep sending me the same “super” offer, I’m going to start to think that it’s not all that super. Plus, if I’m the type who’s persuaded by time based promotions and “scarcity” offers (and I am), you’ve now got me trained that I don’t have to buy today…I can buy whenever I want because you’ll always give me 25% off and free shipping. This is especially bad if you’re trying to hit those Holiday sales goals before 2011. Send me too many promotions, and I’ll simply stall my purchase until next year.

Now that I’ve abused this poor merchant, let’s talk about testing. Testing email marketing for frequency isn’t as easy as split testing things like subject lines, images, or calls to actions on a campaign-by-campaign basis, but it’s crucial nonetheless. To properly test for frequency, you need the ability to segment your list into a Control group and an Experiment group. The Experiment group can be relatively small to minimize your risk. The Control group can get your recurring messaging at the usual intervals. Then, try reducing and increasing the frequency of blasts on your Experiment group until you’ve found the right balance between pestering customers and staying “top of mind.” The hardest part will be determining when and if your results are statistically significant.

If anyone has anecdotes or case studies on email frequency tests, please share with our readership.

Finally, does your email marketing have you baffled? Want to start testing emails and landing pages? Talk to us about how OnTarget can get your email channel on the road to continuous improvement.

Add Your Comments

Comments (38)

  1. It reminds me of the old saying – the meaning of the communication is the response you get! Nice post.

  2. If you are a marketer, there’s an easy way to get me to click “unsubscribe” on your newsletter – send me the same offer several times a month, each time as if it’s a last-chance can’t-miss-it opportunity. Actually, just send me emails several times a month, period. I go for very quiet marketing. Less is more.

  3. how small should the experiment group be? i’m no statistician but i assume there is a minimum number

  4. I have found this recently with Ebay. The initially sent me an email with a 10% discount. I opened the email (which they probably tracked) but didn’t buy anything. About two weeks later I received another 10% off voucher. I am wondering if I continue opening the emails but not use the voucher whether I will end up getting a higher discount.

  5. @danni: good question. Check out this free statistical significance calculator and plug in some test numbers.

  6. To stand out from the crowd these days, some time less is more. If your site is know for only communicated the best offers, then your visitors will look forward to communication from you and will take you seriously

  7. We slowed our promotions down just so we don’t turn customers off. This is something that has hugely benefited us.

  8. I agree with you. Some email marketers seems dump enough to udnerstand they are sending mails to humans. What usually I do is to unsubscribe the mails of whom send me same mails gain and again.

  9. I used to do a lot of email marketing for a previous company and there is definitely an issue with email frequency.

    We used to send one weekly newsletter to our entire list and up to two emails a week to a separate opt-in only list. It seemed like a good set up until the business started failing thanks to the global economic crisis.

    In a panic the management decided to increase the number of emails and offers and expand them to the whole list whether they wanted them or not.

    The result? A massive downturn in what little conversion success we had.

    After a few months of this I forced us to go back to the previous method and simply create even more segmented lists and market more heavily to those I thoguht wouldn’t mind. The result? A slight upturn.

    Sadly not enough to keep the company afloat – property investment was NOT the market to be in!

  10. When I receive 4 emails like that in such a short time spam I immediately unsubscribe. Also I don’t like TITLES IN CAPS!. They make me feel like I am a idiot, because I wouldn’t understand it if its written normal.

  11. In sales their is always someone chasing and someone being chased. The more you repeat the more you are chasing. It is just like high school dating.

  12. lol.. the email sender was actually yelling..
    I have tried various frequencies and so far, an email after 7 days, that goes in my customer’s inbox on Monday is working good for me.

  13. Most of these brash, in your face emails go straight into junk anyway.

    Subtly and infrequency is the key.

  14. I also get pissed off every time I received the same email over and over again. I then unsubscribe to those sites who’s offers are always the same. Well, I get hooked up to those sites who sends me an email from time to time informing me of their current discounts and sale.

  15. Hi, you are absolutely right, there is nothing worse than being hounded by sales emails or even calls. Plus I ignore anything with all capitals in the title as it just looks spammy.

  16. Slowing down and targeting our clients once or twice has helped us.

  17. hey Brendan

    I agree with Rick Otero- slowing down, and targeting, and then perhaps speeding up the campaign. It may create some crazy interest in the prospective client.
    The campaigns should resemble life…boredom kills interest.


  18. I like your email example with the repetitive subject titles. That is also call nagging- kind of like talking to a child telling them the same thing and they wouldnt listen. Change the method of communication or messaging with the same intent and it might just peek interest to at least get the message abosorbed versus filtered as spam.

  19. I get irritated when businesses email me the same message more than once.

  20. Surely there can’t be a lot of value in follow-up emails generally? Chances are if you’re wavering about making a purchase having seen a marketing email, you’ll still be thinking about it by the time that a follow-up email arrives in your inbox – and then you’ll feel pestered.

    I’ve always found email to be one of the trickiest forms of marketing; the temptation to spam and send out repeated messages is always there – but as you have demonstrated you really need to think about the effect this will have on the customer.

  21. [...] Tweet 10 Free Tools to Identify Online Influencers On the Most Important Things, Right Now The More You Repeat Yourself, The Less Customers Listen Another Study Proves The Obvious: Real World WOM Rules 50+ (Almost All Free) Websites to Promote [...]

  22. When I started Internet marketing I subscribed to most of the “gurus” newsletters. After a while, most of the messages were repetitive. They were almost always a product launch for one of their buddies.
    I think the email marketing business needs to retool. The newbies are fewer everyday.

  23. I personally unsubscribe from anything (even if it’s something I like) that comes more than once or twice a week. I have even decided not to buy a product that I was considering purchasing because of too many emails.

  24. What I find the worst about this type of marketing is you wont hear anything from them for a month then all of a sudden every second day your getting the same promo worded differently to your inbox. I try to be somewhat predictable with my emails, alternating between promos and interesting content to my subsribers. Sending emails on the 1st and 15th of every month.

  25. I couldn’t agree with you more. There is nothing more irritating than getting bombarded with the same sales pitch over and over again. If I was really interested in the product, I would have paid attention the first time. I don’t think that the people who employ this strategy give people much credit for their intelligence, which is insulting.

  26. I do not subscribe to websites because if I do so I have to spend a lot of time managing the mail box. In my opinions, the sellers should provide the more information about the product the better. WE should think of all what they need to know and provide them with all of these instead of sending mails

  27. I really like your email example with that subjective titles. That is just like telling a child.the same thing and they don’t listen it. Change the method of communication or messaging with the same intent and it might just peek interest to at least get the message.

  28. Hi Brendan, nice article..

    just want to share my experiences based on feed back from my sent emails, positive results occur when I change the subject of my email from..

    “ seduction words ;p”


    “Introduction – my company name”

    this result may occur..only targeting your niche..

    not just some random emails sending..

    Deny Rusdiansyah

  29. do not subscribe to websites because if I do so I have to spend a lot of time managing the mail box. In my opinions, the sellers should provide the more information about the product the better. WE should think of all what they need to know and provide them with all of these instead of sending mails

  30. Honestly, as a consumer it would depend on how passionate I feel about a product before I become thoroughly irritated. For example, Sephora sends me emails all the time but since I LOVE makeup and I don’t get irritated and I enjoy browsing and seeing all the new products whereas other items gets trashed immediately. It depends on my mood.

  31. really like your email example with that subjective titles. That is just like telling a child.the same thing and they don’t listen it. Change the method of communication or messaging with the same intent and it might just peek interest to at least get the message.

  32. It is true that the more you send emails to your costumers, the less attention that they will give to you. I think we should find some strategy to attract costumers by just sending them one email. The customers will love to see uniqueness in a product so we must give them what they want.

  33. Repeating makes a statement non sense and annoying. Hence, less repetition will make your audience engaged to what you are saying.

  34. WE have to concentrate on the words that quickly attracts the Customer’s attention….

  35. I can only verify what everyone else is saying. We have a much lower conversion rate on our “more frequent” mailing lists.

  36. The number of mails that you send to your costumer can significantly affect the business’ flow. It doesn’t mean that if you send less mails, the probability of having a good impression from the costumer will be less. The significance of the knowing the right time and the appropriate number of mails to send is very necessary. And these may also differ depending on the kind of product that you have and the type of place that you are on to.

  37. I would certainly agree with public relations company..Appropriate number of mails sent is the great thing to consider for this may affect to the total impact of the business one is advertising or promoting.. Exactly this may vary according to the nature of the business of the kind of product being endorsed on the web process.. Thanks for sharing this..this is may be annoying thus, must be well taken into consideration.

  38. This is very true. Sometimes we need to be considerate enough in sending advertisement emails to our customers. It is pretty annoying if we send them emails everyday advertising this and that because they will get tired of checking it everyday. I think this is already very abusive. We should not take our customers for granted. I know this is a very effective form of advertising but we need to know our limits.

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