As a 17-year email marketing veteran, I’ve been asked countless questions by those seeking to improve their program performance and best practices. Lately, send-time optimization seems to be on a lot of minds—it feels like at least once per week I’m asked, “when is the best time to send an email?”
After years of email marketing work, I’ve found myself increasingly convinced that there is only one true answer. And I’ll give it to you for free—ready?
The absolute best time to send an email is… when someone darn well wants or needs one! This is, quite simply, the ultimate in customer experience.
I’m not alone in recognizing the key to this longstanding mystery, as is evidenced by the recent surge in triggered email providers such as Bluecore and Windsor Circle. However, triggers don’t cover the entire spectrum of customer experience. So, the question of when it’s best to send marketing emails remains. To my mind, the answer lies in looking toward email’s predecessor.
Think about your own experience with postal mail. Unless you’re stalking your letter carrier for your latest Zulily order, it probably matters very little to you when the mail comes. You check your mail whenever you decide to check your mail. If you’re like me, you triage at the mailbox: rifle through the stack of envelopes, marking some for early reading, saving others (usually bills) for later, and immediately discard the junk.
We prioritize our mail not by when it’s delivered, but by the value we place on the sender. We’re far more focused on the quality and value of the message inside the envelope. Email is no different in this regard—when we triage our inbox, we tend to look at the sender as an initial qualification, and the subject line second. Only after clearing these hurdles do we click to read a message itself. Because of this, consumers are far more likely to open and interact with email content when brands consistently deliver a value-based experience. Messages from those brands who simply push promotion are most often discarded as a matter of course. No consumer is in a perpetual cycle of purchase, so it’s important to provide something that keeps them engaged between conversions. Doing so will keep your brand at the top of customers’ minds when they are in the market for purchasing.
Send-time optimization is not a replacement for a thoughtful and engaging content strategy. Solutions such as AudiencePoint and Return Path may bring incremental lift and increases to performance, but this should be seen as more of a fine-tuning, or a finishing move.
Before we think about optimizing the time of send, let’s focus on optimizing the experience at time of open. As marketers, it’s always tempting to look for simple fixes—maintaining an effective and evergreen content strategy takes time, effort and resources… you know, those things there never seem to be enough of. But it doesn’t have to be this way—there are a number of easy ways to simplify this process.
In my next blog post, we’ll explore how to automate content to create engaging and effective email ecosystems that foster interaction and drive conversion—no matter what time they’re sent.