Out With the Old, In With the New: Personalizing Your Email Program

As 2016 kicks off, I’ve been reflecting on all the changes that happened last year in the email industry. A major theme for senders was to develop a personalized sending approach and that has been something we here at Return Path believe in as well: “right inbox, right message, right time.” Many senders are taking this approach and seeing great results.

In my role as a Technical Account Manager, I recently worked with two senders that were successful in elevating their email programs by taking a more personal approach to optimize their sending behavior. Below are their different approaches:  

Sender 1: Newspaper publisher 

Goal: Reduce volume of emails while maintaining high subscriber engagement

Test: This sender started by bucketing their list into three groups based on open activity. Group 1 included subscribers who had opened in the past 0-30 days, Group 2 had opened in the past 31-60 days, and Group 3 had opened in the past 61-90 days. Their focus was on Group 2 (31-60 day openers) who were receiving a daily news update. The test for this group was to reduce the send frequency to only three times per week instead of seven times per week. Their theory was that, by reducing frequency, they could maintain engagement in this segment.

Conclusion: At the end of this test (which lasted 90 days), the unsubscribe and complaints rates were significantly lower than when they mailed seven times per week. In addition to maintaining a healthy list, they also saw an increased performance in both click and open rates for Group 2. In total, they had a 50% reduction in sent mail and maintained an engaged subscriber file. This sender is sending significantly fewer emails but still capturing a high rate of clicks/opens. They are currently working to roll out their learnings as a best practice across all of their publications. The highlight is that they now can take this group that is unengaged with the daily news update and work to target them differently with a more relevant message in the hopes to drive engagement from them in a new way. 

Sender 2: Retailer

Goal: Reduce number of emails by looking at when a subscriber is more likely to open

Test: This retailer sends an average of three messages per day to their subscribers: morning, afternoon, and evening. They believed that the more emails they sent, the more chances people had to engage and therefore their conversions would increase. This sender saw thousands of subscribers unsubscribe every day and realized that their approach wasn’t yielding the results they desired. In order to prove that mailing more frequently did not increase purchases, they took a random segment of their subscribers and looked at what time they typically opened their email. If a subscriber received three messages a day but opened the afternoon email more often than the morning or night email, then they would flag this subscriber to only receive only the afternoon email.  

Conclusion: By sending to subscribers when they were more likely to open, this sender was able to send fewer emails per day and reduce the number of people who were unsubscribing. This also led to an improved engagement rate, since people were getting one message at a time that was convenient for them.

Both of these senders have large lists and have reduced the total number of emails they send per month by millions. With a reduction in daily volume, senders can reinvest that volume elsewhere in their program: for example a win-back program to engage lapsed subscribers or creating a more robust welcome series.

While these examples show that it’s possible to start optimizing your send time in-house, it is often a resource heavy endeavor that requires a significant amount of development and resourcesespecially if you want to go as far as to customize send time based on each individual subscriber’s behavior. Return Path's Send Time Optimization solution takes all of the guesswork out of testing and uses historical engagement data to send mail on the individual level at a time that they are most likely to open.     

If you've thought about tailoring your campaigns to subscribers personal preferences, now is the time to get started. In 2016, deliverability will be even more personal. Start thinking about your unique subscribers and optimize your sending behaviors today!

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