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The Goldilocks Principle and email frequency: Finding just right

No doubt you’re familiar with the children's story "Goldilocks and The Three Bears." You might not, however, be familiar with The Goldilocks Principle. Used in psychology, biology, engineering and economics, The Goldilocks Principle states that something must first have its extremes tested in order to determine the best possible middle ground – aka, just right.

Makes sense, right? Finding a happy medium was a common thread throughout the Goldilocks story. The porridge she discovered? One bowl was too hot. One was too cold. But one was just right, so Goldilocks gobbled it up.

So how do you find just right for your email frequency? Knowing that email is almost 40 times better at acquiring new customers than Facebook and Twitter and that 68 percent of companies rank it as the best channel for ROI, it’s probably safe to assume you’re sending some amount of email. This knowledge – and a little common sense – eliminates the need to test the extreme of sending no email at all, leaving only the upper limit to be tested.

Smart ways to increase your email frequency 

Before we talk about how to determine the point of diminishing returns, let’s examine three smart ways you can increase the number of emails you‘re sending without wearing out your inbox welcome:

1. Send valuable content. While I’m not going to advocate for simply blasting out more email to your entire list, I will make an exception for content that is incredibly valuable to your customer. What counts as incredibly valuable content, you ask? Well, it depends on your industry, but good examples include insider tips, educational whitepapers, members-only sales or engaging stories.

Take the time to audit all of the email communications you’re currently sending: marketing, automated and transactional. Then rank each email’s value factor on a scale of 1-5 (1 being not that valuable and 5 being really valuable). Do you have any content you’re not currently leveraging in your email campaigns? Create a plan to maximize the value of each email you send and leave room in your email calendar to send out campaigns containing recently produced, valuable content.

2. Segment your list. The more data you’re able to collect about your subscribers, the easier it will be to employ a variety of targeted segmentation techniques. Start with the data you currently possess. What natural groups do your subscribers fall into? Do separations occur along subject lines, promotions or types of content? What about location, email client or overall engagement?

Once you begin to identify some patterns, take a step back to consider the overall goals of your email marketing program. Of the patterns you’ve identified, which will serve to help you meet your overall goals? Should you work to engage your most engaged audience members even more? Seek to reengage lapsed customers? Reach out to individuals in a specific location? The answer will likely be a combination of things, but your ability to segment and then target specific groups of subscribers will allow you to send more email overall but not increase the number of emails any one individual receives.

3. Increase personalization and relevance. If one word sums up the future of email marketing, it’s relevance. Relevance in email marketing is the art of sending the right message to the right person at the right moment. Sound too complicated? Then start smaller with relevance’s cousin, personalization: sending the right message to the right person.

Personalization options begin with basic merge tags and end with robust artificial intelligence solutions that generate real-time and predictive content. For those using Emma, personalization options include tailoring subject lines and preheader text, inserting personalized content into your emails and even sending personalized links. Dynamic content also works to personalize content, images and more.

Now that we’ve discussed how to increase the amount of email you’re sending in ways that will foster engagement rather than incite backlash over crowded inboxes, let’s examine the concept of diminishing returns to help determine when you’ve found the sweet spot – just right – for your email frequency.

Determining the point of diminishing returns 

The law of diminishing returns states that if one variable in a situation is increased (here we’re talking about increasing email frequency) while all other factors stay constant, at some point the output or benefit of that variable will disappear. To understand the point at which you are experiencing diminishing returns, you must first define your goals: What are you trying to achieve with the emails you send? Opens? Clickthroughs? Conversions? Your testing goals may be very simple or quite complex.

A quick side note: While you are thinking about goals, you should also consider your tolerance for negative feedback. If you’re seeking to optimize your email marketing program by increasing your sending frequency, you’ll naturally see an increased number of unsubscribes or, possibly, complaints. Before making any changes, you might consider updating your email preference center to allow an individual to choose to receive fewer emails rather than unsubscribing from your list altogether.

Once you’ve determined your overall goals, the next step is to outline the time period or sequences you’ll be comparing. Are you testing a drip campaign that plays out over two weeks? Your monthly email cycle? After you’ve defined both your goals and the time period during which you’ll test and compare, you can begin to track the related metrics to determine when you’ve reached the point of diminishing returns.

How do you know you’re there? Your point of diminishing returns occurs when you begin to see the metric you’re measuring start to decrease, rather than increase. Say, for example, that you want to add a number of valuable content emails to a drip campaign that plays out over two weeks and increasing conversions is your main goal. In the first two week cycle, you add two new emails and see a 20% increase in conversions over your baseline number. In the next two week cycle, you add two more emails and see a 3% decrease over conversions in the previous two week cycle.

After seeing a decrease in conversions, you have a number of options:

1. You could try to add just one email to the series instead of two.
2. You could try adding emails with different content.
3. You could go back to the number of emails you had previously tested that saw the 20% increase and use that as your drip campaign.

If you choose to keep testing, you might find that one additional email or different content is just right. But even if you choose the third option, you’re still increasing your conversions by 20% over what you would have gotten without any testing.

So, what are you waiting for? Start your journey to finding just right in your email frequency today!

Tanya Wheeler-Berliner is the senior marketing manager for Email on Acid, a company that provides email testing, troubleshooting and tracking tools to help simplify and improve your email marketing efforts.