This article originally appeared in MediaPost on August 2, 2012.
What is the best time of day to send email? That particular question is one that marketers have been asking since the dawn of email marketing. And, inevitably, someone would answer. It doesn't really matter what the answer was -- all that mattered was that someone said it. This single act officially turned it into the worst time of day to send email, as every marketer subsequently began sending their messages at the same time. The question subsided publicly for a while, but as deal-of-the-day and flash sales businesses flourish, owning a moment in the inbox has become ever more important.
Realistically, the best time of day to send email varies from recipient to recipient. Some brands are handling this on an individual basis, leveraging open information to determine what time each customer typically opens their email. Others are assigning email open behavior to demographic subsets of their audience. Some are not recognizing a need or concern for time at all. Regardless of your stance, testing into the right strategy will drive the long-term success.
It is easy to talk about owning a time in the inbox -- but looking at practical applications can really help paint the picture. Not every marketer needs to own a time slot -- after all, there are only so many hours in the day -- but here are three use cases to consider:
Different segments of your database have unique dispositions. Some may be mothers, some executives, some teachers, some lawyers -- you get the picture. Aside from their demographic and psychographic differences, their tolerance and rate of engagement with email will be different as well. Teachers, for example, work seasonally and during the school year have very little access to email during the day. Mothers, oftentimes, will engage with email in the evening after they have put the children to bed at 7, 8, 9 p.m. or so. Understanding the email behavior associated with each segment can help you determine the right time to place that email in front of them.
Consumers are creatures of habit. I talk to more people these days who thumb through their email, iPhone in hand, while lying in bed at night and watching TV. I know others who are on the lookout for email from a trusted brand at very specific times of the day or night. As a matter of fact, I have one friend who’s on her computer every night at 9 p.m. EST to see what is in her email from her favorite brand, and if it isn't there, she ‘s disappointed. Setting those expectations and delivering on them is integral to driving the behavior and engagement that you desire.
It’s realistic to expect that your subscribers are likely receiving email from one or more of your competitors. So the goal should be to stay "on top of" the competition in the sequence of the inbox. If the recipient comes to the competitive email first and then engages with content similar to yours, odds are (s)he may not spend as much time (if any) on your email when it is finally scrolled to.
Time can take on a number of use cases that are as unique as each of your programs, but I would suggest that you start considering it as another point of relevance as you fine-tune your programs. And keep in mind that owning a time slot actually means delivering at that time, not just hitting the "send" button at that time. Most brands these days can handle the website traffic that is generated from their email programs, so the need to throttle the deployment becomes less of a concern. So what is the right time to send email? Dare I say? It depends. (I know how much that phrase is loved.)