Dela Quist: Email Frequency and Unlocking the Brand Potential of Email

Dela Quist

Dela Quist

Dela Quist is a well-known name in the email marketing industry. With sometimes controversial views, he makes marketers think and that is always a good thing. Dela was a keynote speaker at the first edition of our Fusion Marketing Experience.

In this interview Dela Quist shares his views on email frequency and the branding potential of email campaigns. Seemingly rather innocent topics but if you advice marketers to send more email in a world with an increasing volume of marketing channels and messages, like Dela does in this interview, you get attention.

Before scratching your head, read Dela’s arguments and then make up your mind, especially keeping the branding impact of email, recent data from the DMA and attribution in mind.

You’ve been doing some testing regarding branding and email marketing recently. What was the reasoning behind this?

Dela Quist: It’s not so much testing as analysis of data on behalf of our clients. My agency, Alchemy Worx, has been doing consulting and marketing and outsourcing production and design — the whole email marketing process for clients for ten years now.

For a big part of that time the conversations have always been about being more relevant and effective, sending fewer emails etc. The thing that surprised me was that the marketers were ignoring their experts. My feeling is that if the experts were saying to send less yet more segmented and relevant emails and the marketing people at all the conferences ignore them, it must mean that the marketers are stupid or the experts are wrong or missing something obvious. And it seems to me that the marketers must be achieving success, otherwise they’d all be fired.

Over the years one of the things I noticed was – and it’s very simple stuff – that if you have a customer who receives 20 emails from you, that customer will spend more than one who gets five. I’ve never heard anyone disagree with me.

Here’s another example, if I said to you, I have a customer with a list of 200,000 people and they sell a product and they currently send one email a month. Which will make them more money? Segmenting that list so that each person (on the list) gets a different email with different content or just sending everyone two emails?

I would say option number one.

Dela Quist at the Conversionation Conference Brussels 2011

Dela Quist at the Conversionation Conference Brussels 2011

Dela Quist: No. That’s what everyone says, but actually it’s not true. You will get more money by sending everyone the same email twice in a month than by staying on a frequency of one and segmenting it.

The desire to be clever is overriding common sense

Even if you segment and adapt the content so it’s different for the individuals?

Dela Quist: You’ll get a lift, but not as much as just sending everyone the same message twice. That’s why marketers don’t listen and we’ve made them embarrassed to say that they dont. We’ve made marketers feel stupid because they send two emails instead of doing any segmentation. No one tells of their success, they’re embarrassed.

So, what I found is that even my customers, when I show them this say: “Yeah, yeah, but I want you to do something clever!” The desire to be clever, the desire to use the software that’s available is overriding common sense.

Common sense and data say it’s better to send twice, the same mail to everyone than to send one which is perfectly segmented and targeted?

Dela Quist: That’s right. Now, let me qualify this straight away. There is a limit, it’s not true all the time. Let me give you two examples. One person does no segmentation and sends two emails. Another person does segmentation and sends two emails. Then the segmentation will be the difference.

But the email frequency…

Dela Quist:…is the most important factor — frequency and reach. The more people you have on the list and the more emails you send, the more money you will make. And because of that, one of the weirdest things about email is how little people spend in trying to acquire email addresses.

Because all the money goes to segmentation etc…

Dela Quist: Absolutely and it’s just missing the obvious thing! If I have a list of one million and you have a list of one hundred thousand, you can’t beat me. Reach and frequency are what works in advertising – it has always worked. So, the more people who see your commercial and the more times they see it, the more will buy your product.

Conversion doesn’t require people to open your emails

So, this is where the branding aspect came in?

Dela Quist: Yes!

When we talked previously, you indeed mentioned  about how some people who don’t even open the email will still go to a shop and buy something.

Dela Quist: Yes. Unfortunately not enough clients look at all revenue from all sources around email activity. So, we worry about people not being engaged. They’re not opening my emails, let me take them off the list. But they don’t ask if this person is buying in the store every week or are they calling me or perhaps searching Google or are they doing something else to reach me. And we don’t put those together. So, what we did was look at one of our clients who was able to supply us with revenue data from all sources including in-store. And we looked at the people who were not on their list and their purchase behaviour.

We plotted a line not by hour, but by every three to six hours or so for people not on the list and we plotted purchases by people who were on the list, but didn’t open the email and in the two days after the email went in to the inbox, there was a big spike in sales from people who received the email, but didn’t open it.

You could clearly make a link between the sending of the email and the shopping?

Dela Quist: Yes, because within a few days of the email going out, the line for the people getting the email diverges in a positive way from the line of the people who didn’t get the email. Before the email was sent, the lines were in the same pattern, the email is sent and then there’s a spike in sales from the people who received the email and then after that three days, the lines go back to following each other again.

So, can I conclude that you are saying that even though I don’t open every email, if your email is in the inbox, I process it even if it is just at a subconscious level and I find myself heading out to shop in your store? Or in other words: it’s about branding and attribution?

Dela Quist:  That’s correct. In fact, I would go one further than that. The word “inundated’ is something only those in the industry use. My mother isn’t inundated with emails. Most people, my wife, my home email are not inundated. When I say not inundated, I mean not by marketing messages. My wife is involved with our school and she gets emails from 20 or so different people all hitting “reply all”. But she only gets maybe three or four emails from commercial organizations, brand marketers, all of which she has signed up for. So, I always dislike the word inundate (consumers are overwhelmed with email) because it implies a consumer is too stupid to tell the difference between an email from their mother, an email from their boss, an email saying you’ve won the lottery, an email saying buy Viagara, an email from a Gap or other source they believe in and we just think, oh my God all these emails are killing me! No, no, no, that’s not true.

Your work emails may be killing you, but your friend’s emails are not and most people don’t get that many commercial emails. But we talk as if all emails are the same and every consumer thinks that every email is exactly the same thing and that’s not true. We are completely generalizing. About 99% of all emails are spam. Nobody in our audience is a spammer right? We’re all legal and we’re all trying our best to market to our customer base. Also, the spam filters on most emails services are very, very good now. The only reason you would be getting a lot of spam is if you’re either signed up for some or gone to some very “dodgy” sites — or you have an email system which is not protected and not as good as Gmail or Hotmail or something like that.

We (email marketers) are completely not normal

Or you are in the industry and you are constantly in communication with a lot of people because it’s your job.

Dela Quist:  Absolutely! That’s absolutely correct. Let’s use our common sense. We (email marketers) are not normal, we are completely not normal. We look at things in a different way and we think: “Oh my God, that person didn’t get permission from me! I know that!” My mother doesn’t know whether there was permission or not, it doesn’t matter to her. She’ll either respond to the email or not respond to the email.

An email could be from your boss stating that if you don’t reply by five o’clock you’re fired or it could be from your mother saying your aunt is very sick in hospital so, call your cousin or it could be that winning lottery phishing scam. It could be all kinds of things. You triage your inbox just like an emergency nurse. That’s a serious decision which we don’t make lightly. The same kind of processing goes on in the inbox too. It may be a split second decision, but you are using your highest cognitive functions and that is why the branding is so powerful.

If people are affected by Twitter which is 140 characters, than a subject line should also have that impact. One of the things we try to advise clients on is understanding whether they are trying to get people into the store or to buy via email. For example, if you know your busiest day in the store is a Saturday and you send an email on a Friday and the subject line says: “Great Offers in Store this Weekend”, you don’t have to open that email.

You have told the whole audience that you have great offers in your store. They don’t need to open the email to see what that offer is because they know your brand, they know what you sell, they have a relationship with you and they go there regularly.

Watch Dela’s presentation below.

Join us on June 10th in Antwerp, Belgium, for the Content Marketing Conference Europe. With confirmed speakers such as Jay Baer, Lee Odden, Mike Corak, Doug Kessler, Kelly Hungerford, Dado Van Peteghem, Tristan Lavender, Guido Everaert, Tom De Baere and Xaviera Ringeling (more to be announced), we'll take you across a learning experience leading to tangible insights and actionable inspiration, moderated by media expert Jo Caudron!


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