Chicken, Egg, Lemming

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Yesterday the Email Sherpa blog cited Return Path’s deliverability analysis in support of their earlier piece stating that Monday is the best day to send email campaigns. This is true, of course, but not anything close to the whole story.

Email Sherpa points out that the majority of commercial email goes out between Tuesday and Thursday, with very small amounts sent on Monday and Friday, and virtually none sent over the weekend. Why does commercial email follow this pattern? Perhaps because prior to this most recent report, the common knowledge — as recently as December of last year — was that midweek was actually the best time to send commercial email.

Funny how that works, isn’t it? Everybody knows that Tuesday through Thursday is the best time to send email and starts sending on those days, and yet suddenly — mysteriously — people don’t respond as well and ISPs start filtering more aggressively on those days. But, of course, it then turns out that Monday is actually the best day to mail, because people get less mail on Mondays.

I understand the desire to be able to say to one’s boss “I don’t know why we’re getting low response rates, we’re mailing on Tuesdays, just like these industry publications recommend,” rather than “I need time and money to figure out when we should mail, and I’ll have to keep getting that money forever, because that answer will keep changing over time.” I also understand that it’s a lot more difficult to actually gather, control, and analyze your own data on what works and when than…well, than to do nothing. But this is important. Seriously.

I’m particularly aware of this issue right now because of the recent Forrester report on email marketing service providers. While the report merits a whole separate post, one of the key items for me was the listing of items related to email that marketers felt would be issues for them in the coming year. Close to 50% of marketers interviewed for the study listed “increasing the number of email addresses” as a signficant challenge, while less than five percent listed “establishing the right metrics” as an issue. Apparently these companies already know everything they need to know.

According to his Web site, Bruce Schneier is “best known as a refreshingly candid and lucid security critic and commentator.” He has a lot of intelligent things to say about security issues, but one of the most important is a simple sound bite: security is a process, not a product. Marketers would do well to remove the word “security” from that sentence and try fitting a few others in there: customer responsiveness, email deliverability, or perhaps just “business.” Marketers, like everybody else, need to be focused on metrics — not just the results that they’re currently getting, but understanding how those results are calculated and whether the right things are being analyzed. This is a process, and you’re never going to be “done” with it.