How can marketers limit the pressure they put on their customers? The easy answer is: they should send fewer emails. But is it really that simple? Discover our take and solutions.
What is marketing pressure?
We can define marketing pressure in terms of the number of messages that a brand is sending to its customers on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis (simply put, the more messages, the higher the pressure).
A very common question nowadays for CRM managers is, What is the maximum number of emails we can reasonably send to our customers?
They wonder: How many messages should they send each week? Should they send at least one message per week per user? They are taking cues from their competitors without really knowing if it makes sense to be employing the same tactics. And with the addition of push notifications, web push, SMS, etc., into the classic print and email mix, these questions become even harder to answer.
In this article, we’ll shed light on how to manage marketing pressure to successfully respond to business demands while doing right by your customers. Let’s dig in!
It started with TV ads
We should start with a little bit of advertising history as the questions and challenges surrounding marketing pressure have been present for some time.
For consumer goods companies, selling products in hypermarkets and grocery stores, it was crucial to be recognized by the customers who were walking down store aisles.
So began the battle for “top-of-mind awareness.” Unilever, for example, aims to have consumers’ minds go straight to one of its own personal care brands whenever said consumers need to purchase soap.
Many studies have indicated that top-of-mind awareness has a real impact on purchase once consumers are in store. And it has been proven that repeating a message is key to creating top-of-mind awareness. The below summarizes a 2015 meta-analysis on effective frequency:
The results show that in an experimental setting maximum [consumer response] is reached at approximately ten exposures, while recall increases linearly and does not level off before the eighth exposure. The findings are of interest for two opposing schools of thought in the advertising literature on effective frequency. They support the repetitionists’ beliefs over the minimalists’ beliefs on the number of ad exposures needed for maximum consumer response. The study further investigates whether the repetition effects depend on contingent factors…. Repetition effects decay over time for both attitude toward the brand and recall.
Repetition, then, has come to be critical for advertisers – so critical that it even determines the pricing of TV campaigns. In advertising, you can buy GRPs (gross rating points), which measure advertising impact (namely, market penetration).
A GRP is calculated as a percentage of the target market reached, multiplied by the exposure frequency. Thus, if you reach 30% of the target market and give them 4 exposures, you would have 120 GRPs. Repeat exposure is the central KPI when defining the price of a media plan. Needless to say, marketing pressure is important in this context, as repetition can come at a cost – also noted in the study citation above.
We’ve all been in the position of having seen or heard an ad way too many times. In such cases, brands may certainly be top of mind – but not in a good way.
The 2 factor theory that was developed in the 1970s by University of Toronto psychology professor Daniel Berlyne describes this phenomenon: It explains that repetition has a positive effect for a period, and then begins to have a negative effect.
During the first phase, called wear-in, repetition of an ad allows consumers to become familiar with the brand. In this phase, repetition can overcome consumer reluctance to purchase a new product or brand. As the repetition continues, consumers become used to the brand and may enter a second phase, called wear-out. In the wear-out phase, consumers become tired of hearing about the brand, and repetition can cause consumers to stop buying the product or brand altogether.
This theory illustrates what economists know as the law of diminishing returns.
What about digital marketing?
Repetition is also an important consideration when it comes to digital marketing. Many, including major digital actors like Facebook, have published interesting learnings on the subject.
In 2016, researchers from the Facebook Marketing Science department published the results of a study regarding branding campaigns:
The study showed that a frequency cap of 1-2 per week is a healthy baseline for fairly established brands, with additional factors – including overall brand recognition, market share, purchase cycle, and share of voice – influencing optimal frequency (whether higher or lower) in given cases; this illustrates both that there is no one-size-fits-all frequency recommendation to suit all brands, campaigns, and KPIs – and that marketers must be mindful of the potential for oversaturation and message fatigue (i.e., diminishing returns).
So how does marketing pressure relate to CRM?
Of course, CRM marketing is another way for brands to reach consumers. And as with TV ads, brands have the opportunity to communicate frequently with their customers. But there are also some key differences when comparing CRM communications with TV and other types of media campaigns.
For starters, emailing tends to be a very low-cost option – i.e., there are often no real budget constraints associated with the channel. And for many companies, no need to allocate budget means no communication limit (this is often to a brand’s detriment).
Additionally – and this one is a key advantage – digital marketers often know exactly what customers are doing behind their screens: They know things like whether customers have opened or clicked on an email, what exactly they’ve clicked on, and what they’ve done on the website afterwards. CRM marketers can and should use this advantage to be smarter about pressure management!
Handling marketing pressure in CRM
Marketing pressure is a concern for a majority of CRM marketers
Email marketing took off in the early 2000s and almost ever since, users have signed up on company websites by providing their email addresses.
In the beginning, email campaign strategies were quite similar to TV ad campaign strategies (and this remains true in many cases).
Then, some more refined tactics appeared. Different types of emails were sent: for branding purposes (to optimize top-of-mind awareness as TV ads would do) or with a commercial purpose (to drive sales post-click directly online).
The success of email marketing has increased over time and has led to companies sending more and more emails. But some companies have gone a little too far, and are now effectively spamming their users. How do customers respond? They unsubscribe – and companies, in turn, lose a cheap and reliable way to promote their products.
Earlier this year, we released the 2022 State of CRM report, in which 100 digital marketers shared with us, among other things, what their thinking is when it comes to marketing pressure.
Pressure management was a concern for 89% of our respondents, with 58% monitoring pressure on a regular basis. Among “best-in-class” respondents (i.e., the most customer-centric and data-driven companies surveyed), 53% have tools dedicated specifically to pressure management.
How can marketers limit pressure?
The easy answer is: marketers should send fewer emails.
But we all know that CRM managers are not the only ones making decisions, with category managers and others pushing for additional campaigns to meet myriad business needs. And, again, sending additional emails is often an enticing option as it typically requires no additional budget allocation.
So what happens next?
In many cases, marketers add more and more products and offers to individual communications. This approach might allow marketers to cross additional priority items or promos off of their lists, but customers typically gain nothing from these gratuitously long messages (not to mention that brands, too, lose out in the end, as users aren’t taking the time to scroll).
In many other cases, email load is itself increased. But more emails mean more pressure, and, ultimately, there is a limit to the number of campaigns that a company can send before the unsubscribe rate explodes.
Customer-centricity is key
We’ve been focusing on marketing pressure and the notion of ‘optimal frequency’ without really talking about customer needs and individualization.
First and foremost, we need to keep in mind that every customer is different. It’s hardly ideal to think only in terms of full-base campaigns where every customer receives the same amount of emails at every interval.
Customer A may love a brand and its products and be happy to receive 6 emails a week, while Customer B may view more than 2 weekly communications as excessive.
How can marketers take customer preferences into account?
Companies can create preference centers where users indicate how often they want to receive emails and/or which topics interest them most. This approach is customer-centric but it can also be quite limiting; it’s difficult to respond to ever-changing demands, releases, promotions, etc., while sticking strictly to the parameters set by customers at a particular moment in time.
Only one solution truly allows for the marriage of both business- and customer-centricity: Targeting!
Precision-targeting allows marketers to talk about the right products to the right users with the right frequency.
3 levels of marketing pressure management
To summarize the options available to marketers, we’ve defined 3 levels of pressure management.
Marketers can send full-base campaigns and set a single cap for all.
So, in the above example, the entire database will receive 4 emails per week.
Marketers can target based on recent email activity (email opens, email clicks), sending some full-base campaigns each week – 2, for instance – and sending 2 additional campaigns to active users only.
Level 3 consists of targeting based on various criteria, including email opens, purchases, website visits, demographic information, etc., allowing marketers to communicate with different customer segments about different things. BUT – these segments are quite static over time, are riddled with human biases, and often offer very limited reach.
None of these levels is ideal.
Tinyclues’ algorithms allow its customers to target and manage pressure at what can essentially be classed as Level 4: Audiences are dynamic, built in real-time through Deep Learning technology, and require no limiting assumptions on the parts of marketers (think, I need to communicate about video games so I’ll only send this email to young males).
Level 4 allows marketers to identify the perfect audiences for all products and offers and to communicate in a differentiated way at varying frequencies.
And what about multi-channel ?
It would be wrong to think that the marketing fatigue created by a brand only applies on one channel. The solution to sending too many emails is not sending the same number of emails and adding some push notifications and SMS.
Multichannel marketing is a very efficient way to talk to customers, as marketers have different communication options for the messages they want to deliver – but this mix of touchpoints does not in and of itself prevent marketers from over-communicating.
A global communication strategy should be taking into account every touchpoint and evaluating global marketing pressure.
In our State of CRM report, we note that best-in-class companies are already employing omnichannel strategies.
The impact of targeting
Nielsen’s 2022 Global Annual Marketing Report confirms the positive impact of targeting strategies.
The study is not focused on email only, but more generally on the importance of understanding consumers and clients. It covers many ways for companies to engage with their customers and pursue the objective of reaching the right audiences with the right messages.
In the report, “Audience Targeting” is ranked as the #1 factor positively influencing campaign performance.
Looking again at recent Facebook studies, we see that a report issued in 2020 confirms the importance of targeting and links it directly to marketing pressure.
The report showcases the evolution of response rates depending on ad repetition.
The better an ad performs on the first impression, the more repetition will improve its performance – but only if we’re talking about quality ad content targeted to the right people. If an ad is improperly targeted from the start, showing it more times isn’t going to make things better.
Targeting allows marketers not only to optimize the response rate to an initial communication, but also to ensure a positive response rate for subsequent related messages.
Marketing pressure has been an important topic for brands since the dawn of advertising. CRM marketers have the opportunity to monitor and control the marketing pressure that they apply to their customers.
Sending only full-base campaigns is not optimal, even with personalization, as it doesn’t account for individual customer preferences.
Precision-targeting in CRM offers marketers the opportunity to adjust pressure for different customers. This approach is customer-centric, allowing marketers to adapt message frequency based on customer receptiveness, and business-centric, as requests from key stakeholders – not to mention revenue goals – can be satisfied.
CRM marketers should keep in mind that exceeding certain message thresholds – and these vary by customer – can lead to negative brand sentiment and unsubscribes (note that even seemingly insignificant unsubscribe rates can ultimately pack a real punch).
If a customer feels message-fatigued, even on a single channel, companies must slow down and engage by other means (or, in some cases, not at all for a bit!).
In the future, companies that implement a “push and pull” marketing approach – not only pushing products but really drawing customers in through individualized content and message cadences – will be the ones to come out on top.
- « Quelle est la répétition optimale pour une publicité Facebook », NeoMedia
- « How to Notify Users Without Being Spammy », Growth.Design
- « Surmonter la fatigue marketing sur tous les canaux », Behavioural Response
- « Effective Frequency: Reaching Full Campaign Potential », Meta
- « The Law of Diminishing Returns », Personal Excellence
- Le rapport Tinyclues “The State of CRM 2022”