When is the best time to send a marketing email?



I had a really fascinating conversation a couple months back with Mike Donnelly, the CEO of a company called Seventh Sense. They have a fascinating business and a really cool piece of software that helps companies deliver the right email to the right person at the right time.

When I was a digital strategist for a good-sized ad agency, I received lots of questions about /when/ is the best time to send an email? “Brian, what are the best practices? Go research the best practices and tell us when to send these emails? Brian, we pay you to know the best practices!!!!”.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. If you’ve ever done a Google search to try to figure out when the perfect time is to send an email, you’ve likely experienced the same thing as me: 100 different opinions by 100 different professionals. Who should you believe? How do you create any kind of strategy for email deliverability when the ‘experts’ who publish reports don’t even agree?

I say all of this a little bit tongue in cheek. As soon as a new report comes out and MailChimp or HubSpot or Constant Contact or whoever releases new data saying that Thursday at 9:47am is the best time to send an email, every marketer in the world starts scheduling their email sends for 9:47 and within weeks it becomes an ineffective time to send an email. How about that?

I live in Little Rock, Arkansas, which is in Central Time. I work with clients on the east coast, and I work with clients on the west coast. When I start my day at 8am, my friends on the East Coast are getting a mid-morning snack, and my friends on the west coast are just waking up. If I was to send an email at this perfect, magical time of 9:47am, it begs the question: Who’s 9:47? When it’s 9:47am for me, it might be too late or too early for my clients and prospects in different time zones. Maybe your email software can determine your contact’s time zone and send it then, and maybe not.

Beyond that, what about the weird group of people that wake up at 4:30am to do yoga and be a badass? What about the night owl who’s working until 2am on the next proposal. Add in a couple of hours of time zone difference and these two may as well be on the other side of the planet.

One of my favorite movies growing up was Men in Black, with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. There’s a moment when Will Smith’s character realizes that there are aliens living among them and he asks Tommy Lee Jone’s character, “Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it.” Tommy Lee Jones replies back, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.” From an early age, that line left an impression that the best communication is always one-to-one. Our question about the perfect send time for marketing emails is the same way – there is no one perfect time to send your emails. As soon as you figure it out, it’s already wrong.

Enter Mike Donnelly. Like Tommy Lee Jones, Mike had a theory that people don’t have schedules, persons have schedules. There’s not a best time to send to people, but there likely is a best time to send to persons. Stay with me.

He and his team at Seventh Sense went out and built software that looks granularly at when each individual is engaging with your email – whether it’s 4:00 in the afternoon or 4:00 in the morning – and uses machine learning to predict when they’re most likely to check their mail. Then it integrates with some popular email sending solutions like HubSpot and Marketo to deliver every email at exactly the right time. Want to send this particular marketing email to your list at the perfect time for each person, sometime between now and Friday? With Seventh Sense, that’s a piece of cake and it hits everyone’s inbox at the time when they are most likely to be able to read it.

I was listening to him talk and thinking, “man, this is pretty smart, and it’s the only answer to this whole email send time thing that I’ve ever heard that makes sense.” Email marketing is still huge – it’s typically toted as the least expensive and most effective way to reach lots of people with a targeted message. It would stand to reason that if you can increase the open rate by another 10 or 15 percent, that’ll likely make an impact on your revenue. Seventh Sense actually claims that the number will actually be closer to 23% increase in open rates, which is huge.

Here’s the crazy part. If you’re a new subscriber and Seventh Sense doesn’t have any data on you at all, they send emails at random to start establishing behavior patterns. 3 in the morning. 2 in the afternoon. 7 at night. I can hear you saying, “Wait a minute! You can’t send someone an email at 3 in the morning! We know that they’re asleep then! That’s a wasted email, they’re never going to read it!” And you’re probably right. Unless your customer is the yoga-doing type and will be stirring in the next hour, and your email is the first one s/he checks.

The data they found knocked my socks off. They’ve discovered that sending emails at random – at literally all times of the day and night – consistently has a higher open rate than trying to figure out the ‘best’ time to send that perfect email.

So, what do you do? If you’re on Marketo or HubSpot, it might be worth looking at Seventh Sense. I’m sold on it. Other than that, I think it comes back to the basics. Focus on solving for the customer. Focus on writing really great, high-value content. Don’t send emails talking about yourself. And, for the love of it, don’t spend another minute stressing out about the perfect email send time.

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