The ability to schedule emails through an email marketing tool can be a powerful addition to any communications toolkit.
But as with most technology, there’s a danger that it can also encourage and reinforce bad habits.
From a nonprofit marketing perspective, here are three common use cases for scheduling emails that can be problematic:
1) You’ve always sent this kind of email at that date and time.
So you’ve just acquired the ability to schedule emails, and you’re excited for the increased productivity that comes with being able to schedule your email newsletter for a date and time that you were manually sending it out prior.
Before you get too caught up in your new-found power, take a step back and ask yourself “why do we send this newsletter at this same date and time every month?”
Has this ever been questioned? Or, like so many other nonprofit practices, do we just do it because that’s the way it’s always been done?
Unless you have some data to back up the assertion that this is absolutely the best date and time to send this particular email, and that’s why we do it, then it should be re-evaluated and tested.
Having the ability to schedule emails is a great introduction into the world of A/B testing, whether it’s manual or automated, as well as data segmentation. Consider segmenting your list into several groups and testing different send times. But don’t get too wrapped up in the results. Remember: date and time of sending is not the only factor that impacts open rates. Subject lines and the sender’s name can have an even greater impact, so be sure to test those as well.
An arbitrary but strict schedule can also lead to bad content.
For example, let’s say your monthly newsletter goes out on the 15th of the month at 10am no matter what. The 14th of the month rolls around and – even though the email is scheduled – you haven’t populated it with content. So you scramble to manufacture or scrounge up content that ends up falling flat. A bad email is worse than an unsent email.
Besides, no one is starting at their inbox at 8:57am waiting in anticipation for your 9am newsletter. A slight schedule change will probably go completely unnoticed by recipients.
2) You read an article or a study that says the best time to send is 9am on a Wednesday (or whenever).
Data is great, and benchmark studies can be extremely valuable in guiding your strategic efforts. But they shouldn’t be the only factor in deciding what the best strategy is.
Many benchmark studies directly contradict one another, which can lead to confirmation bias. In other words, it’s easy to find a study that backs up your preconceived notions on what the best strategy is.
The reason these studies differ from one another so frequently is that the audiences being studied vary greatly. Your audience is going to be different than the audiences being reported on in the study. What worked for them won’t necessarily work for your audience, which is why constantly testing different strategies on your unique audience is so important.
But let’s say just for fun that there’s one benchmark study that trumps all others, and offers the absolute best recommendation on when to send an email. If everyone starts to follow that advice, won’t it become the worst date and time to send an email? It’s a noisy world, and marketers of all types are clamoring for attention from consumers. So strive to stand out from the crowd, rather than getting lost in it.
3) You’re going on vacation and you want something to be sent out while you’re gone.
There may be times when you are physically unable to send an email at the desired date and time. If you have data to back you up, this can be a very good reason to schedule an email! But if you don’t have data, please refer to point #1 above.
But there’s another factor that we haven’t dove into: the concept of delaying content.
Let’s say you’ve crafted a monthly newsletter with great stories of service impact and donor recognition. It’s well designed, well written and has all the technical elements it needs to be successful. It’s now scheduled to go out in two weeks, and you can cross it off your to-do list.
But… is there any reason to wait two weeks to send it?
If you’ve got great stories to tell, why wait? Now, if it’s 7pm on a Saturday or 3am on a Tuesday, then – yes – perhaps you should wait (or should you? data!). But if not, is there really a good reason not to get that out right away?
Just as a strict schedule can lead to bad content, it can also hold good content hostage!
With great power comes great responsibility, so before you blindly use a new tool just because you can, first ask yourself how you can best use that tool.