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E-Mail Marketing: How Much Is Too Much?

January 27th, 2007 by Bob Bly

A couple of months ago, I joined the opt-in e-list of a semi-obscure entertainer whose CDs I enjoy.

By mid-afternoon of that day, I had received three e-mail marketing messages from him.

When a fourth arrived around 5pm, I hollered “enough!” — and unsubscribed from his list.

That got me thinking about the question: how much e-mail is too much?

Say you subscribe to a company’s monthly e-newsletter.

In addition to that monthly e-letter, will you tolerate additional e-mail messages from them?

If so, how many?

One a week … one a day … somewhere in between?

How much e-mail is too much?


This entry was posted on Saturday, January 27th, 2007 at 11:45 am and is filed under General, Online Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

87 responses about “E-Mail Marketing: How Much Is Too Much?”

  1. Joel Heffner said:

    It depends on how important the main message is to me. If I really want to continue with the main message, I have great tolerance. If the main message isn’t that important…one extra message a month and I unsubscribe. I find that one additional message a month is fine, two pushes it…more than that and I get annoyed.


  2. Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan said:

    I’m a fairly tolerant guy, but 3 times a day is a bit of an overkill.

    I receive weekly newsletters and they also send one weekly promo message. I’m fine with that. I believe some Internet “experts” are the greatest sinners by sending out multiple daily messages. I’ve finally unsubscribed to many of them.

    I believe that “over-sent” poor copy only irritates but doesn’t create sales. Especially not in the B2B world where the buyers are pros.

  3. Frank Catalano said:

    I agree with the gist of what both Joel and Tom indicate — that there should be a balance of one solid content message to each promotional message. For monthly newsletters, I don’t mind a mid-month pitch. For weekly newsletters, I’d tolerate no more than one extra pitch each week (but I’m not sure if even that much).

    Bottom line: Give me something interesting or useful for my attention, and balance it with the attempt to sell me more.

  4. Jim Logan said:

    Relevancy is the issue for me. I don’t care how often I receive email, as long as it’s relevant to my interest.

    I prefer marketing offers at the end of relevant information. I don’t like getting the pure pitch. An exception is an offer arriving alone that’s tied to a theme the author has been addressing in a series of emails.

    Three-five emails a day is excessive. Even when you email subscribe to a blog, you don’t expect more than one email a day, sometimes two.

  5. Chris Lake said:

    I agree with all the above comments. If it’s relevant, I’ll be glad to read another message here and there. If someone abuses my trust and sends more than once per day or sends something that feels too far off the point, then his credibility is in extreme danger.

    In the end, the answer to this question is, “It depends.” I would generalize to say only one extra e-mail allowed per normal release schedule (monthly plus once a month, weekly plus once a week, etc.). For an irregular mailing list, maybe once a week is a good rule of thumb.

  6. Suzanne Ryan said:

    I recently got onto the email list of someone who proceeded to bombard me 3 times a day with hyperventilating emails. I wasn’t sold on what they were offering in the first place– and the added pressure and pestering salesmanship turned me off 100%.

    There is a marketing methodology program that I am keenly interested in. I am always attentive when they send something to my mailbox. But I am trying to imagine how I would feel if I heard from them 3 times a day.

    I suspect it would wear thin. If you can’t say it in one email then something is fishy. It comes across to me like a gimmick.

  7. Jodi Kaplan said:

    As an e-mail consumer, 3-5 emails a day is definitely too many! I don’t mind offers if they ride along with relevant information (or are sent separately, and clearly labeled as such). I think Chris has the right idea; one extra email. It sounds as if that semi-obscure entertainer’s marketing people need to focus on segmenting his/her list.

    However, I’ve also been on the other side, working for a marketing association with several different departments, each promoting a full schedule of events. No matter how much we tried to coordinate, segment, etc., we still got complaints that we were sending too many e-mails.

  8. Sean Woodruff said:

    Relevancy is the ingredient I need in any e-mail. And, once an e-mail isn’t relevant, it is more likely that I won’t pay attention to the next one.

    I think if an e-mail marketer would just follow basic communication etiquette we would have much less e-mail. Why is it that someone wouldn’t phone a person 3 times a day with an offer but will not think twice about e-mail?

    Is electronic communication dumbing everyone down?

  9. Michael A. Stelzner said:


    I think 2 times a month is almost too much. Once a week will most certainly lower your read rates.

    For example, Clayton Makepeace emails far too frequently.

    I was quickly unsubscribing.

    In your case Bob, I think I would like to see more of your content-rich newsletters and less of the weekly sales pitches.

    Just my thoughts of course!


  10. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    Bob–I have the same reaction. If someone gets too chummy by email I back off.

    But we aren’t the prime prospects for email marketing. Do you have access to response rates that would give some real indication of how often to email?

  11. Sheri Cyprus said:

    Three emails a day seems just pathetic and desperate to me no matter how “relevant” the message.

  12. Bob Bly said:

    One can argue as follows: as long as the click through and conversion rates are high, and the opt out rates low, then your frequency (whatever that may be) is the correct one. If you increase frequency and see a spike in the opt out rate, then you know you have pushed too far.

  13. John Kelly said:

    I have a life … it doesn’t require reading all the paraphanalia sent through the internet. I subscribe to several email newsletters but to make it easier, I filter them into separate folders. Most, even my favorites, become redundant after awhile and I find myself not reading them for several weeks or so. It would be more effective, at least for myself, to send fewer out but punch them up with more valuable content.

  14. Sheri Cyprus said:

    Thanks, Bob — I was wondering how to tell the results of email campaigns… But people could still just delete them without reading them, couldn’t they? I have two email newsletters that I do that with, but I have opted out of two others.

  15. Bob Bly said:

    Sheri: if you sell products online, then all that matters is your gross sales per e-mail blast. Whether people open them, delete without reading, read, or like them is irrelevant. The only question is how many bought and what revenues were generated for that particular e-mail message.

  16. Mike Duffy said:

    If there are that many e-mails per day, it would seem that the author needs an RSS feed and a blog, not e-mail. The nice thing about RSS is that it is totally opt-in for the recipient. The downside: it’s still a bit arcane for the average user.

    I’m probably willing to accept 4-5 e-mails a month (in addition to the monthly e-mail newsletter, but not more than 2 on any given day). It might take a month or two of bad behavior for me to unsubscribe.

  17. Mike Duffy said:

    I agree with #9 about Clayton Makepeace’s frequency. The people I really want to read (i.e. nearly always relevant content) seem to have RSS feeds.

  18. Jonathan Kantor said:

    I agree with you Bob. More than one a week from a source such as the musician you spoke of is too much.

    On the other hand, I subscribe to Microsoft’s and Apple’s newsletter and I appreciate it when they notify me of downloads or free templates. About once a week is appropriate for them.

    So it depends on how important that resource is, especially when it impacts my computer and my work.

  19. Bob Bly said:

    Mike Duffy: e-mail and RSS are BOTH opt-in: I don’t send e-mails to anyone who does not double opt-in as a subscriber to my e-list. If the recipient has not opted in, he is getting spam, not legitimate e-mail marketing.

  20. Mike Duffy said:

    And you did state that the musician was an opt-in list. Fair enough.

  21. David C said:

    I think from what I’m reading here is ‘Content is King’ to your particular target market?.

    Yes, I agree, however the Frequency/Opt Out Ratio is the also a key determinant, which I believe should be dictated by the need to get product/service information to market in a timely manner that reflects the demands of the market at any given time of the year.

    In my previous efforts, I have seen e-mail frequency fluid and dynamic in nature. Thinking a little more holistic, for instance, known seasonal factors. For B2C SEM’s Some may lower their frequency during holiday periods and increase frequency at site visit peak times – thus getting more for their online advertising dollar. B2B example. In the UK governement and corporate [not all] fiscal year ends are in April, so procurement departmens have budgets to spend, which may not be availble post April. E-Mail Frequency can be high in the Feb/March run up and tail off until the next peak in the procurement cycle.

    So as well as ‘Content being King’, the business environment may be a key factor in e-mail frequency for an SEM’s target market(s). Here I’m adding a new component ‘Dynamic’ Email distribution. Let’s catch these Lemmings JUST as they are about to jump off the cliff.

  22. Cristina said:

    At this point, I have to answer your question by saying “All email I’ve been receiving lately is too much…” But that’s just because I’m frustrated with spam — pregnancy hormones may have something to do with the frustration as well… but I can’t be sure. Add to that the spam I have to go through on my blog … UGH!!

    Anywho, 4 emails in ONE day — and right after signing up — is WAY too much. I don’t know who made that brainchild decision…

    I accept weekly and monthly newsletters IF they contain useful information. I’ll tolerate one or two marketing messages a month, but more than that, I unsub right away.

    Just my 2 cents!!

  23. Jodi Kaplan said:

    Right now, too much is a media business newsletter that cheerily informed me two days ago that I had been “selected” to receive 4 trial issues of their e-newsletter. They started as a print publication, and I was startled as I had never seen this approach for e-mail. I couldn’t quite decide what I thought at first, but later came to the conclusion that it was annoying and spam-like. Since it was annoying, and the content wasn’t relevant, I emailed them back to unsubscribe. Since then, I’ve gotten three more e-mails from them (including two so far today) inviting me to seminars, making other offers, etc. The last one came right after I emailed them a second time to opt-out. Now, I understand that they can’t run the suppression instantly, but that many e-mails to someone who absolutely did not ask for them is too many!

  24. Bob Bly said:

    Jodi: I understand your frustration. Some print newsletter publishers use this approach in snail mail, sending 3 free — and unrequested — issues. This is called a “forced free trial.”

  25. Jodi Kaplan said:

    You’re right, it is a forced free trial. I never saw it in e-mail before. I wonder if they are getting a positive overall response, or the cyber equivalent of shredded Bible tracts stuffed in BREs.

  26. John Doe said:

    For me, one e-mail everyday is painful enough for me to see and I will never subscribe to any marketing newsletter with that level of intensity.

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