Silverpop - STO Revisited: What We’ve Learned About the Best Time to Send Email
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STO Revisited: What We’ve Learned About the Best Time to Send Email

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
03 August 2011

Two years ago, Silverpop introduced Send Time Optimization in an effort to provide marketers with the answer to the eternal question, “What’s the best time to send email?” With email habits varying widely from person to person and endless time variables to consider, we proposed that a “one size fits all” approach wasn’t the best choice when deciding whether to send on Tuesdays at 9 a.m., Thursdays at 3 p.m. or Saturdays at midnight.

Today, with the continued growth of social and mobile forms of communication, the emergence of local marketing initiatives and, yep, even more messages crowding inboxes, the fight for mindshare is fiercer than ever. And with consumers demanding relevance—and ISPs/Web email service providers such as Gmail actually segmenting emails based on it—delivering the right message at the right time has never been more important. Enter Send Time Optimization.

What Is Send Time Optimization?
Silverpop’s Send Time Optimization (STO) feature analyzes recipient behavior on a rolling basis to predict the ideal message delivery time for each recipient on your list over that recipient’s entire lifecycle. The system can then deliver messages to those recipients at the precise day and time they’re most likely to be opening emails. Over time, the system continues to adjust each recipient’s ideal delivery time based on his or her typical behavior. Users have the option of using STO to deliver messages over a 24-hour period or a seven-day period, with the 24-hour option having proven to be much more popular among Silverpop clients.

One of the biggest benefits for time-starved marketers is that STO only takes a single click, and then the technology does the rest. There’s no slicing and dicing of your list, no sending the same message multiple times, and no poring over multiple mailing reports. With a minimum amount of effort, Silverpop clients have generated significant results. Toy manufacturer Little Tikes, one of the first companies to try STO, saw an immediate impact when it used STO on its weekly promotional mailing, with open rates increasing by 20 percent, click rates by 30 percent and total revenue generated by 75 percent. “Using Silverpop’s Send Time Optimization feature has allowed Little Tikes to take a more sophisticated approach to our email marketing with no extra effort on our end,” says Julie Gibson, email coordinator, Little Tikes.

What Have We Learned? Six Tips for Getting the Most from STO
During the last two years, we’ve watched our clients use STO in countless scenarios across thousands of mailings. Here are some of the key takeaways related to STO:

1) Test and Learn
As with many elements of email marketing and lead management, testing is a smart bet when it comes to STO. Doing so can help confirm that your message will benefit from STO and give you insights into exactly what lift you can expect as a result of using it.

For Silverpop clients, testing STO is as simple as performing a traditional A/B test, with half of your list getting the email at the standard time and half being sent the email with STO activated. If you’re using a system that doesn’t have STO, you can export your email data from a recent send, group recipients by their open time, and test your next send, with 50 percent getting the email at the standard time, and 50 percent getting it at the hour of day they last opened.

J&P Cycles, the world’s largest aftermarket motorcycle parts and accessories store, recently tested STO and saw increases across all metrics. "When we learned about Silverpop’s Send Time Optimization feature, we decided to test it out with identical emails, one sent using the 24-hour option for STO and the other sent immediately,” says Anthony Linnabery, email marketer, J&P Cycles. “The emails sent using STO outperformed the control email in all of the key metrics, which included a 22 percent lift in open rate and a 24 percent lift in click rate. Due to these positive results, we now use STO for all of our emails."

2) Look Beyond Opens and Clicks
In general, using STO results in some level of increase in open and click-through rates, but STO’s biggest impact is typically on conversion rates, revenue generated per email and overall order size, all of which on average increase significantly with STO. This makes sense because using STO means you’re catching recipients at a time they have allocated for Internet activity. Because they aren’t as rushed, they engage more deeply.

Encyclopaedia Britannica, for example, tested STO and saw modest increases in opens and click-throughs, but a 40 percent lift in revenue and a 30 percent increase in total numbers of orders per campaign.

3) Use STO When Mailing Across Multiple Time Zones
STO is a perfect solution for companies who are sending campaigns across multiple time zones. By eliminating the need to separate queries in order to target each recipient at 9 a.m. in his or her local time zone, it cuts back on wasted manual effort. You simply use STO and allow it to deliver at the optimal time for each recipient worldwide—regardless of whether you’re sending your email to three time zones or 10.

4) Try STO in Place of Traditional Throttling
If you need to spread out email volume over a period of time to make it more consistent or to reduce impact on websites or call center personnel, STO can help. The Girl Scouts of the USA recently found itself in a situation in which its weekly promotional emails were causing its site to crash because so many subscribers would visit it to purchase merchandise. To alleviate the problem, it wanted to space out these messages.

“Send Time Optimization eliminated this issue by automatically sending emails to our recipients based upon when they are most likely in their inbox,” says Tom Hassett, assistant director of marketing, Girl Scouts of the USA. “There was also a huge financial benefit, including a 10 percent increase in open rates and a 12 percent increase in conversion rate.”

5) Use It in Conjunction with Complex Campaigns
Savvy marketers are increasingly looking to engage customers and prospects by creating mailings and campaigns that are automatically triggered by contact behaviors. In many cases, using STO in tandem with these techniques can yield even greater returns.

Whether you’re a retailer sending a “happy birthday” message with a surprise discount or a technology company delivering a follow-up nurture email five days after a Webinar, having your message arrive when the recipient is most likely to be in his or her inbox will help you engage recipients, move contacts through the buying cycle and drive revenue.

6) Incorporate STO into Your Testing Process
Conducting A/B and multivariate testing of email subject lines, design elements, etc. to see which messages and content resonates with customers is a great way to improve results. If you’re planning on eventually using STO with your list, though, it’s important to incorporate STO into your test as well to make sure you select the right winners. Otherwise, you run the risk that the subject line or design element that performs best when your test email is sent at a “random” time is different from the top-performing subject line or design element when the message is sent when recipients are most likely to be engaged. Using STO in your tests ensures an accurate apples-to-apples comparison.

The Future
Today’s customers and prospects expect to be treated as individuals. Marketers who stop looking at their lists as audiences and take steps to communicate with each contact as an individual with his or her own unique usage patterns, needs and expectations will increase their chances of success. To that end, using STO is an easy way to move your marketing sophistication up a notch and help nail the timing aspect of the “right message, right time” equation.




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