Timing Is Everything

By Joanna Belbey and Karen Gedney

With any marketing campaign, the key to success is capturing the attention of your prospects – if only for a moment. You want them to pause just long enough to get a sense of whether what you are offering meets their needs or, better yet, satisfies their wants.

With traditional media, such as direct mail, you have a few chances. When prospects receive a letter, for example, they might read your compelling teaser on the outer envelope and open it right away. Perhaps they will put it aside to read on the train home. It may sit on their desk for several days (or longer) before they read it or toss it. We had one client who marketed educational programs to executives from emerging nations. More than one-third of those who enrolled in classes used marketing materials over a year old.

No such luck with email. You rarely get a second chance. With all but the most organized people, it’s opened right then and there – or not at all.

Given you have one shot and can’t bombard your prospects with endless emails, timing is crucial. You want your message to hit when they’re most receptive. Here are a few things to consider when you map out your next campaign.

How Far in Advance?
As a rule, the more senior the executive, the further in advance you must start. If you’re trying to attract top CEOs to high-level conferences or events, 12 months in advance is just about right. Naturally, at this point, you really won’t have much information and are only asking them to “save the date.” You’re really asking an administrative assistant to consider your offer for his boss. Your simple goal is to become a note with a question mark on a calendar. The actual decision to attend will occur closer to the event.

With less senior executives or with a must-attend industry event, an initial email six months in advance is a good place to start. People have busy lives; they like to plan ahead – especially if there’s travel involved.

How Often?
As often as you can get away with! Seriously, there’s a fine line between offering a service and being annoying. The only way to know for sure is to test. In our experience, monthly efforts can be effective.

Note: By varying the type of communication, you not only increase overall effectiveness of the campaign but also camouflage frequency. You might start with an email, follow with a letter, then send another email, conduct some telemarketing, follow up each conversation with an email, and so on. Email should be the consistent thread in your ongoing communications stream.

What About September and January Events?
Events scheduled in September and January present unique challenges to marketers. Don’t even try to get a decision in August or December. The good news is people who are not on vacation can be more relaxed during these times and are more likely to read your email. The bad news is unless they can make a decision alone, it can be next to impossible to get approvals during these times. Get a final commitment at least a month earlier so you can remind and reinforce their decision during August and December.

What About Holidays?
Avoid sending emails the week before or after any holiday. Whether booking travel arrangements, planning for religious activities, preparing for a big family dinner, or buying and wrapping presents, your prospects’ minds are elsewhere right before holidays. They’re typically working fast and furiously so they can slip out of the office early. Once they return, they work double time to catch up. This goes for Monday bank holidays as well as major multiday holidays. We’ve seen our clients’ decision making slow down as much as two weeks before secular holidays such as Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, and Columbus Day. Send an email the week of Independence Day? Forget about it.

(Be sure to remember holidays such as Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and Easter occur on different dates every year. Pull out your calendar and check.)

When Marketing Exclusively to Women
In addition to national and religious holidays, some people’s lives, especially women’s, are affected by the school calendar. When schools are closed, they often take time off work, focus on making alternative daycare arrangements, or even bring the kids to the office. Particularly dicey times include “Back to School” in late August/early September, graduations (late May for college and mid-June for grammar and high schools), and winter and spring breaks. If your campaign is regional, you may consider finding out when breaks are for the local school district.

Because of the unique nature of email, pick the best possible time to reach your prospects. Grab a cup of coffee, open up a calendar with all the holidays, and block out those times when you know your audience will be too distracted to pay attention to your terrific offer.

As president of Direct Response Marketing, Joanna Belbey works with Global 2000 firms who want to increase ROI amid declining response rates and increased costs. She develops strategy, then executes integrated direct marketing programs to drive C-Level decision-makers to purchase her clients’ services. Joanna also happens to be an antiques expert. She lectures on the antiques business and owns northside JUNK, a shop in Brooklyn that sells antiques, used furniture, vintage clothing and collectibles to local hipsters and their parents.

Karen Gedney is an award-winning creative director and copywriter. She is challenged almost daily to come up with innovative new e-mail approaches for her clients. She has a particular knack for conference promotions, having produced rocketing registration numbers for The American Stock Exchange, BusinessWeek, The Economist, FORTUNE, Gartner Group and Trilogy Software. She lives in tree-lined Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her husband and two very active young sons.

Reprinted from ClickZ.com.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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