The Frequency Math Effect: What You Need to Know
Mar 27

The Frequency Math Effect: What You Need to Know

Increased open and click rates in your company’s email efforts aren’t always a sign of successful marketing. According to an IBM 2016 email marketing metrics study, the “frequency math effect” may be at work—and it distorts what the real results of your email marketing campaigns are.

The frequency math effect can be observed during heavy volume time frames—like the holidays—when the higher number of emails sent produces fewer opens and clicks per message sent but generates more opens and clicks in total.

It comes into play when you compare changes on rates (percentages) instead of total or cumulative numbers. Think about this: when you receive more emails during the holidays, does your behavior of how often you check and open your emails change? Typically, a decline in activity rate occurs because customers don’t change how often they open or click through emails.

It also affects the number of hard bounces, spam complaints and unsubscribe rates in a period of high email cadence. The rates of each of these seem to decline, but when looking at cumulative numbers instead of rates, the higher volume of emails means total list churn over the time period will in fact increase.

More clicks and opens equals success… right?

The problem with the frequency math effect is that increased volumes allow one to lose sight of their objective. If increased clicks and opens during a high volume period like the holidays is your goal, then it could be just what you need.

However, if you’re looking for greater engagement and customer activation in response to your calls-to-action, the frequency math effect could be plain distracting.

One reason there seems to be fewer clicks and opens per message during high volume periods is because messages become less personalized. Customers are less likely to respond to blanket offers or offers they’ve seen before.

Content is key

So how do you balance the desire to drive more revenue through more emails without increasing churn and disengagement? The answer lies in the content of your emails.

Unique offers, informational content relevant to a customer’s past purchase, and content that surprises and delights are all examples of ways to set apart the subject matter of your company’s emails.

Customers are more likely to engage with emails and thereby complete calls-to-action when they are tailored to their needs and wants.

Making the Frequency Math Effect work

In order to accurately gauge the success of an email marketing campaign, you need to look at both per-message statistics and cumulative open, click-through and list churn data for an entire time period. Compare different time periods with various cadences to truly determine whether those changes create a net positive or negative effect on your campaigns.