How NOT to schedule an email

This one's on me.

Recently I was reviewing the analytics on an email campaign we did a while back. I wrote the email, designed the layout, double checked the coding, and it was ready to go. The question then came up, at what time should it be delivered?

The audience was mainly contractors, so I figured it should get to them early, before they start their work day, to have the best chance of getting read. The team agreed; we scheduled it to start mailing at 6:30 AM EST so all the recipients would have it by 7.

If you live in or have done business with the West Coast you probably already see where this is going. See, the email list had not been sorted by time zone. When I got into work and checked my email there was an "unsubscribe" email waiting for me. The message was short, simple, and very instructive:

"3:30 AM emails are NOT cool."

Turns out he keeps his phone near his bed at night, and my email became a pre-sunrise alarm clock, leaving him understandably unhappy.

Lessons Learned

Timing an email across multiple time zones can be challenging; planning an international campaign makes it even more so. If your email client charges based on number of contacts rather than number of campaigns, it is worth the extra effort to schedule each time zone separately. Especially if the subject is time-sensitive, or if you find you get higher open rates at certain times of day.

Problem is, email addresses do not contain any information about time zone; they also do not tell you when your contact is traveling, or if they moved. That means that, despite all your efforts, they might still receive it at the wrong time. Best defense against this, if it is a concern, is to aim for early-midday. Odds of waking up West Coasters are low, but you still catch the East Coast before lunch.

The other important lesson was about how people use their technology. One of the first things I did when I got my iPhone was set it not to check email between midnight and 6 AM. I also turn off all notifications except the ringer during those options because I don't want to be awoken by my insomniac friend's Facebook updates. Not everyone does that, though, either because they have not taken the time to adjust the settings, or because they want to be sure they are reachable in case of emergency.

That represents a change in the way people use email. It took me a while to figure out why this guy was upset about receiving an email at 3:30 AM. In the past it would not have mattered; the email goes to your computer, and you see it when you login in the morning. Now, though, technology is becoming more integrated into our around-the-clock lives.

We, as marketers, benefit from this because it allows us greater access to our customers. We must be respectful of that access, however, because abusing it will anger customers faster than any junk mail, spam, or telemarketer could.