About this time of year, email marketers start to feel the pangs of the coming onslaught of candy cane striped template borders, snowflake GIFs and pine bough accents. We may be entering the hottest time of the year, but Q4 is coming in even hotter. Now is the time to tackle any major program overhaul efforts and start planning your holiday strategy.
In my recent webinar for Target Marketing, 7 Email Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Holiday Marketing and How to Fix Them, I tackled common stumbling blocks that can drag down performance and leave marketers scrambling to recover end of year ROI. If you missed the webinar, you can watch the recording here.
In this post, I’ll dig deeper into content optimization strategies and highlight several examples of brands that got it right over the last two holiday seasons.
Sales and Discounts, All Day Every Day
One marketing mistake featured in the webinar looked into how marketers can unintentionally roll out a messaging strategy that is less than jolly. With Q4 comes increased pressure to boost revenue coupled with intense competition in the inbox. In an effort to turn up the heat on sales, marketers often start hitting the “sale” message too hard, and too frequently.
During the holidays, strong sales and promotions can help brands stay competitive. But sales offers in every subject line for weeks on end get as stale as last year’s fruitcake. Repetitive, offer oriented content can cause subscribers to tune out and may limit the number of “window shoppers” who browse your messages without an immediate intention to buy.
By diversifying the messaging stream and offering value beyond just promotions, brands can let their merchandising, editorial content and featured collections draw subscribers down the browsing and purchasing path. In the webinar, I cited several effective tactics that marketers can experiment with to capture attention and delight subscribers. Below are a few examples that can help marketers mix it up.
Uncommon Goods does a nice job of keeping their content fresh and engaging. In addition to featuring fun, quirky gifts, they have a knack for creating product groupings that entertain and spark the imagination.
Rather than simply spewing out a list of products, Uncommon Goods includes links to similarly themed gifts, inspiring subscribers to click through to the website and check out other products.
They typically have very long emails but the merchandising and design is on point so the browsing experience is pleasant.
This December campaign leveraged several tactics that I recommend when working to diversify the messaging stream. In doing so, Stitch Fix positions themselves as an ally to the subscriber as well as an authority on fashion.
First, they use the subject line to encourage engagement by specifically noting how many holiday looks they are featuring. By assuring subscribers that the content is concise and digestible, they are more likely to drive impulse opens.
Next, they provide well merchandised creative that keeps things light by using plenty of white space. This can help slow down the skim speed and allows subscribers to browse at a more casual pace. They focus on the products and how to wear them, rather than pushing the sale. They bookend the “3 Festive Looks” section with calls to action to schedule a shipment, helping to drive clicks without applying pressure.
Finally, they use the footer space to promote gifting options and a seasonal giveaway to help incentivize purchasing.
Putting the Pressure On … Turning Subscribers Off
During the end of year revenue push, marketers are under a lot of pressure to deliver ROI. If you take a peek at your personal email account in December, it’s readily apparent that the pressure is manifested in the inbox. Email after email takes on an intense tone and the use of exclamation points and all caps hits an all-time high.
The holidays can be stressful, both for marketers and consumers. The last thing subscribers want is for a brand to guilt them into creating a perfect holiday or rushing into a purchase. This can put them off of that particular campaign and can even impact their perception of the brand.
Rather than adding to the stress and noise in the inbox, consider a strategy that positions the brand as an ally. Highlight ease, simplicity and convenience to help take the pressure down a notch and reduce subscriber hesitation. The following examples offer a friendly reprieve from the holiday blitz.
Featured approach: Ease and simplicity
Brand: Stitch Fix
Subject line: Holiday Shopping Just Got Easier
Date sent: 12/14/2016
Stitch Fix has crept up my list of brands to watch in the email space, partly because they understand their customers. Ease and convenience are built into their business model, so it’s no surprise that several of their 2016 holiday campaigns kept those themes front and center.
While many brands turn to gift card promotions late in Q4, Stitch Fix did so very effectively. In addition to focusing on how easy the process is, the company's content helps dodge a common point of contention with gift cards: they are impersonal. By offering different options to deliver the gift card and speaking to personalization of the process, they help frame things in a more appealing light.
What’s more, they cleverly include an option to “ask for a gift card.” Beyond the more straightforward pitch, this tactic plays to the psychology of shopping, especially when hesitation may exist. By encouraging subscribers to imagine receiving this for themselves, they help enforce that this is a gift that others may like to receive as well. Whether intentional or not, Stitch Fix played their cards well with this campaign.
Featured approach: Ease and simplicity
Brand: Patagonia Provisions
Subject line: Good Food Just In Time
Date sent: 12/14/2016
Rather than simply relying on the idea that convenience and simplicity will resonate with the audience, Patagonia Provisions is smart to elaborate on exactly what that means for the consumer. The language underscores the fact that consumers will receive quality products that will both satisfy guests and allow for more quality time to enjoy the holidays.
While the creative could use some refinement, the content strategy is on point and the design is easy to process and act upon. In addition, the brand peppers in headers that allude to their social mission (Good Food on a Mission), adding an altruistic appeal to the purchase. Their positioning helps subscribers feel good about purchasing and that can go a long way during the hectic holiday season.
With nine years of experience in email, a knack for problem solving, and a love of consumer psychology and UX, Casey understands the email space and sees its potential. As a Senior Email Strategist with Return Path, Casey specializes in driving increased engagement and boosting deliverability. Whether working with niche brands on a Cinderella story or Fortune 100 companies that want to take their program to the next level, Casey helps craft email experiences that are more rewarding for businesses and recipients.