6 Best Practices for Holiday Email Campaign Success
August may be the busiest month of the year for email marketers because it's usually when they begin planning their holiday email campaigns. How much should they increase their email volume? Which days should they send their holiday messages? How can they stand out in their customers’ inboxes?
To help email marketers with these decisions, San Bruno, Calif.-based email marketing agency Responsys recently published its Retail Email Guide to the Holiday Season 2010, which tracked 5,250 emails from 100 top online retailers during the fourth quarter of 2009 via the Retail Email Blog.
The following are six best practices outlined in the report, designed to help retailers and other B-to-C email marketers have a successful holiday season this year:
1. Review last year's holiday campaigns. In preparing for the holiday email season to come, thoroughly examine what happened during your 2009 holiday email season. Ask yourself the following:
- Which of my email campaigns generated the highest conversions? On what days were they sent? What were the emails about and what were the subject lines?
- Which campaigns generated the lowest conversions? On what days were they sent? What were the emails about and what were the subject lines?
- Which segmentation tactics were most successful?
- Which campaigns were forwarded and shared the most? What about those campaigns made them so viral?
- Which campaigns generated the highest unsubscribe rates? The highest spam complaints? Why was that?
- Did you have to send any apology emails? If so, why? Have steps been taken to fix the problems?
“This is important because when it comes to email campaigns, most marketers look to turn outward first — checking out what the competition has to offer — as opposed to looking inward at their own data to learn what it's telling them about their campaigns," says Chad White, research director at Responsys and author of the report.
2. Start Christmas campaigns early. On average, retailers began their 2009 holiday campaigns 67 days before Christmas (Oct. 19), according to the report. This is on par with the 2008 holiday season, but it's nine days earlier than the 2007 holiday season. Last year's soft economy and the precedent set in the 2008 holiday season was likely behind the earlier start. With a slowly recovering economy, retailers may begin their holiday campaigns a bit later this year, the report says.
3. Use complementary preholiday messaging. The report suggests complementing early holiday messaging by doing the following:
- Ask subscribers directly to update their preferences, or make the link to your preference center more prominent by moving it above the fold.
- Ask subscribers to complete a survey about your email program.
- If you’ve recently relaunched or improved your website, tell your subscribers about it.
- If you’re using product reviews in your emails, make sure products have a sufficient quantity of reviews by encouraging subscribers to review products during the summer and early fall.
- Try a delayed reward program designed to bring customers back during the holiday season.
- If you have a private-label credit card, loyalty program or member-based shipping program, promote it in advance of the holiday season.
4. Increase holiday email frequencies. With consumers actively looking for ideas, 90 percent of major online retailers ratchet up their send volumes during the holiday season, according to the report. The most popular email days of 2008 came in the weeks before Christmas, including Cyber Monday, which took the No. 1 spot. While these days are popular because they achieve better results, they’re also the days when emails have the most competition in the inbox.
If that logic appeals to you, then send on the days just before or after these high-volume days, the report advises. Also, the report recommends targeting brand loyalists with a "daily deal" email series or a “X Days of Christmas” campaign that requires an additional opt-in.
5. Stand out among inbox clutter. With the increase in volume pouring into subscribers’ inboxes, it’s critical to stand out with not only relevant content, big deals and helpful advice, but also with compelling subject lines, eye-catching creative and effective designs. To do this, the report offers the following suggestions:
- craft better subject lines;
- introduce a holiday header and navigation bar;
- add a gift services footer;
- use animated gifs more frequently; and
- leverage social sharing.
6. Change strategies over time. To maximize your holiday email revenues, adjust your strategies throughout the season, the report recommends. There are 18 phases to the holiday email season, according to the report, including Christmas in July; early holiday messaging; core holiday mesaging; Thanksgiving Day sales; Black Friday sales; Cyber Monday campaigns; X Days of Christmas campaigns; the end of express shipping and guaranteed Christmas delivery; and so on.
Related story: 3 Ways to Make Your E-mail Campaigns Holiday Ready