Part 1: How to plan
Great news! Your holiday email marketing festivities don’t have to wait until the end of the year. You can — and should — start planning your campaigns now.
Getting a head start on developing a seasonal email strategy is especially important for businesses that depend on holiday revenue. And investing thought, energy, and time early into assembling a substantial campaign can pay off for any brand. After all, email delivers a huge range of benefits not found in other forms of marketing. In fact, it is often so cost effective, that every dollar spent offers a return of $43 (or 4,300 percent), according to the Direct Marketing Institute.
To get started on your 2016 holiday emailing strategy, follow this handy guide.
1. Set your goals
If your products and services are commonly given as gifts, your plan is likely to be much more promotional and comprehensive than other businesses’. A written mission statement clarifying your overall campaign goal is advisable. Naturally, your overarching goal is to make money, but breaking that down into specific sub-goals might mean driving more traffic to your store, encouraging more visitors to your website, and/or increasing attendance at your special events.
2. Revisit last year’s campaign
Which strategies worked well and what can be improved? Consider hard data as well as subjective evaluation.
3. Review customer data
Determine whether you have enough information about your customers to create an informed campaign. If you haven’t already segmented your contact list, that can be accomplished relatively easily via tools and metrics available within your VerticalResponse account. While the potential categories are endless, popular segmentation methods include: dividing customers by the kinds of products they’ve purchased or perused; by previous emails they’ve opened; by demographics; or by their stage in the sales funnel (awareness, evaluation, or purchase). A global study earlier this year found segmented email campaigns produce 14 percent higher open rates, 64 percent higher click rates, and 8 percent fewer unsubscribes than unsegmented plans.
4. Schedule a brainstorming session with your staff
Engage your staff in helping you come up with new and creative ideas for reaching your audiences. They may have insights into customers you may not have considered. Don’t hesitate to think outside the box; just because you haven’t seen something done doesn’t mean it can’t be effective. Customers appreciate uniqueness and creativity.
5. Evaluate your resources
Determine whether you have enough hands on deck to handle the nuts and bolts of creating and sending your emails. A number of available software tools and templates can organize and automate your campaign for you, but some smaller shops still opt to handle everything manually. VerticalResponse has do-it-for-me (DIFM) and do-it-yourself (DIY) options to fit every need.
6. Test emails before you send
Make sure your emails are rendering properly in multiple browsers via different email service providers. Tools like Email on Acid can help identify any potential issues. Note that mobile access is so important as to be non-negotiable, especially when it comes to Cyber Monday sales. Make sure your messages will scale and download quickly on every kind of device. A study last year found 54 percent of all emails are already viewed via mobile device, and that percentage continues to rise. Because mobile click-through rates are lower, however, you must be sure your call-to-action is clear and direct, and that your links are easy to spot and click.
7. Review your email list
How old is it? Should some emails be removed due to bounce-backs? Avoiding spam folders is a science unto itself, involving a slew of promotion-heavy words to avoid, an appropriate ratio of copy to graphics, the length of your messages (more than 30KB is risky), and other factors. The more obvious danger is simply annoying readers with too many boring and worthless emails.
8. Develop a cross-promotion plan
Make plans to use your website, social media, and in-house media to cross-promote your email offerings, using your logo and similar identifiers to promote your brand across channels. Your copy can include the same basic messages, but should be tweaked slightly so as to not be too repetitive.
9. Check your analytics tools
Finally, ensure you have the tools in place for ongoing measurement of your campaign. You particularly want to keep on top of bounce rates, open rates, and clicks to get a good idea of the effectiveness of your plan, and to put yourself in a position to make immediate improvements.
Part 2: Creating timelines
Once you’ve set the stage for your holiday campaign, your next step should be setting timelines for getting everything done on schedule.
These six steps for organizing your messaging should help you get started.
1. Assemble your tools
Many free online tools exist to help you refine and test your messages. You can also opt for VerticalResponse’s full-service email marketing to create, manage, and optimize your entire campaign, or you can choose to get started and manually create and store your own messages and graphics on VerticalResponse.
2. Decide which events to incorporate
Part of the fun of holiday marketing is the vast selection of events you can acknowledge and honor in your content. In general, your audiences should receive related messages several days ahead of the event in question so they have time to plan and ship any gifts.
The most popular kick-off for holiday campaigns is some time during the first two weeks of November, though some businesses like to start earlier to include Halloween. After all, 40 percent of shoppers start buying holiday gifts prior to Oct. 31.
3. Decide how often to email
Email frequency varies greatly depending on your business and, more importantly, your customer. You might send messages daily as long as you have valuable, fresh, and engaging content to share that’s not overly repetitive. Bombarding recipients with monotonous messages will increase your chances of being labeled spam. On the other hand, because of the number of significant events over the holiday season, the industry standard is to increase to emailing several times each week over that time period.
4. Establish a calendar with deadlines
Many experts advise staggering messages to reflect an increasing sense of urgency in the several days leading up to an event. For example, instead of sending one email blast on Cyber Monday you could offer a sneak preview of your sale the Saturday before, announce it fully on Sunday, promote customers’ last chance to buy Monday, and then remind them of their missed opportunity Tuesday (while also offering a teaser about your next sale).
5. Determine how much time you’ll need
Ideally, you’ll have strategic copy, subject lines, and graphics all pulled together and ready to roll long before holiday shopping starts to ramp up. Many companies try to plan for their upcoming campaigns four to six weeks in advance! That task may take longer if you’re creating several different campaigns to segmented audiences, if you’ll be using a graphic designer, or if you need to secure rights to certain images. You may also need extra time if you have to clean up an outdated email list or make changes so your messages look better on mobile devices.
6. Divide tasks and set schedules
Once you have an overview of your project, you’ll need to confirm who will take care of each part of the campaign including the copywriting, selection and securing of graphics, designing, and (if it’s not automated) the actual broadcasting of the emails. You’ll also need to decide at which times to send your emails. To do that you may want to experiment with A/B testing, varying when you send out emails to determine the time of day that produces the best results.
A quick note on email scheduling
Traditional thought has long centered around sending emails Tuesday through Thursday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. when many people read their emails, but studies have since pointed to other optimal times. One cross-industry report found unique open rates averaged 21.7 percent from 8 to 11:59 p.m. and 17.6 percent for 12 a.m. to 4 a.m. Those night owls also had the highest click-through rates.
Another study determined mobile activity peaks between 9 p.m. and midnight, that Monday emails produce the highest ROI, and that Friday emails produce the highest click-through rates. Saturdays and Sundays produced the lowest sales volumes, but the highest open and click-through rates in the study.
Some research indicates emails are most effective within the first hours of delivery; that’s when almost 24 percent of all emails are opened. Interestingly, virtually no emails are opened 24 hours or longer after they’ve been delivered, it reports. Whatever you decide, remember to take into account different time zones when setting your broadcasting schedule.
Ready for Parts 3, 4, and 5?
We share types of emails to send, what to measure, and how to get the best results. Download the entire Holiday Guide to Email Marketing to ensure this season is a success.