Email marketing: Early planning means happy holidays

Email Marketing: Early Planning Means Happy Holidays

Editor’s note: Guest post by Ryan Phelan, vice president of strategic services of Digital River’s BlueHornet.

When I worked in big retail, it amazed me that we met about holiday marketing as early as March. By then, many retailers have their baseline strategy in place, including messaging and voice. Products are already ordered and paid for, and media buys are starting to take shape. Are you and your email program ready for this holiday season?

Email marketing has the potential to be a key holiday revenue driver. But that potential won’t be fully tapped if there’s not a strategic plan around holiday email programs. Here are five things you can do now to help you stay ahead of the holiday curve.

1. Know your customer
Create consumer personae and holiday-use case scenarios based on the information you know about your customers. Take a look from a programmatic perspective and evaluate the key performance indicators (KPI) you have on hand, but don’t forget to look from a behavioral perspective too. What do the holidays mean and look like for your customers? When do they engage with your emails and open or click? Use metrics from past holiday seasons to identify points for optimization: What kinds of messages become noise and drive up unsubscribe rates?

2. Review transactional emails
Transactional messaging is one of the most frequently overlooked aspects of many email marketing programs and something that you can successfully capitalize on if you start now. Many companies’ transactional email platforms are controlled by the technology department and tied to legacy systems and the emails have not been revised in years. If your transactional program falls into this category, now is the time to make changes to these emails, ensuring they’re optimized and that they include promotional messaging for the holidays. For example:

  • The email should be sent instantly.
  • It should be clean in appearance and logically organized. Use HTML, but keep the design simple in case subscribers want to print the message.
  • Include all relevant information about the transaction – it will help to minimize contact with customer service.
  • Include additional contact information other than an email address (i.e. physical address or phone number).
  • Promotional content should not interfere with the transactional messaging/purpose of the email.
    • Place it below the transactional content.
    • It’s recommended that only 20 percent of the message be used for promotional messaging.
    • Make sure that any promotional content can be changed with minimal involvement from technology departments.

3. Create holiday rush templates
Consider developing a holiday postcard template now that you can use if there’s an urgent request from the C-suite to send a last-minute email during the holidays:

  • Define content areas for an image, headline text, a call to action and other relevant verbiage.
  • Publish use cases and guidelines for your rush template.
    • How long will it take to prepare and deploy once the request is received?
    • How often will it be used in order to protect cadence rules?

4. Consider post-holiday programs
On December 26, what are you going to do with the email addresses you collected through various holiday programs? The sweepstakes, the viral e-card, the online game – depending on how you acquired these subscribers, they may turn out to be very engaged and could benefit from post-holiday follow up email marketing programs that take advantage of that engagement. Soliciting user reviews, conducting surveys and incentivizing social media interaction are just some of the ways to strengthen the customer’s connection with your brand after the holidays.

5. Track your success
Don’t forget to measure the performance of this year’s holiday programs so that next year, you can prove their value and continue to optimize.

Takeaway: So if big returns are at the top of your holiday wish list, NOW is the time to be the best email marketer you can be. Plan to make this an unforgettable holiday for your customers and your brand.

Ryan P. Phelan

Ryan P. Phelan

Ryan P. Phelan is vice president of strategic services for Digital River’s BlueHornet division. Before joining BlueHornet, Ryan served as director of email marketing and acquisition at Sears Holdings, where he oversaw the email marketing efforts for their Sears and Kmart brands. Prior to that, he managed east coast professional services for Responsys and has also served as director of internet marketing and advertising at InfoUSA. Ryan can be contacted on Twitter @ryanpphelan

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