Deliverability, Design, Dynamic Content, Email marketing

Here Comes Santa Claus

Santa and List

I noticed this morning that Starbucks is already using their holiday cups (this was written in 2012, well before the current cup controversy). Everywhere, retailers are ramping up their Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales pitches in preparation for this holiday season. While some people are grousing about stores jumping the gun on Christmas music, others can hardly wait. There’s a certain optimism in the air this year. People are ready to shop again. Last year, Cyber Monday surpassed Black Friday in sales, so expect more email competition than ever this year.

This is, for many retailers, the most important time of the year for their email to get through to their clients. For some retailers, the holiday season represents up to 40% of their annual sales. On average, it represents close to 20% of annual sales. Email sending increases during the final weeks in October and really gets going in the weeks before popular sales events, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Retailers increase their send volumes by 47% on average. As a consequence, email services such as Gmail and Hotmail also ramp up their efforts to eliminate spam by tightening up their restrictions and by requiring higher reputation scores for received mail.

So what does that mean to you? For most people, probably nothing. If your clients have been engaged in the past and you’ve never had any trouble getting your email into the inboxes, then the holiday anti-spam measures of the folks at Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo won’t matter much. But if your reputation score is already close to the edge of acceptability, you might suddenly find your email winding up in junk folders more often than it had a month ago. This also means it is very bad time of year to be experimenting with list purchases and appends. Now would be a good time to pull up your reports and look at your metrics. Do you have any problem areas? In the example below, everything sent to comcast.net is ending up in the spam folder. Since the other domains are showing good results, the next question becomes, how many of my recipients are using this service? If for instance, you are sending out 750,000 email and three are getting block by Comcast, then this isn’t much of an issue. If, on the other hand, Comcast received 500,000 of that mailing, then you better take actions to correct this ASAP.

Problem with Comcast

The sad truth is that if you haven’t been paying close attention to these metrics all along, by the time November rolls around you are probably much too late to do much to help turn things in time to help your Christmas sales campaign. Nonetheless, there are still things you can do to improve your email marketing efforts during this holiday season. Here are the main ones.

Making a list and checking it twice

This is an area where many businesses fall down every year. If a recipient opts to stop receiving email from you, sending that person your holiday specials will not be looked on kindly. In some cases, this isn’t the fault of the business, but of their ESP. Many email marketing systems require you to create separate lists for each segment you create. You create a segment of men over forty and that’s a list; you create another segment of women under thirty and there’s another list. If you are using email marketing software that requires you to create separate lists for segmentation and topic categories, your chances of resending to people who have opted out of your list are increased geometrically. You’ll need to go through those lists carefully and make sure you haven’t made this mistake. If you are using Symphonie, this isn’t an issue as unsubscribes are always respected, even across segments.

Too much of good thing

While it is unquestionably important to strike while the iron is hot, don’t overdo it. Even at a time year when people expect more sales-related emails, they don’t want to feel overwhelmed. People expect more email at this time of year, but how much you send needs to stay in proportion to your normal engagement. If you been sending notices a couple of times a week, then daily emails might be acceptable, but if you’ve only ever send a recipient one email every two months, the sudden appearance of daily emails might cause the recipient to react negatively. It is far better to send a few emails with compelling sales pitches than tons of mediocre ones. By keeping close track of your metrics, you can correct these potential problems before they occur. If your opens and clickthroughs are showing dips when they are sent too close together, pull back on the sending a bit and see if that helps.

Subject lines are more important than ever

Since everyone is getting more email now than at any other time during the year, more email is being deleted before it is ever opened. People decide in an instant whether they want to read your email or not, and that decision is based almost exclusively on the subject line. If you fail here, it won’t matter how good your content is. Like the first sentence in a story, the subject line should intrigue the recipient enough to keep reading. If you aren’t doing so already, this is good time to use A/B splits to test various subject lines for their response rates.

Make it mobile friendly

These chilly winter evenings, people won’t be home in front of their computers, they will be out shopping and visiting friends. Many of these people will forgo reading their email on their desktops in favor of reading it on their smart phones. Products like the Apple iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy phones are changing the way people connect. Everyday, more and more email is read on smart phones instead of desktop computers. If you are designing your email to be read on nothing less than 17” monitor, you are in danger of losing sales from people who find your email too small to read on their Droids. One popular solution is responsive design, which adjusts the email’s format to match the size of the screen, but many ISPs still do not support this. Even if you do plan to use responsive design, make sure that your email is legible on a phone without it. [Note: For more on this topic, see our four-part series on responsive design.]

Last minute is often too late

You may have an idea of the exact time that you want people to receive your mailings, but keep in mind that most ISPs will begin to greylist more email as the volume of email increases over the holiday mad rush. They do this to manage their loads and slow down those senders without stellar reputation scores. But if the delay is long enough, it can mean that your email won’t land in the inbox until it’s too late. Your ESP should offer a feature to stop delivery attempts if the email isn’t delivered by a specific time.  There have been cases of one-day-only sales appearing in mailboxes the day after the event. Give your recipients a few days head start.

Get personal

People are far more likely to read your email if they feel like you are talking to them personally. Don’t neglect to use your merge and dynamic content features to make each email seem like it was hand written expressly for that recipient. For more on this topic, see Personalizing Your Email Marketing.

In summary, here our checklist of things to keep in mind as you send out your holiday emails:

  • Is your reputation score satisfactory? If not, contact any ISPs that presents problems to resolve this issue.
  • If you have multiple lists, make sure all the global unsubscribes have been removed from those lists.
  • Sending more email is okay, but don’t overdo it.
  • The subject line is more important than ever.
  • A/B test whenever possible.
  • Always allow enough time between a mailing and a specific date to allow for possible ISP greylisting.
  • Personalize the email with dynamic content when applicable.

Do these things and your email should arrive on time in the inbox and ready for the season.

Happy Holidays!

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