Holiday Email Marketing II: Frequency and focus

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xmas giftPart 1 of this series on holiday email marketing looked at preparation and past campaigns.

In this second installment, our email and ecommerce experts turn their attention to two critical issues: frequency and standing out from the holiday crowd.

So, do you send more email?


Conventional wisdom states that when people are willing to buy and spend more (notwithstanding economic woes), you should give them more opportunity to do so.

So we should send more emails in the holiday season, right?

Our experts answer that question with a "yes, sort of" ...followed by several ifs and buts.

The main problem is that everyone is upping frequency, so that alone may not be enough to break through. As Linda Bustos, ecommerce consultant at Elastic Path Software and author of the Get Elastic ecommerce blog notes:

"Your signal will fade simply because everyone else is also ramping up messages."

Chad White, author of the 2008 Retail Email Guide to the Holiday Season says that 88% of the retailers he tracked increased their email frequency during the holiday season. Some of them by more than 300% compared to pre-holiday volumes.

1. Be careful and watch the numbers

Upping frequency also has its risks: subscribers (or particular groups of subscribers) may tune out or reach for their "report spam" buttons.

So if you do up frequency, keep an eye on related metrics.

Chad, who is Director of Retail Insights at the Email Experience Council and author of the Retail Email blog, says:

"I would encourage folks to watch their spam complaints and unsubscribe rates closely during the holidays and perhaps send fewer emails to their less engaged subscribers."

It's a concept echoed vigorously by DJ Waldow, email marketing account manager at email service provider Bronto:

"Track your key metrics closely. You know you are overmailing if your unsubs/complaints begin to trend upwards. Also, is your open/render rate on the way down? If so...you may be sending too much email."

2. Send more value

Email fatigue is less likely if you're sending relevant messages. Luc Vezina, head of marketing for email service provider Campaigner says:

"You want to keep your targets interested, but bombarding them with irrelevant emails is bound to backfire. If you send repeated emails to your targets, make sure they provide value."

He suggests offering more information on the products customers might consider purchasing:

"User-driven product content such as ratings, reviews and Q&As can provide credible product information that customers want."

"A purchase can trigger an email asking the customer to rate or review the product. Then, come holiday time, you can send a top rated products promo email."

"Offering this information to your customers can serve as a valuable tool for them. The best part is they'll remember who provided it and go back for more."

3. Send to the right people

DJ advises you avoid fatigue by segmenting your list based on established criteria:

"Segment on past purchase behavior, consumer type (high vs. low value), click behavior, location, etc."

Chad suggests you take this a step further and...

"...consider offering additional email streams that require an additional opt in."

"Last year, Montgomery Ward and Petco ran 12 Days of Christmas campaigns that required an additional opt in. That allows your most interested customers to receive additional emails, while avoiding fatiguing the rest of your list."

"While only a small slice of your list will opt into these emails, they will be highly engaged customers that should be much more likely to convert."

4. Consider alternative communication vehicles

Finally, if email fatigue is a concern, Linda reminds us that email is not your only choice for customer communications. You might also consider...

"RSS feeds which are accessed on-demand, Twitter links or even SMS messaging. SMS is exciting because it's possible to send messages when GPS-enabled phones are within close range of your physical stores, if you have them."

And Luc suggests more Web 2.0 functionality:

"Retailers are also linking products to social networking sites like Facebook where a customer can add a product to a wish list or add a note to his or her profile about the product being viewed on your site."

How do you stand out?


Of course, you have more leeway with frequency if you can get your emails to stand out more from the morass of seasonal messages.

Much of that comes from typical best practices, with regular testing to identify winning designs, offers and subject lines. Relevancy, as always, is critical. Chad notes:

"...increasingly, segmentation and targeting are the keys to standing out. We talk all the time about how important relevancy is, but it's even more important when your inbox is suddenly getting 50% more mail."

Linda agrees:

"Proper segmentation and personalization will certainly help. The more you can understand what kinds of products and offers your subscriber is most interested in, the better click through and conversion you will achieve - obviously."

But what about specific approaches to garner attention?

A common suggestion is summed up by DJ: "Be different."

He suggests, for example...

"Allow consumers to Buy Now for the holidays. In other words, why wait until December to buy your gifts? If I could buy now and guarantee my gift arrive by the holidays, I'd do it in a second. Avoid the stress of last minute shopping."

Luc adds:

"Everyone offers free shipping around the holidays, so offer something more to your email subscribers to reward them for their loyalty and to encourage list growth. Add a viral component to your email campaigns by encouraging subscribers to forward coupons or special offers to friends."

"Also, it may sound simple, but customers like it when you're polite."

"Taking the time to personalize emails via the subject line, salutation and content provided not only makes your email stand out in a customer's crowded inbox, but it also makes customers feel like you know them and know what they need."

Finally, a key reminder from Linda:

"Geographic segmentation is important because winter doesn't look the same across North America. Are you promoting scarves and mittens to Floridians? Likewise, you don't need to market the US Thanksgiving holiday to Australians, Brits and Canadians."

Next installment: Are there any specific tactics you can use as the gift-giving season draws to a close? And what about when the holidays are over?

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Permalink | October 13, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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