No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts
Brace yourselves, marketers. The 2020 holiday season is going to be unlike any we’ve ever seen. In fact, a recent study by Radial states that ecommerce demand during the pandemic already exceeds any peak we saw in 2019—that includes the 2019 holiday season!
It also states that 66% of shoppers plan to increase their online purchases during the 2020 holiday shopping season.
This means that email marketers will be responsible for driving more sales in an increasingly digitized market and a more competitive inbox. No pressure!
Email marketers can’t afford a fumble during the 2020 holiday season, which is why we asked email marketing experts from Hubspot, iContact, emailmonday, eFocus Marketing, 360 Inbox, Monkey Blocks as well as Dennis Dayman & our resident email geek Lauren Meyer to give you tips to maximize your holiday email marketing starting with re-engaging your customers the right way.
Here’s what they had to say…
Start Your Re-Engagement Efforts Early
The choices you make with bulk email today will impact your ability to reach the inbox in the future, so senders should always prioritize their engaged contacts over those that are disengaged with email sends – especially during the holiday season!
During the holidays you’ll be facing the highest competition to achieve that coveted primary inbox placement, so start your re-engagement efforts as early as possible and wrap up these efforts in advance of your biggest sending weekends or events.
When running re-engagement campaigns, start with your least disengaged subscribers first, and work your way backward to the more disengaged subscribers slowly. Be sure to closely monitor your engagement rates across all sends, and be on the lookout for dips in positive engagement and/or rises in negative engagement. Be ready to pause or amend re-engagement campaigns if you see signs of degraded sender reputation based on fluctuating engagement rates.
Do a Little Housekeeping Before Building Hype
Here are some of the steps we take at eFocus Marketing when working with retail clients gearing up for the holiday season:
- Clean your list
If you have segments of your audience that you don’t regularly contact but would like to during the holiday season, consider running your list through a provider such as Kickbox to ensure you’re only sending to deliverable emails and keep your bounce rates low.
Also, consider your campaign results from the last year and look for any red flags that might indicate changes needed in your strategy or sending data. Did you see any negative changes in complaints, unsubscribe rates, opens, clicks, or conversions? Did these happen with certain campaigns or during specific times like the holiday season? Were there segments of your list or campaigns that generated these results?
- Consider your audience
Consider which segments you’re sending to and their historical engagement with your emails. Also, take note of the last time you emailed them and how frequently you email them.
If you don’t have a regular reactivation strategy in place, consider incorporating a general automated process. Segment out any subscribers who haven’t interacted with your emails in a long period of time, and consider how you want to re-engage as many people as possible before the holiday season through a series of re-activation emails.
Alternatively, remove inactive subscribers from your mailings. Also, consider their other behaviors with your business in your decision-making. Analyze their purchase behavior from past holiday purchases to determine when they start their holiday shopping and the types of items they tend to purchase as well as the categories and price levels they gravitate towards.
You can use all of this information to create a specific segmentation strategy in the run-up to Christmas and better target your audience with the right messaging and offers for them.
- Get your audience excited!
Especially around events like Black Friday, asking people to register for a VIP waitlist or pre-sale guest list or similar can be a great way to identify people in your audience who are primed to buy.
Two Things To Start. Right. Now.
As a marketer, you always have a lot on your plate. I hate to tell you this, but you need to be thinking about the holiday season….right now. Start re-engaging with your subscribers early so that you can convert more during the holiday season. To help, here are the two top things you have to start doing right now.
Clean Your Lists
To ensure that you have an engaged cohort of subscribers and good deliverability, identify subscribers that have not been actively opening your emails in the last six months to a year. Once you have identified your disengaged audience, plan and send a winback campaign. Thank me later, because now you will have an engaged audience to send emails too later on.
Email deliverability is measured on the positive signals your subscribers provide, like opens and clicks. Negative signals like ignoring, unsubscribing, marketing as spam, and bouncing can hurt your deliverability.
Give Them Something Special
Start a content calendar to plan your offers, assets, and templates. Know when and what to send—and send valuable and engaging content. Use holiday templates and subject lines with emoji.
Your calendar should start now and run through the holidays.
Bonus: don’t forget that marketing does not stop when the holidays do. Promote the use of gift cards, spending holiday cash, and plan for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and more!
It is not bullshit when I tell you that you need to clean your lists and plan your content. I know you are busy, but you HAVE to take the time to do both or I will be back to tell you “I told you so” when you have lackluster holiday campaign results. The time is now.
Every Email is a Re-engagement Email (& this is the Secret to Harness that Power)
For busy times like the Holiday Shopping Season, it’s a good idea to prep your email marketing. Make sure you got everything tested and “mise en place” to roll out the campaigns with ease and a little bit less stress. We don’t want to upset baby Yoda.
So what is there to do? For instance…
- Get your email list (size, health, data) in order,
- Think up the campaign strategy
- Grind out the templates,
- and prepare products & offers as much as possible
There is always too much you can do! So take a bit of time and do this simple exercise to improve your email strategy. If it comes out that increasing engagement beforehand is a top 5 tactic, let’s go!
So if your goal is to re-engage your list before holiday shopping, you can also do specific “re-engagement campaigns” or even a series of re-engagement emails. The examples below highlight that there hasn’t been any engagement and ask for it specifically, like:
- “We miss you” (for Archery),
- “How is it hanging?” (for Art galleries), or
“Do you still want to see us?” (for Eyewear)
Typically these are not really re-engagement emails, they are “let us know you are alive – or we will take you off our list” mails. You see, that doesn’t really help that much. We look at engagement as something valuable, it is, but only if it leads to something connected to your business goals. Getting someone to open or click in a single email, way before the actual fun (holiday season) starts – doesn’t really help.
So make sure your re-engagement specific emails add to your email program goals. Get a piece of data for your CRM or Marketing automation. Set preferences, add an offer – something.
But.. but… Every email is a re-engagement email
I always say: every email is a re-engagement email. So here is an alternative pro-tactic. Have a look in your campaigns to see which type of email got the highest engagement with people that normally show low engagement. Then do similar campaigns tactics like that. If you can’t find those it might be your overall email program needs some more variety and is underserving them.
Roll Out Your Re-Enagement Campaigns Slowly & Strategically
During high-volume sending times like the holiday season coming up, it may seem like a great idea to add more recipients to your email campaigns, particularly if you’re looking to recoup missing revenue from earlier in the year (thanks a lot, 2020). However, any re-engagement effort happening right before the busiest and most lucrative email season of the year must be done with extreme care by using a thoughtful and data-driven approach.
Most of the top consumer Mailbox Providers such as Gmail, Outlook, and Verizon Media Group are heavily focused on user engagement to dictate which emails will make it to the inbox. Increasing your sending volumes in a short time and attempting to re-engage contacts who haven’t opened or clicked through any of your emails in months, if ever, can be dangerous for deliverability. And you can’t expect a high ROI from email if you’re landing in the spam folder!
Another key consideration is to segment based on historical engagement. If your plan is simply to send to as many email addresses as you have in your database regardless of past purchase or email engagement history, you’ll want to save it for 2021. This is not the time to focus on your least engaged users.
However, if the data shows a segment who tends to only engage with your emails or make purchases around the holidays, then great… bring them back into the fold. But carefully analyze the data and be selective with your audience and the content you send them.
Try to understand the type of content they preferred when they were an engaged recipient along with ideal sending frequency. Email fatigue is real, and you don’t want to risk it during a re-engagement effort.
Lastly, roll out your re-engagement campaign slowly. Initially focus on the segment that is most likely to start engaging with your emails again, which should be no more than 10% of your total daily volume, and watch your stats closely. If this looks good, start digging a little deeper into your inactive base on the next send.
Continue this process until you either work through your full re-engagement list or see problematic issues such as a drop in deliverability, a decrease in open or click rates, or an increase in complaints. These problems are an indication you’ve gone as far as you can into your list of inactives without risk so you’ll want to STOP THERE and drop that last inactive segment.
Re-Engagement is a Science, so Take a Scientific Approach
The most important first step to create a successful holiday marketing strategy is to adopt a strategic mindset:
- What is your objective – and should that really be the objective?
→ e.g. Growth strategies vs. CLV profitability strategies
- Does the objective of your CRM team align with a unified company objective?
→ e.g. Timing, tone, content, offer, etc.
→ e.g. Do other marketing channels undercut your offer or discount?
- Customers have choices – what makes our business or offer different?
→ e.g. Are we outsmarting the competition or following last year’s status quo?
Next, adopt a scientific approach to set up, test, and measure your holiday mailing strategy. Marketers seek ‘learnings’ and what better way to find those than to dig deep in your customer-base this holiday season, right?!
Make sure you measure your strategy, so that you can properly understand if it was successful based on your:
- objectives (eg. “we want to grow Q4 vs. Q3 orders by 10x”)
- hypothesis (eg. “A 50% discount-rate will generate 10x more orders than customers who receive our usual 20% discount-rate”)
Once you’ve sorted out what to send, then determine who is the target audience and how to send safely to them to avoid deliverability issues.
For many marketers, this time of year means re-engaging as much of the customer base as possible. Here are some useful strategies to consider:
- Segment your target audience based on their level of email engagement.
- Further split your segments into cohorts based on additional dimensions, such as recent website and app-use activity.
- Forecast the volumes of each respective segment and cohort so that you can understand the impact on the overall target audience. This will help you to prioritize which cohorts should be mailed to and the priority in which they should be dispatched.
- If possible, further sub-cohort your audience based on customer-value and conversion criteria, such as average order value (AOV) and customer lifetime value (CLV).
Business Matters. If you only care about growth, orders, and acquisitions but don’t care about gross-margins (I’m looking at you, start-up world), a one-size-fits-all super-high discount voucher can yield very interesting results. This approach may inflate near-term numbers, but it’s a ‘sales’ tactic rather than a sustainable email marketing strategy.
If you do care about reducting overhead costs and reaching net-positive CLV, you should use a strategy that applies the right offer to the right customer at the right time in their customer lifecycle.
Deliverability will continue to play an important role. With everyone re-engaging lapsed audiences, volumes will be high. Some ISPs will adapt their servers to accommodate this, whilst others may tighten their mail-filters algorithms. We recommend the following:
- Use an email verification service (wink-wink / nudge-nudge) to ensure data-quality is clean and free of bounces. This is especially important for users that have not received regular communication in the last 3-6 months (check for expired accounts) and new leads (check for invalids).
- Send warm-up communications with your re-engagement audience leading-up the holidays, not only to build awareness and anticipation, but to filter-out bounces and stir-up engagement activity before the main event.
- Schedule your segmented campaigns from ‘best’ to ‘worst’ according to the level of engagement. Regulate your send volumes as much as possible and stretch-throttle dispatches when necessary.
Think Mobile. You’ve all seen the mobile growth numbers from last Q4, and with 65%+ of all e-commerce spend happening on a mobile device, being mobile-ready is the new norm. Pre-flight your campaigns to ensure they render across all webmail and apps, including dark-mode.
Remember to be human; make it personal; make it seasonal; create engagement through great content and value, and avoid spammy tactics.
Kick Off Your Holiday Campaigns Earlier—Like Now
Email Thought Leader
This year is a bit different than normal preparations for the holidays. The last few months have been tough on all of us. Most shoppers are still reeling from the economic and emotional rollercoaster of COVID-19.
One of the top things you can do is show true empathy for them during this time. Show them how much you care about them in your communications and help them find ways to do business with you during this socially distanced time.
In other words, remove the roadblocks and friction for them. Make sure you can help them:
- Meet more stringent budgets this year by offering bigger discounts now.
- Offer the best ways to pay online and via any app available.
- Make it easier for them to obtain your products by offering free shipping or free ship to local stores.
You should also anticipate how the next 4 months could look and have some different strategies prepared. If stores close again, how can you get your products into consumers’ hands quicker? Instead of making them wait till the holidays to buy your products, start EARLIER with Christmas in September offers and holiday strategies.
Right now, we all could use a bit of holiday cheer and some fun things to do. If you start the holiday season now, you might be able to help alleviate some of the stress that is associated with holiday shopping, as it is sure to be exacerbated by the current pandemic.
Handle Your Subscribers With Care
The most important thing to do when contacting your lesser engaged customers is to remember one thing. Don’t just sell!
You’ve got to tread carefully, otherwise best case they’ll just ignore your email, worst case they’ll unsubscribe (or even hit the spam button!).
Start off with a re-welcome email. Remind them why you have their email address in the first place. Did they buy something from you? Did they download an ebook? Reference this in the email to remind them why they should care.
Then re-introduce them to your brand. Give them something interesting to read and look at, something that gets them excited about your business, and then start re-introducing them to your products and services. No hard sell, just some key USPs and reasons why they might want to shop with you.
Follow this up a few days to a week later with a little discount for an ecommerce site, or a free audit/consultation if you’re a service or SaaS business. But again the key is value and personalization.
Treat your customers well, and they’ll treat you well in return. If you just hit them with a product-loaded ‘newsletter’ every week, engagement will drop, and so will deliverability.
More No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts Coming Soon
And as always, feel free to share your thoughts with us on Twitter.
Keep your list healthy and boost campaign performance by regularly cleaning your email list. We’ll let you know which email addresses are good, bad and risky, before you hit send.
Your first 100 verifications are on us. Verify for Free