Here comes peak season, here comes peak season, right down holiday lane!
Last year, holiday sales grew by 8.5%, the biggest annual increase in 17 years! CNBC also reported online sales were up 61%, no doubt tied to the new normal of online shopping. This means email marketing has a lot cut out for it this year to make performance just as strong in 2022.
But just what is needed to ensure your email program is performing at its peak leading into the holidays? And most importantly, what do senders need to know to keep their program from suffering deliverability problems during the 2 months of the year that generate up to 20% of annual revenue?
In this month’s roundup, we’ll be sharing tips to help you prepare for a jolly good & profitable peak season with email experts from SocketLabs, Netcore Cloud, Adobe, Epsilon, Mailkit and your very own festive Kickbox deliverability geek, Jennifer Nespola Lantz.
And off we go!
2022 Brings Interesting Challenges to Peak: 6 Tips to Prepare
‘Tis a strange year, 2022. I never thought I would say that after 2020, yet here we are. A number of outside forces could impact how successful the holidays will be for marketers this year. However, email is a resilient channel likely to thrive and outperform other marketing channels this season.
But even the indestructible have an Achilles’ heel. For email, it’s an unprepared email program.
Last year I wrote about 8 holiday tips to Jingle Your Way to the Inbox. Those tips still ring true. However, these top 3 are worth repeating:
- Consent – if you don’t have consent for it, don’t mail it.
- Authentication – make sure you have it, and it’s working.
- Volume – build up to your peak cadence and volumes. Spikes will delay delivery if not prevent it. And make sure that volume isn’t overloaded with inactive customers. Those should be weeded out and addressed before peak.
Now, are there other things to keep in mind? Yes.
- Holidays are no longer exclusive to two days, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Peak has extended beyond November 1st up through the end of December.
There is an appetite for shopping, but it is more focused. Last year saw a wonderful bump in sales, but this year brought inflation and war in Europe. Keep a sincere and realistic pulse on your customer’s needs and wants.
Relevance is always a factor in engagement, which is crucial for successful deliverability. Without it, your emails may be overlooked by those more on target with needs.
Keep your customers focused on your brand to keep your deliverability on top and drive loyalty and sales.
- Don’t send when others are sending. Everyone wants to hit that morning timeslot, but when everyone is mailing at the same time, receivers have to balance the traffic to manage it. If you can send off the hour (like 9:17am instead of 9:00am) or in the afternoon, it helps the receivers process your mail more efficiently and lowers the chance it will be throttled.
- Test your resend strategies. Only Influencers posted a case study on resending emails. If you are resending, make sure it makes a positive impact; otherwise, you will be building up metrics that make you less desirable to the receivers.
To make the most of BIMI, invest in VMCs. Apple iOS16 is supporting BIMI this fall, just in time for the holidays, but they require a VMC. Not sure how to get one? Kickbox offers deliverability consulting services to help with BIMI implementation.
To get BIMI compliant, you’ll need to do some authentication work. If you are more than a month away from getting authentication up and running, it’s best to hold off until after the holidays.
Authentication that is rushed isn’t done right. And when it’s broken or too new to have a reputation, it puts a real damper on the holiday season.
Make peak an event! Consider what Amazon does with Prime Day in July. They offer sneak peeks for members, messaging based on preferences and shopping behaviors, options for notifications based on deal days, and set expectations about what is to come. It’s an anticipated event.
And, from anecdotal conversations about Prime Day, recipients aren’t inundated with messaging. Even with the increase in volume, what is sent is targeted, a huge factor in increasing interest and engagement and minimizing fatigue.
And if you missed it, you can still here’s a recap of our peak season webinar for more tips to “Avoid the Naughty List & Spam Folder this Holiday Season.”
Let Your Creativity Sparkle & Send More Impactful Email
You are a *bit* late
It’s okay! You can catch up.
It’s not too late, but you need to act fast and responsibly. One of the absolute worst things I’ve seen was a sender who hadn’t cleaned any of their data and decided to send to their entire database repeatedly on Black Friday.
That was not a fun Spamhaus listing, to say the least.
That being said, here are my top tips for senders this holiday season:
- Your! Data! Needs! To! Be! Clean!
- REFER BACK TO POINT 1
- “Send more email” cannot be the end of your campaign strategy. Send more impactful email, more targeted email, more relevant email, and so on. Let your creativity sparkle. This is not the time to phone it in!
Point 1 is absolutely foundational to peak season, no matter when it starts. If you start the season with bad data, you’re going to significantly impact your reputation, and then you’re going to spend the rest of said season trying to fix your reputation damage instead of actually hitting the inbox.
The more you can do to stay out of the spam folder and off the radar of blocklist providers, the better.
You should be able to answer the question, “When was the oldest subscriber in my database last sent an email” with complete confidence.
Anyone you’re sending to during peak season needs to have been emailed in the last year. Now is not the time to pull out that list you’ve been keeping in a cabinet for the last 10 years to wish them a happy Peak Email Holiday Sending Season.
As always, you need to consider engagement. Segment out your most engaged and most interested subscribers and keep an eye on their stats as you ramp up your holiday sending. If they show drops in engagement, that’s a potential indicator that you’re either going to spam or your campaign isn’t having the impact you want it to have.
If that most engaged list increases in unsubscribes or spam complaints, that’s a massive indicator to roll things back and rethink. If you leave your most engaged list mixed in with the rest of your sending, it makes that data a lot harder to parse through and calculate.
Finally, have some fun with it. Sit down, brainstorm, and get creative about what YOU can do to stand out in a crowded inbox. Emoji, jokes, puns, singing telegrams in your content, anything is fair game. With a solid email reputation going into the season, you have many more options to do something cool and out of the box.
This is your moment. Create the most compelling content you can. Whether it’s trying more engaging visuals, testing out a variety of sales incentives to drive business during the holidays, or simply surprising your subscribers with an edgier subject line. Just give it a shot.
On the subject line note, if I see “No tricks, just treats” in a subject line, I have a rule to send it straight to trash. So don’t do that.
Make sure you consider your audience in everything you do. Not only will your segmentation (from tip 1) be useful for monitoring stats, but it’s also useful for content personalization.
Maybe you have location-specific offers or interest-specific copy. People want to feel seen and understood. Do you want an email about extremely cool glow-in-the-dark shoes, only to click into the email and find out those cool shoes are just for kids? Was that example suspiciously specific but accurate? Yes.
Above all, just be mindful of your strategy. Put your best foot forward to break through the noise, hedge against serious consequences, and make the most out of the time you have left before the holiday season comes in like a wrecking ball.
Data and content
Both have to work together
Happy Peak Sending!
6 Tips to Lessen the Pain Brought on by Peak Season Mailing
As we approach Black Friday / Cyber Monday, and the rest of the holidays, marketers will be looking at sending additional promotional campaigns. Remember, your brand will be increasing volume, and so will every other brand.
Here are a few things to lessen the pain typically brought on by increased volume during peak mailing seasons.
- Send at off peak times: Most marketers will look to send at the top or bottom of the hour. Admit it you’re just about sending emails at 9:00 AM every day of the year – it’s ok, so are your competitors. Consider adjusting your time to something a little less routine, like 9:10 or 9:20 instead.
Segment, Segment, Segment: Your most engaged users (Active last 30 days) should always be your priority when ramping up your email. Send to them first, even send an additional communication during your promotion periods as they will be the most excited to hear from you. Then look at your other segments and adjust your mailings to them accordingly.
- Segment 1 (30 day active) – Send first, send additional communications
- Segment 2 (30-60 days) – send second, send some additional communications
- Segment 3 (60-90 days) – send third, do not increase volumes
- Segment 4 (unengaged) – send last, limited
- Avoid volume spikes: Mailbox providers’ anti-spam solutions like a level of consistency when it comes to building reputation filters. Irregular volume spikes and large increases in invalid and unengaged users cause anti-spam systems to raise the shields faster as they are dealing with an elevated level of email from all marketers. If you plan to send additional volumes, consider sending two smaller campaigns instead of one very large one.
- Check your configurations now: It’s better to review your authentication configurations now instead of realizing your SPF records are out of date, your DKIM keys need rotating, or your DMARC records are not reporting properly, and mail is being blocked due to a bad setup/configuration. Audit these in October to ensure you’re performing at peak condition.
- Be transparent on shipping and availability: Consumers will be looking for that perfect holiday gift or treat for a loved one. Be clear on product availability, shipping deadlines, and any possible delays with delivery.
- Be nice to your deliverability teams: While you are increasing volumes, so are all their other clients, be nice as everyone will be under stress for the next couple of months. Remember, email best practices, data collection and proper data hygiene will solve a lot of problems before they begin.
Hope you all have a smooth ride this peak mailing season and remember item number 6. It’s probably worth talking to your delivery consultants in advance to build a better, more informed strategy or at least make them aware of your plans.
Keys to Good Deliverability During Peak Season are the Same Year-Round
The keys to good deliverability are the same all year, regardless of your industry’s peak season. Two strategies, however, seem to become more popular just before most marketers’ peak time.
- Sudden renewed interests in best practices & reputation and
- Plans to reach way back in the file to make contact with very unengaged addresses.
How can these 2 exist in the same well-performing deliverability program?
Both strategies aim to take advantage of reaching as many clients as possible for the big holiday, the big game, or that simple time of year when consumers buy that product.
One achieves this by ensuring everything is perfect for emails to deliver to the inbox. The other plays fast and loose with the idea that more is more.
As most of us know, adding high volumes of non-engaged users back into the targeted audience brings down the reputation, and lowers the delivery and open rates, often washing away any gains made by adding users to the targeting.
In addition to washing away gains and potentially seeing losses compared to previous sends, the damage to reputation will last a while, impacting deliverability long after the peak is over. In the end, you probably would have been better off changing nothing.
As far as waiting till your peak to work on best practices and reputation, I propose working on it all year long, with thoughtful and careful adjustments to your list hygiene, content, targeting, personalization, etc. no need to make large, risky, and untested changes just before peak.
Make small adjustments all year long, measure the results, make more small adjustments, and so forth. Before you know it, your peak season will be around the corner, and you will have already been long prepared while everyone else in your industry panics and ends up making desperate choices that have long-lasting consequences.
When focusing on best practices, remember consent is king. Make sure you have the owner of the address’s consent and that whatever you send them is relevant to the consent they provided.
The most important thing about your email marketing program is consent, consent, consent. After consent, in a distant second, is that Friendly From.
Most mail clients these days display the Friendly From vs. the sending email address. That is what the user will see first and what they will use to decide whether your email is something they remember giving consent to and recognize is something they have interest in.
Don’t be tempted to get creative with the Friendly. Keep it the exact same as it always has been. It is the difference between your users opening/clicking and ignoring, or worse, reporting as spam.
Stay consistent, don’t make risky changes, don’t dumpster dive after old and unengaged addresses, consent, consent, consent, AND keep that Friendly consistent.
Will Your Holiday Targeting & Cadence Drive Sales or Create Deliverability Woes?
The lead up to the madness of Q4 is a good time to reconsider your approach to targeting, cadence, content, and all other major components of a bulk email program.
Targeting and cadence often receive significant consideration as altering these can have significant upside through additional sales. However, they also have considerable downside if they lead to tipping the balance of your sender reputation, resulting in problematic deliverability at receiving networks.
Targeting changes should not be shifted drastically during your most critical sending period, but should be slowly tested in the run-up to it.
For senders who are using the most commonly given advice of sending only to openers and clickers within the past year but want to expand that audience during the holidays, please consider slowly cycling back in segments of the audience you have stopped targeting. And start doing it now.
For audience segments that have been withheld from targeting for over a year, a good recommendation would be to send to small segments of this population at the same time as you are sending high-volume deployments to see which of these addresses reengage. And monitor the complaint and unsubscribe rates of those that don’t.
This is best implemented with specific, compelling content which provides value to these recipients and invites them back into your content stream. It is much better to attempt this slowly over a few weeks or months.
Batching your most inactive email addresses and sending them all on Black Friday can result in major deliverability issues, which might take several days or weeks to resolve and are not worth the gamble.
If you have email addresses which haven’t opened in several years, you may not want to reattempt those segments. But that deserves a more detailed discussion between each marketing department and a deliverability consultant to assess their specific risk factors.
Most ESPs offer access to dedicated deliverability professionals, or there are third-party companies and individual consultants who can perform this type of analysis as well.
Considering the massive ROI in email, this might be the best money you’ve spent this year—or you can think of it as a holiday gift to your email program 😉.
The Fundamentals of a Winning Holiday Campaign Strategy
The good thing about the high season is that it comes right after the low season. This means you should have taken the time to do your prep work.
It was the time to do the list cleanup to suppress your unengaged recipients. It was also the best time to get your managers to understand how important engagement is so they understand batch and blast is not something they should ask you to do.
If you have done all of the above, you are ready to focus on your campaign strategy.
You should review your existing automated campaigns to make sure none of them will collide with the campaigns you will be executing.
Make a schedule beforehand to identify where your existing campaigns are and where you intend to do your sends.
Make sure to include segmentation information in your schedule, so you know who you are targeting with each campaign. Make sure to include reactivation campaigns for your unengaged as well.
Don’t forget that pre-holiday sales are moving forward every year – it’s no longer the first week of December. In the past few years bulk of the sales occurred in November, so don’t forget to plan accordingly.
Once you have your schedule, it’s time to think about the content. Put yourself in your recipient’s shoes and be very critical – make sure there is value in every campaign – not for you as a sender but for the recipient.
That applies to both the timing and the content – you (or your boss) might want to send daily in high season, but do you have the value in your campaigns to back such send frequency?
Sometimes there is more value in not sending, especially at a time when the competition in the inbox multiplies.
If you haven’t been able to do your prep during the low season, you should follow some simple rules.
Avoid batch and blast, make sure your content stands out and keep your eyes on your reports and Google postmaster tools. Make sure you stop and re-evaluate your campaigns as soon as you see the metrics changing.
Finally, don’t let others push you to do more sends – it may cause irreparable harm to your reputation that will affect the rest of your season.