We recently shared a survey with our social media followers asking them to submit questions they had about holiday email marketing—and we got quite a lot of questions. Samar Owais, SaaS and eCommerce Email Strategist and Copywriter, joined us for a LinkedIn Live session to answer them all. Here’s the audio and transcript of the session that we conducted:
How do you make the most of in-store promotions during the holidays?
What most ecommerce brands that also have retail stores do is that they’ll have their online store sales separately and they have their marketing departments handle the in-store stuff separately. So the other way brands will handle this is that their in-store offers are the same as their online offers and then email offers. If they want to make more in-store sales, then they’ll make those sales sweeter I guess, like maybe “Get five percent off if you go in-store and buy it”; or if they want to amp up their email sales then they’ll offer a bigger sale on their email promotions or online shopping. In my experience, just keep it simple. So if you are a brand with a retail store also, and you don’t have a lot of experience with it, pick one and then just run with it. Especially if you haven’t started preparing for your holiday marketing yet, come up with one promotion that you run in your email and your store together so that you’re able to use the promotional material and the offers and the emails and the banners and the ads and everything.
What do you think is the best way to connect with people during the holiday season?
So the first way to do it is to amp up your emails. So if you’re emailing your list once a week, bump it up to twice maybe a couple of months before the holiday season kicks off, so that your audience is used to getting more emails from you and they will not be irritated or surprised or think that, “Oh this brand just pops into my inbox when there’s the holiday season and they want to run a sale”—because our audiences and our customers are growing more and more skeptical. Everybody is a lot smarter, especially in the post-pandemic world, where online shopping has improved so much. So keep the focus of your emails before the holiday season on content. And by content, I don’t really mean reinventing the wheel, but look at the existing content that your brand is producing right now. So if you’re publishing a blog post, repurpose it into an email. If you’re publishing regular social media content, especially Instagram or Facebook stuff, repurpose them into emails. And what this does is it positions your product as the natural solution. So if you’re talking about, for example, skincare, and you have to sell a hyaluronic acid, you start talking about dry skin and how hyaluronic acid is great for that and then, “Hey, look at this, you have a product that deals with dry skin.” So anybody struggling with dry skin, anybody trying to solve that problem, is definitely going to check your product out. So think about positioning your product as the natural solution. Sit down for half an hour, 45 minutes. Brainstorm all the way, all the content ideas you can include in your emails and how you can tie them together with your product, and then just send those emails out.
Whenever somebody signs up to receive emails from an ecommerce brand, they’re literally telling you, “I am interested in your products and your brand; I want to hear from you.” So don’t shy away from emailing them. Don’t shy away from telling them about your products. But if all you’re doing is sell, sell, sell, that’s when you will start turning people off. But if you are mixing your sales messaging with high-value content, then that’s going to go over really well. So that’s one of the fastest ways of connecting with your subscribers and customers during the holiday season.
And then start teasing your upcoming promotions as well. Perhaps change the signup offer to, “Our biggest sale of the season is just around the corner. Sign up to be the first one to find out when we kick it off.” Or even at the bottom of all your weekly newsletter emails, you could have a banner at the bottom or just a little teaser that “Black Friday promotions are coming; hope you all get ready for it; be prepared because stock runs out fast.” So the good thing about holiday marketing is that there’s built-in scarcity. “Black Friday is going to end, Cyber Monday is going to end, and then if you don’t shop now from our biggest sale, you’re going to miss out.” So capitalize on that, but keep the focus on content before the holiday season, and then feel free to go all sales during that holiday season because you do want to make those sales, and if you have done your work right, you have prepared your audience to expect those emails coming in.
Why do people keep adding to the cart during holidays and then leave? What can be done to avoid it?
There’s no way to avoid it. So you know how many retail store people will just go and browse around because they’re window shopping? It also happens to online stores. I mean, a big chunk of your website traffic or even your email subscribers will click through just to browse, and that’s totally okay. But there are so many reasons somebody will abandon a cart. Maybe they’re using it to bookmark stuff if they’re really digging deep into your brand and seeing what products you’re selling, or they just decide that they’ll make a decision later. Others just add things to the cart and then decide not to buy, or simply get distracted and forget about it. My favorite meme about abandoned carts is this tweet somebody sent out a couple of years ago saying, “I just added $70 worth of items to my cart only to remember I don’t have the money for it.” That absolutely happens. I am an email marketer, I shop online, and justify it as market research, but so many times I’m abandoning carts because I want to find out how they’re planning their emails, and it could be also because I’ve shopped a lot that month and I no longer have the money to spend on shopping. So your best course of action is to create a cart abandonment flow. There are two types that you should be doing. One is “add to cart,” which is when somebody adds items to their cart and then leaves your website or goes away. The other is a “checkout abandonment” flow, which is when somebody adds things to their cart, starts the checkout process, and then abandons it. So the reason I like “checkout abandonment” is because it’s closer to the point of sale. It shows that the audience was a little more interested in buying. They were closer to making that conversion or that sale because they actually started checking out, and then for some reason, they did it. So send them cart abandonment flows, but make sure that your cart abandonment emails are not creepy, like, “Hey, we saw that you were looking,” or “You left something behind.” Please make them conversational; make them interesting. And if they’re during the holiday season, just really go all out and say, “This might run out by the time you come back—so we make no promises—but here’s a gentle reminder that you were looking at this, and if you plan on buying it, just do it now before we run out.” So there are people that will not buy, and that’s totally okay, that’s part of doing business. But a cart abandonment flow will make you a lot of money from the people who thought, “I’ll come back to it later,” or they just forgot for whatever reason.
How do I figure out what customers expect to see when they open their email campaigns?
You are the one setting the expectations of what the customer expects to see in an email. They don’t know what you’re going to be emailing about. And you do it through your subject line and your preview text. That’s the first indication to your subscriber or your customer as to what the email is about. So make sure that your subject lines are clear over clever. I know we all love writing a clever little subject line, especially during the holiday season. And if you are a brand that has fun with their email copy, then, by all means, go with a fun subject line. But make sure that your preview text adds context and clarifies whatever the email is about, so that by the time somebody clicks to open, they have an idea what that email is going to be about. So if you’re running a sale, you’re mentioning it in some form, either in the subject line or the preview text—or if it’s just a content-based email, then tell them what the topic is. What people expect to see in their emails also depends on their actions. So if they’ve just abandoned a cart and they receive a cart abandonment email, they’ll immediately make a connection, “Oh, I’m getting this email because I was on their website, I added these new cards, and then I didn’t buy”; or if they just have made a purchase and they get the post-purchase email, like the order confirmation, shipping confirmation, so on and so forth, they’ll immediately see your email and know that it contains the information that they need because they just made a purchase. Similarly, when somebody signs up for your newsletter, you send them a welcome email and they expect to receive a welcome email with whatever promise that you’ll pay them in your offers—say it’s a $20 discount—and you need to send them the discount code. So we are the ones setting expectations for our subscribers.
When should conversion happen once connected with the audience during the holiday time?
Immediately. You need to aim for immediate conversions, but also understand that it might not happen immediately. So some of your audience will be ready for you now, especially if you’ve done your job right. If you build up anticipation for your holiday promotional campaign, a part of your audience will be ready and waiting and as soon as you send that first email; they are going to make the purchase and buy what they want to buy. But others will need a little more convincing, and your holiday emails need to cater to both kinds of audiences. That means you should make it super easy to buy from your emails for those that are ready, and that comes in many forms. Maybe running site-wide sales so that they don’t have to worry about a discount or figuring out which products are on sale and which aren’t; or maybe some products are 50% on sale, or 10% on sale, and it just becomes a big confusing mess. So keep it simple.
The other way you could do it is to apply the discount code automatically when somebody clicks through from your email. And then they can add things to whatever they want and the discount code is automatically applied during checkout, which is another very easy way of improving their shopping experience. At the very least, if your tech stack cannot handle any of those and you have to use a discount code, please make sure that the discount code is easy to remember. And for those that need a little more convincing, you do need to include social proof in your emails; you need to talk about the benefits, you need to talk about the pain points your products are solving. You can show before and after of what life was like before using your product and what it was after using your product and then just brainstorm ways. In holiday email marketing, you’re not just going to send one email and forget about it; it’s a campaign, you are going to send multiple emails, and you’re going to send more, maybe on the last day before when time runs out or your sale ends.
So I always say that the thing about conversions and sales is that it may be one event, but we need to give our subscribers multiple opportunities to convert or to buy, which is why we have promotional campaigns that span over a few days, and we make sure that we are sending multiple emails. So during the holiday season especially, you are competing with every other brand out there because they’re running promotions and singles as well. So you’ve got to use email copy to stand out, but you also need to prepare your audience. Start teasing your sale a couple of weeks before. Create an early bird list, maybe encourage them to click so that they get tagged as an early bird, and they become the first one to find out when you launch your biggest sales—or you could just even offer like a 5% or extra five dollars off to them, to anybody who clicks on to the early bird. What this does is, it gamifies it, and everybody loves being in a crowd that gets a little extra benefit—but also it helps them. I always say make your offer super attractive and treat them like royalty, so early bird lists are an easy way to do that.
How do you think bulk emails can be sent to different regions without getting confused about the time zone? There are options to optimize send times in most of the ESPs. However, do you have any tips for email marketers to be careful about it?
This is one of the very, very tricky issues about email marketing, especially if you want to do it according to time zone or things like that. In my experience, I tend to not do things based on time zones. I definitely turn on smart sending if there is an option, and I let the ESP handle it, but I also know that you should leave yourself a margin of error, because it’s not always possible for us—or even the ESPs—to figure out the correct time zone. So if you are using it, give yourself a margin of error. Be kind to yourself, and then just don’t make that your sole strategy. Know that there are going to be mistakes, but also, especially during the holiday season, people do not mind receiving emails at odd hours. You might even run a test and see, “Okay, if I send out an email after 8 PM, let’s see how many people actually click and buy rather than sending it out at 10 AM or 11 AM,” because most brands will send during the working hours—so why not test sending after? This is where you can start experimenting and maybe even try and start understanding how your audience relates and responds during the holiday season. And there is a school of thought that recommends sending after hours, because so many people are working. It may be Black Friday—but it’s I think it’s a working Friday in the US. People are at work, and they might not necessarily have the chance to shop while they’re at their office—or, well, everybody works from home now, but you get what I mean. So many people will wait to browse products after putting their kids to bed so that they’re not getting interrupted, and they can really go through and make those decisions and have fun with their online shopping experience. So I am all for using smart send, but then also sending emails out at a certain time after hours.
How early should holiday emails be planned?
As early as July. Plan the months that you will run promotional campaigns at the start of the year. So if you are a brand that runs a lot of promotional campaigns, or anytime you want to amp up sales and make money, there is not much I can say about that, because your brand has needs and everything. But if you are a brand that is very, very strategic with the promotional campaigns, then you need to plan ahead at least three to four months. So the first step is sitting down and figuring out what are the months that we want to run campaigns on for the rest of the year. So if you’re running a Valentine’s Day campaign, then that’s your February covered. If you run July 4 campaigns, if you’re a US brand, then that’s your July covered, and then the holiday season. Mark off your months and weeks, and then as that time comes closer, start thinking about what your offer is going to be. How many people are active on your list? You need time to keep your audience engaged and also try to re-engage or un-engage segments, because the holiday season is the worst time to just pop up in somebody’s inbox. They’re going to mark you as spam-like, “I haven’t heard of you in six to eight months, or a full year, and you’re just coming in during the holiday season—yeah, mark spam or delete.” And that is actually going to hurt your deliverability. So, minimum, start thinking about your holiday promotions three months before. July is even better, so that you’re done by the time the first week of November comes in, and you aren’t stressed out. But I also know that brand life is extremely hectic and it’s almost impossible to prepare for the holiday season while also keeping up with your regular campaigns. So it requires planning. Starting early gives you more time to do it. Keep some level of sanity in your life instead of just working 12-hour days during October and November.
What’s a strategy that you would suggest for brands that don’t begin their promotions on time and are forced to prepare holiday emailers at the last minute?
If you wake up on November 20 or you’re an email marketer and the brand suddenly tells you, “Oh, we want to run a Black Friday promotion,” and you’re stuck, the easiest thing to do is use last year’s promotional email. Nobody’s going to remember. Change the subject lines, update the copy a little bit, make sure that you’re changing the discount code or whatever, and then reuse those emails. If you have released new products by that point, then replace them in those emails and use the product copy from the website. Use what you already have, and if you are a new brand that hasn’t done a Black Friday promotion before, decide what the duration of the Black Friday sale is going to be. If it’s a three-day promotion, five-day promotion, seven-day promotion, or whatever it is, look at the past promotional campaigns you have. Pick any seven, five, or three-day promotional campaign and edit it and adapt it for your Black Friday sale. Use the same emails, update the subject lines a little bit, whatever. My whole thing is keeping you sane—keeping brands sane and reusing the stuff they already have. Nobody can remember. Yes, it’s not ideal, but it is going to reduce your workload and your stress levels quite a lot if you go back and use what you already have, and when you are choosing from promotional campaigns, choose the one that made you the most money, because you already know that was a successful promotional campaign. We can pick this up, adapt it for Black Friday, and then use it again.