Tips to optimize holiday email marketing campaigns in 2020

Expert Diaries

Expert Diaries from Zoho Campaigns connects avid email marketers to experts, and helps them learn some best practices and tips. Our aim is to connect email geeks and form a community that allows them to learn email marketing tips from each another.

Jeanne Jennings is a self-proclaimed email marketing geek. She is the founder and chief strategist of the Washington-based Email Optimization Shop, a boutique consultancy focused on optimizing bottom line marketing performance with strategic testing. In this edition of Expert Diaries, the author of The Email Marketing Kit: The Ultimate Email Marketing Bible, explains what email marketers should focus on during this holiday season’s uncertainty.

Excerpts from the interview.

2020 is different from anything that we have ever seen. Given the situation we are in, should businesses invest in holiday email marketing?

Yes, they should. Recent studies have indicated that the vast majority of the US population are shopping online this year. In fact, with the restrictions, people will prefer purchasing from a virtual store.

If that’s the case, you want to send email campaigns and let people know about your business, offers, and other essential details like the shipping policy. This is just to keep your brand at the top of people’s minds. I believe that email marketing is more important than ever because of this shift.

How sensitive should marketers be while planning their holiday campaigns this time around?

Yes, it’s a challenging time. While there are people who’ve been able to work from home and earn a salary, there are others who haven’t been able to work at all or their hours have been drastically reduced. For them, it’s a really different economic situation. So, it’s important to be cognizant of that while planning a campaign. There are a couple of ways to do that.

1. Allowing people to choose the amount of holiday marketing emails they want to receive. They can choose to get an email a week or more. If someone is struggling financially, they don’t want to keep getting these emails.

2. Send emails with products at different price points. For instance, a company is looking at options to buy gifts for their employees or clients. Depending on the budget, they can pick gifts in that price range. So, it is good to send emails that have a mix of high and low priced gifts to appeal to everyone.

Another important aspect of an email campaign is the content. So, what should we keep in mind while crafting content during the 2020 holiday season?

We’ve been talking about empathy ever since this started. It is still going to be important this holiday season.

I have a client who is making a donation to Toys for Tots (a program run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve where they distribute toys to children whose parents cannot afford to buy them gifts for Christmas) for every purchase.

When we talk about empathy, we want to show our prospects and customers that we’re doing something to help in this difficult time.

A lot of the things that we used to go out and do—going to the movies or eating out—we’re now doing at home. This is the reason you must consider content in terms of home-based gifts. So for instance, I have a friend who is a big coffee drinker, missing his daily Starbucks, I’d get him an espresso machine.

In general, when you send an email, you try to surprise and delight those on the receiving end. By showing care and empathy in those emails, you can make someone’s day.

One must also not ignore the popularity of videos. The lockdown has made us comfortable with digital content and I think that companies should leverage it, considering it’s not expensive and can be easily done.

Usually, the holiday buzz starts in mid-October. Will things be different this year?

When it comes to email marketing, the holiday season usually starts early. There was a company I used to follow. Every year, they reported on the first holiday email they spotted and it was usually sometime in August.

 However, if you haven’t started your holiday email marketing yet, it’s definitely time. When it comes to my clients, we actually start in late September and we almost immediately see sales and orders.

Another thing that companies should prioritize is delivery. If you want to send something for Christmas, then you have to make sure you order early enough. To avoid shortages, and to make sure things can be delivered on time, companies need to start marketing earlier so customers can buy earlier.

How important is segmentation of the mailing list?

 There are a million ways to segment a list and it depends on what your goals are. It also depends on what data you have.

It’s not like one size fits all. Have a look at your list, if you have email IDs in your list that have been less active in the last year, you probably want to send them through a list hygiene service to avoid spam traps.

A thing that we do a lot is segment by activity. For instance, when it comes to sending follow-ups, we do not send to the entire list. We do a strategic reset about a week later and send the campaign only to those who clicked on links but didn’t end up purchasing. That’s an effective way to engage as we see high return on it. We aim to get about a 50% increase in revenue per email. It sounds counter-intuitive and you might think if they didn’t purchase after clicking, they wouldn’t be interested. We found out that it is exactly the opposite.

You can plan successful campaigns based on your behavioral data.

How frequently should the emails be sent to those who are responsive to your campaigns?

There is no set answer to that. It really depends on the relationship people share with your brand. If you’re sending email less than once a month, that’s probably not going to be enough and people are going to forget about you.

A lot of brands do it weekly and that works for them to help keep the brand at the top of the minds of their subscribers. Again, the frequency depends on the content that you’re sending.

Think about it, you might be getting emails from brands that you open every day. There might be others you open once a week or less. So you really must think about what you’re sending and who it is for.

I get emails from my favourite shoe store just about every day, I don’t open them every day, but I check them three or four times a week to see what they’ve got.

On the other hand, my brother would probably like to get emails from the same shoe store just before his wife’s birthday or before their anniversary. He is not going to interact with the emails like I do. So it just depends on what the relationship is with the brand.

Can you share with us some of the campaigns that you worked on this holiday season?

We’re having a lot of fun right now. I guess as an email marketer, my idea of fun might be a little different from my clients. We actually went out with a really aggressive testing campaign in September. For every campaign, we’ve had at least one test and sometimes more. We’re learning a lot in the process. We realized having more products in emails drives up the revenue per email. So we’re actually playing with that idea.

We do a lot of testing of subject lines, where we try to come up with formulas that we can recreate. We found that rather than leading with a holiday message, if we lead with something that talks about the products, it works better. Mentioning the percentage off in the subject line really helps. We’re doing a lot of work around creating subject lines, pre-header texts and headlines that all work together and aren’t repetitive. This apart, we are working on lead generation and contact scoring.

Do you think a good holiday email marketing campaign in 2020 will set things right for 2021? 

I think it can. The idea behind email marketing is to build relationships. So, if you can build a relationship during this holiday season, it will be long term. For a lot of small businesses, this is an essential part of the year where they get a lot of revenue from their holiday sales. If you can build those relationships now, not only will you get the holiday sales, but you’ll improve sales next year when people have birthdays and other events that they need to buy for.




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