Consumers respond to the flood of holiday email by unsubscribing at high rates from November to January. Relevant personalized messaging, backed up by testing and a mobile-first strategy, can boost your returns from email during the holiday season and beyond.

Julie Marques, marketing consultant, RRD Marketing Solutions

Julie Marques, marketing consultant, RRD Marketing Solutions

Rapidly evolving consumer behavior and industry dynamics don’t afford marketers the luxury of resting on their laurels—particularly when it comes to competing for crowded email inbox attention during the head-spinning holiday season.

Take a few minutes to reflect on your brand’s end-of-year email marketing approach now by considering a few practical tips for success:

1. Take the long view

As ROI scrutiny tends to ramp up in the fourth quarter, some marketing leaders get pressured to focus more on immediate financial results than positive customer experiences—a misguided reaction that compels brands to inundate customers’ inboxes with emails from Thanksgiving time all the way through New Year’s.

After all, most marketers still view email as the highest ROI driver that’s relatively inexpensive to execute, according to the 2018 Email Marketing Industry Report by email marketing provider Emma. But what many brands have found out the hard way is that the “quantity over quality” mindset is a counterintuitive trap that only exacerbates the marketing kiss of death known as email fatigue.

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Holiday email open rates are 17% lower than business-as-usual emails.

Remember to respect the inbox privilege.

Almost three-quarters of U.S. consumers already feel overwhelmed by the number and frequency of emails they receive (Edison), and:

  • Only 15% find the emails sent from marketers useful (Fluent).
  • Last year’s email volume reached an all-time high of 122% above average during the holiday months (Return Path).
  • Holiday email open rates are 17% lower than business-as-usual emails, even though they do generate higher conversion rates. (Yes Lifecycle Marketing).
  • We also see patterns emerge at certain times of the year, with unsubscribe rates spiking well above average for retailers in November (51.8% increase above average), December (51.2% increase) and January (57% increase). We can likely attribute these spikes to shoppers who subscribe during the holiday season to find the best deals and then unsubscribe shortly thereafter. (Bluecore).

Tip: Build your holiday email strategy around a “less is more” approach focused on making customers’ lives easier, such as aggregating your most popular educational content from the past year to help reduce customer service calls. By all means, email that special offer or discount if it applies to your business. But hitting the same audience with the same message over and over can damage long-term brand equity, ultimately doing more harm than good.

2. Provide relevant, personalized messaging

Relevance is the most valuable gift email marketers can give consumers during holiday time; and the key to unlocking relevance lies in customer data. Despite the wide availability of technology platforms that simplify the foundational work needed to integrate data and deliver more relevant email experiences at scale, 65% of brands reportedly didn’t use marketing automation at all in 2017 (Liana Technologies).

Email fatigue can manifest internally as well—especially when marketers spend more time digging into the weeds of their databases than developing and executing strategy. Today’s automation platforms are simpler than ever to implement, so free up your team by letting these efficient technologies handle the granular analyses and pinpoint the right insights to strategize around.

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Segment

The most fundamental way brands can leverage automation to optimize email performance is through segmentation, which breaks audiences down into distinct subsets based on common factors and attributes.

These can incorporate virtually any combination of demographic or behavioral data points to personalize content that’s relevant to specific users, and deliver emails at precise frequencies and times that fit their preferences.

A recent Mailchimp study showed segmented email marketing campaigns get 14% more email opens and clicks are more than 100% higher compared to non-segmented campaigns. Still, only three in 10 brands segmented all of their emails last year, and two in 10 never use segmentation (Emma).

Trigger

An even higher level of personalization that’s particularly effective during the holiday season is triggered messaging, which deploys specific email content and cadences determined by defined user actions.

From a broad perspective, email interactions with new subscribers should differ than those with loyal, return customers. More specifically, content download or abandoned cart email triggers present major opportunities to capitalize on engagement and drive conversions.

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Unsurprisingly, triggered campaigns perform significantly better than standard campaigns in terms of opens, clicks, and conversions (Yes Lifecycle Marketing). However, 53% of marketers didn’t use automation to trigger email campaigns in 2017 (Emma).

Tip: Create a strong welcome email trigger that immediately engages a new subscriber. On average, 320% more revenue is attributed to welcome emails on a per-email basis than other promotional emails (Inbox Army).

3. Find the time to test

Testing different versions of a holiday email to see which tactics, design, and language work best with target audiences is a valuable exercise that’s all too often overlooked.

Think mobile-first

If your emails aren’t yet focused around the mobile experience , consider this statistic a wake-up call:  Mobile is now responsible for nearly half of all email opens—a number significantly higher among younger generations (Litmus).

Mitigate losing mobile readers by thoroughly testing mobile emails to:

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  • Ensure designs and calls to action are responsive to smaller screens.
  • Account for load times and the amount of content that needs to render, factoring in bad service or slow Wi-Fi.
  • Create a seamless end-to-end experience from mobile email to web.

A/B testing

More than half of marketers said they almost never A/B test different versions of their emails (Emma). By not deploying basic split content testing measured against defined KPIs, marketers miss out on objective intelligence about what resonates with target audiences and drives intended actions.

What’s more, testing can be used to strategically optimize ROI for specific campaign deployments. By testing subject lines or offers with small segments initially before choosing a “winner” for the majority of your send audience, marketers can get the most bang for their buck. This is a particular critical approach to consider with high-impact sends coming up like Thanksgiving Day (trending to be more revenue-generating than Black Friday), Black Friday, and Cyber Monday.

Expect to see even more advanced testing become the norm. While still maturing, artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive modeling have proven to boost email performance—and marketers are taking notice. According to Econsultancy, brands show an increasing interest to leverage advanced technologies in order to optimize calls to action, subject line copy, use of resources, and body copy.

Tip: Develop different kinds of email and continuously fine tune the content through testing to ensure audiences don’t tune out. Try differentiating your holiday messages with video or interactive elements, which can boost click rates up to 300% and click-to-open rates up to 73%, respectively (MarTech Advisor).

Preference Centers

Preference centers are a dynamic opportunity for brands to allow customers to decide how and when they receive messages, and what types of content they receive.

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In addition to satisfying consumers’ desire for more control, preference centers help marketers enhance list hygiene and deliverability—two areas that are critical with ever-changing inbox placement algorithms and stricter ISPs blocking.

Most brands don’t start paying attention to data cleansing and delivery issues until they arise as serious problems. Only 55% of in-house marketers worldwide did regular list cleansing this year (Adestra), while just 36% employed deliverability optimization as an email marketing tactic in 2017 (Demand Metrics).

Tip: Feature a strong preference center in your holiday emails, letting users make choices about how they want to interact with your brand heading into 2019 while improving database quality.

Overall, savvy brands are embracing ways to empower email subscribers with greater control over their experiences and messages—and in the process, building loyal customers through the holidays and beyond.
RRD Marketing Solutions provides marketing services, including through direct mail and digital channels. It is part of R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company.

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