Email is instrumental for connecting directly with customers in today's digitally dominant world. But your approach must be strategic.

Henry Gutierrez

Henry Gutierrez, senior email deliverability specialist, Bluecore

Despite brands starting their holiday promotions earlier than ever before, 2020’s Cyber Monday saw $10 billion in sales—the largest in ecommerce history. This “uncertain” holiday season has made it clear that ecommerce is here to stay. Put simply: in 2021, if you’re not digitally first, you’re last.

Email will be instrumental for connecting directly with customers in today’s digitally dominant world, But your approach to email must be strategic. The default approach of tapping into the depths of your databases and blasting as many potential buyers as possible is not only ineffective in driving sales but can damage your reputation as well.

This is where the often-forgotten email deliverability comes into play, otherwise known as the rate at which messages arrive in customers’ inboxes, instead of a spam folder or blocked by a mailbox provider. Your email deliverability rate decides whether you can send at scale without being marked as spam. A few key criteria influence the rate: your reputation as a sender, email engagement, content quality, and infrastructure.

So why does deliverability matter even more in a digital-first world? Brands saw an influx of first-time buyers during the holiday season, which creates a big retention opportunity to drive advocacy and lifetime value. Email is one of the few channels that speak directly to these customers and can be personalized to show them exactly what content they want to see at the right time.

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But not all emails are made (or resonate) equally. As you engage with your customers in this digitally dominant environment, senders will have to be especially mindful of increased frequency (which hurts your reputation when messages are left unread). They also should be careful about alienating old customers they haven’t spoken to in a while by contacting them out of the blue (or perhaps their inboxes don’t exist anymore).

This sounds complicated, but don’t stress: these issues tend to be self-inflicted. As you prepare for the digital-first new year, here are three strategies to work into your 2021 plan to ensure emails hit subscribers’ inboxes.

Develop audience segments and speak directly to them

List hygiene is key to effective communication, and many validation services or metrics like hard bounces can help protect your reputation by tracking inactive accounts. When you reach out to your updated list, be strategic and selective instead of blasting everyone who hasn’t opened an email in five years. Consider criteria such as seasonal engagement and historical purchase data to maximize engagement. And consider throwing in personalized promotions or content based on what you know about each audience. Remember, not everyone needs everything: retailers should send discounts only to shoppers they need to convert. New arrivals are only relevant to buyers who have engaged with that category in the past. Keep the content hyper-relevant to each audience, increasing the likelihood of engagement.

Buyers are people too and have memories of your relationship; keep your messaging transparent. If you know, someone is a seasonal spender and historically has bought during the holidays, acknowledge that in the subject line with something like: “Just because the holidays are over doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself!”

Implement levels in both your send frequency and unsubscribes

Buyers expect high communication levels during the holiday season, but their tolerance decreases after that. To test how often and who to send to, start with your most active subscribers and work backward to those who are less engaged. For instance, consider upping your cadence to 4-5 emails a week only if the three emails you’re currently sending are driving high engagement. If they aren’t, consider decreasing your total weekly sends. Bucketing subscribers based on tolerance not only protects your reputation but also reduces your total number of unengaged emails.

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While unsubscribes feel discouraging, you can strategically implement options to find out more about these buyers. Instead of offering a generic unsubscribe, provide opportunities for different levels of communications they can opt-in or out of. This enables them to pick what content they’re interested in, giving you information to personalize accordingly.

Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t see results

Before you email everyone on your list a 40% off sitewide discount code, stop panicking and look at historical data. How did your past efforts to re-engage inactive subscribers work out? Was there a return? Did you drive sales but at the expense of many opt-outs? Use what you know to determine if the risk is worth the reward and consider targeting subscribers on different channels if it matches their affinity.

Email deliverability comes with consequences, and your actions now will set the tone for your performance for the rest of the year. For example, this brand’s deliverability plummeted in January after aggressive, generic strategies during the holiday season.

 Successful email campaigns need to prioritize deliverability instead of making it an afterthought. Shoppers have fully adjusted to this digital-first world, which comes at the expense of making them more susceptible to communications from your competitors. Not only can you speak to them directly via email, but you can also build personalized experiences (including discounts and product recommendations) to make them convert and then buy again. Keep your business’ long-term digital health in mind as you prepare for the future because now, more than ever, online is everything.

Bluecore is a provider of email marketing technology and services.

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