Tune Up Your Holiday E-mail Planning Now

  |  July 23, 2009   |  Comments

A checklist to help you get ready now for the end-of-year holiday season.

E-commerce forecasters are divided about the prospects for online retail this 2009 holiday shopping season. But the possibility that sales will be flat or even down again makes it more important than ever to have your e-mail program operating at peak performance.

Fixing your e-mail marketing problems now will make it less likely that you'll have to resort to higher mailing frequency later to make your numbers. Higher frequency can damage your e-mail program permanently due to increased spam complaints, unsubscribes, and inactivity.

Your E-mail 'Must-Do-Now' Checklist

Start working this summer to optimize your e-mail program so you have a great holiday season. (Even if you aren't a retailer, many of these tips are great summertime tune-ups for any industry.) Summer is prime time to create and test your e-mail strategies. If you don't lay the foundation now, you won't have the time to do the right things in November and December.

Redesign Your E-mail Messages

This is critical if you haven't updated your message design or navigation to cope with blocked images, preview panes, or the special challenges of reading e-mail on PDAs, smartphones or cell phones.

Don't stop with your commercial messages either, such as your regular newsletter or solo offers. Upgrade your transactional e-mails (subscription or order confirmations, welcome message, shipping notices) and any other automated e-mail you send.

Improve your content, too. Your e-mails should say more than "Buy me now!"

  • Add customer comments, ratings, and reviews.

  • Offer how-tos that help buyers use your products better or more often.

  • Add links to your social media presence to encourage conversation.

  • Add some personality to make your e-mails sound more like a dialogue and less like a sales pitch.

Freshen up Your Mailing List

First, improve the way you collect e-mail addresses. Do you have a benefit-based subscription offer on every page of your Web site, especially the home page and your e-mail or search landing pages? Are you confirming subscription requests to reduce data error and spam complaints?

Increasing your list size with quality names is a better way to hit your Q4 revenue goal than increasing frequency. Plus, you want your sign-up pages optimized for maximum conversion when you hit the high-traffic season in Q4.

Next, clean up your mailing list. Remove bounced addresses. Try to reactivate e-mail addresses that haven't generated opens or clicks in six months to a year. Consider moving long-inactive addresses to a low-contact frequency segment to keep them out of your regular mail stream.

Refine Your Customer Segmentation Strategy

November isn't the time to start carving up your database into segments -- or to discover that your segmentation strategy was flawed from the start. Create and test the most specific and effective segments you can with the data you have now, such as location, past purchases, Web site behavior, gender or profile/preferences.

If you have little data on your subscribers, invite them now to create or update profiles and preferences, and use that data to create segments.

Plan Your Holiday Campaign Strategy

This will give you deadlines for specific creative and segmentation needs and reduces last-minute frenzy and carelessness. Make sure to include execution dates and messaging. Review what worked and what didn't from the previous year and incorporate those lessons into your new strategy.

Develop a Testing Program

This is another crucial step to take now, not in the heat of the shopping season.

Testing takes time and money. So, build in those resources for every aspect of your e-mail program, from your e-mail redesign to your specific campaigns, message content (subject lines, body copy, images, offers), and segmentation strategy.

Ideas From Holidays Past

Here are some things that have worked for retailers in the past that you might want to try this year:

  • Ask for holiday-specific preferences, and create messaging unique to those preferences.

  • Ask customers to vote on the holiday catalog cover (or test concepts without asking them).

  • Create campaigns with gift suggestions by gender, age, and budget.

  • Communicate urgency and cater to last-minute shoppers ("only X days until the shipping cut-off date").

  • Push for gift-card redemption. Plan to target gift-card recipients with "Get what you really wanted?" messaging in January.

  • Offer more purchasing options (faster shipping, store locator).

  • 12 deals of Christmas messaging.

Are You Ready for Holiday 2009?

I'd like your thoughts on plans for the 2009 holiday season. Please take my two-minute Survey on Holiday Planning, and I'll share the results in a future column.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies San Jose, August 10-14, 2009, at the McEnery Convention Center. Spend Day 1 learning about social media and video strategies with ClickZ.


Ed Henrich

Ed Henrich is vice president of professional services for Responsys, leading the company's creative, campaign development, strategy, and analytics teams to produce award-winning and profitable client e-mail marketing programs. Ed is a pioneer in the e-mail marketing industry, having joined Post Communications (now Yesmail) in 1997 when it was a five-person startup. For eight years, he was the company's vice president of client services, then president. Before that, Ed was a venture capitalist at Internet Capital Group and a senior consultant with McKinsey & Company. A former Fulbright Scholar to Australia in Control Systems Engineering, Ed holds a PhD and an MS from UCLA and a BS from Drexel University. Follow him at his blog, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

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