Five Holiday E-Mail Marketing Do’s and Don’ts

The holiday shopping season is 59 days away from its official U.S. launch on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. This time of year can make or break your e-mail marketing program. Tune it up now to avoid mistakes once the season is in full swing.

My do’s and don’ts will help you avoid some common traps.

Consider Your Marketing Program as a Fourth-Quarter Event

Even if your company doesn’t do holiday marketing, you’re affected by what everyone else in the e-mail-marketing space is doing: filling up subscribers’ inboxes with one-off blasts.

A lot of those messages are junk. Your highly targeted, permission-based, scheduled mailing will be lost in the maelstrom if you don’t optimize every aspect of the campaign, from subject line to the message copy to the delivery protocols.

Don’t Use Greater Frequency to Rescue a Below-Average Quarter or Capitalize on a Good One

Boosting below-budget sales with another mailing is tempting, but it usually just launches a vicious cycle.

Just because one message generates a terrific response doesn’t mean sending more of the same will lead to increased returns. You’ll burn out your list through over-mailing and tarnish your brand or company name, long after the season is over.

In 2006, marketers boosted their holiday-season mailings 47 percent. It’s a scary percentage, considering increasing frequency often generates increased recipient complaints. More complaints to the ISPs leads to more blocks, which in turn lead to lower delivery and lower results.

Remember Spam Is Any Unrecognized, Unexpected, or Unwanted E-mail, Even Targeted Permission E-mail

Consumers have broadened their definition of spam to the point where it’s essentially “any e-mail I don’t want.” If your message doesn’t interest them, it comes too often, or you don’t honor an unsubscribe fast enough, you’re lumped in with “genuine” spam. Recipients have clearly demonstrated what they’ll do with e-mail they don’t want.

Four ways to prevent delivery challenges:

  • Adhere to the subscriber expectations you laid out at the start of the relationship by not altering message form, frequency, or focus.
  • Brand messages in the inbox, showing your brand or company name and message purpose (offer, reminder, breaking news) in the sender and subject lines.
  • Develop compelling offers that make your brand stand out. A discount and free shipping aren’t compelling and make your e-mail look like all the other inbox junk.

    Subscribe to competitors’ e-mail programs so you know what they’re promoting. If you don’t have the time, check out Chad White’s Retail Email blog to see who’s doing what and how well they’re doing it. White has pulled some notes and tips from the Email Experience Council’s new white paper, “The 2007 Guide to Gearing Up for the Holiday Email Season.”

  • Put value statements (in text, not images) at the top of your messaging to highlight your discounts and encourage recipients to read further, especially if they block images, read e-mail in the preview pane, or read messages on other platforms.
  • Find Creative Ways to Expand Your Reach to Customers and Prospect.

    Create a holiday-focused list, perhaps a limited-term one geared to last-minute deals and discounts, new merchandise, and other one-off topics, one you can e-mail whenever you have a deal subscribers would like.

    Although this list can provide more flexibility, you still need to follow best practices for subscribing and e-mailing. Make it opt-in, of course, and promote it the way you would any other mailing list: in your current newsletters; on your Web site on a dedicated landing page, registration, or preference page; and offline, where appropriate.

    Also, clearly set out expectations in such areas as frequency, content, and duration and follow them. Once the season’s over, so is the list.

    Monitor Campaigns Closely, Test All Aspects Now

    If you increase frequency too much, you’ll very likely see more complaints, unsubscribes, spam complaints, and gripes. Jump on problems as they occur to minimize any damage to your sender reputation, which is the number one factor ISPs consider when deciding whether to block, reroute, or deliver your e-mail.

    Also, test offers, subject lines, and content now. Correct problems before you and your staff get too busy. Review messages in different browsers and platforms. Clean up bad or broken HTML code. Test all links and e-mail addresses.

    After the launch, monitor all mailboxes associated with your program, even the ones you tell people aren’t monitored, and field any questions, comments, or complaints. This helps subscribers see e-mail as the two-way channel it is. They’ll be less likely to turn the flow off, or to turn you in as a spammer.

    And as always, keep on deliverin’!

    Meet Stefan at ClickZ Specifics: E-Mail Marketing on October 2, in New York City.

    Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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