Make E-Mail Pull Its Holiday Weight

Just before Labor Day, I was in the local Food Emporium in New York City picking up provisions for the weekend, when I do a double take. There, in all of its sugar-coated splendor in the cookie and candy aisle, is an end-cap display with an assortment of prepackaged Halloween M&Ms, Hershey bars, and Snickers.

Come on, summer is barely over!

I waited for a couple of minutes to see if anyone had the guts to actually purchase their Halloween candy two months in advance. To my surprise, in literally seconds I observed half a dozen folks pick up multiple bags of Halloween candy. At first, I reacted with great disbelief. But the more I thought about this preholiday strategy, the more I found it useful in thinking about the ways in which marketers must wage their competitive battles during tight economic times.

Let’s face it. We’re entering the most important time of year for marketers, the peak holiday season, when consumer spending is at its strongest and the vast majority of sales take place. Especially critical during an economic downturn, strong fourth quarter sales can make or break the year, compensating for weak performance during the first three quarters.

E-mail becomes more important than ever during these tough economic times. That’s because e-mail is unquestionably one of the most cost-efficient marketing channels out there and it targets existing customers, a group far more likely to listen and respond to your messaging and promotions than new prospects. How can you maximize your e-mail efforts to capitalize on the fourth-quarter buying activity? A few basic tips:

  • Cut through the clutter. Your message is vying for attention within some very full inboxes this time of year. Marketers must ask themselves, “Why would a consumer open this e-mail when there are 25 others in the inbox?” and “Why would a consumer take advantage of this offer when she has 25 others to choose from?” Your communication needs to rise above the proverbial holiday noise. Make sure your offer is compelling and your message action-oriented. This isn’t brand-building time, this is “buy now” time. Make an offer the buyer can’t refuse.
  • Focus on testing, targeting, and analytics. Targeting and testing are the two best ways to ensure that you’re sending the optimal message to consumers. Now is a great time to start mining customer data to create more advanced segmentation schemes that would improve relevance during the holiday months. Marketers may find, for example, that some segments respond better to content-based e-mail (such as gift guides) while others are more driven by deals.
  • Test to improve response and reduce e-mail fatigue. If you aren’t doing so already, consider implementing multivariate testing schemes that would allow you to determine the optimal content, creative, and offer mix for your campaigns.
  • Extend your reach. Already have prebuilt marketing campaigns? Increase the number of targeted geographies and the number of lists to which you send. This can have a multiplicative effect on campaign returns. Marketers are finding it much more difficult to keep their e-mail list growing organically, but e-mail list rental, especially during the promotion-driven holiday season, can help grow that list quickly during a period where consumers are primed to buy.
  • Use transactional e-mail to up-sell and cross-sell — but follow the rules. “Thanks for your order” is a nice message, but it falls short in capitalizing on the opportunity to sell additional product and services to current customers. Using order confirmations and service messages to market related products and services can be extremely effective and lucrative, particularly during the holiday buying season. But be certain to follow CAN-SPAM regulations. Keep the main focus of the message, including the subject line and body of the e-mail, on the transaction or service message at hand and the promotional messages as secondary elements.
  • Use e-mail to drive a social media strategy. For marketers who have been hesitant to roll out a full-blown social media strategy, this holiday season marks an excellent time to test ways to use e-mail marketing to generate more consumer involvement with your products. For example, product reviews from peers have become extremely important to buyers, as a growing number of consumers say they look to these reviews even more so than to professionals to help them decide about product purchases. Consider including customer reviews in your e-mail promotions and newsletters, and include a link to a feedback page where customers can input their own stories. Once consumers see that your company is listening to what they’re saying, engagement will increase quickly.

We head back to work this month for four incredible months of opportunity ahead of us. The fourth quarter each year (regardless of economic conditions and electioneering) holds great promise and opportunity for those who are ready. Are you?

Al D.

Join us for ClickZ Presents: Online Marketing Summit, September 25 at the Sheraton San Diego.

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