‘Tis the Season

Hard to believe that Thanksgiving — the kickoff of the holiday season — is just a little over a week away. This special time of year can also present opportunities for email marketers to get a boost in their response rates due to seasonality conditions.

Or not.

Yes, seasonality is definitely an issue for most of us, despite the fact that we may not yet be aware of how it affects our email marketing efforts. For some of us, this holiday season could be a great time to promote our offerings. For others, it may have a negative impact on our results.

Some of you may be asking “What, exactly, is seasonality, and how does it affect me?” In a nutshell, seasonality determines your best (and worst) times of the year to promote your offerings.

In the offline world, some seasonality trends are obvious. We know — almost for certain — that fall fashion catalogs, for instance, will pull in higher numbers when they are mailed in July or August. The same goes for holiday catalogs that are mailed in the fall. (You’ve most likely already received a deluge of Christmas-themed mailings in your postal mailboxes.)

However, other trends are not as obvious and, in fact, may seem counterintuitive. Postholiday January can be a poor time of year for some direct marketers, yet it can be a gangbuster one for others.

Most of us are just beginning to learn our own online seasonality trends, though it’s clear to see how and why this knowledge can benefit our email marketing efforts. This type of information can help us:

  • Plan yearly promotional schedules in advance. Keep in mind, however, that rubberband-like flexibility is still required. In other words, other unexpected factors can certainly affect the outcome of your mailings, including dramatic news events, poor economic news, and more. We still need to be able to “roll” (so to speak) with the punches.

  • Apply what you learn from tests to optimize your rollouts. Have you ever had a successful test across one or more components and — thinking you had a winner on your hands — sent out a much larger promotion at a later time, only to discover that your follow-up campaign did not do as well or, perhaps, did worse? This could have been (and most likely was) due to poor seasonality conditions or other timing issues.

  • Stay ahead of your competition. If your chief competitors send out their acquisitions campaigns like clockwork, you can benefit from this by emailing that same audience at alternate times. Or, if you discover that the times that they promote are truly ripe, you can attempt to send out stronger offers that will beat them to the punch.

So how can you apply seasonality and/or timing conditions to help you make future planning decisions?

For starters, you can start testing your own trends right away, as long as you have a control of some sort. Keep in mind that typically these trends require more than one year of study and evaluation in order to be substantiated.

You can start testing seasonality on a monthly basis by emailing your same control (even though several other versions may have been revamped and/or created along the way) on a monthly basis to comparable, yet unique names from the same list.

You can also pay close attention to when your competition is promoting. They may have already learned a few seasonality-related items in the last couple of years that have influenced their scheduling and creative.

Another critical point to note here is that you should never underestimate the influence of current events — whether you’re dealing with a high or low season.

Of course, all of these things — testing, keeping track of your competitors’ campaigns, and gauging the surrounding “climate” — don’t account for other conditions (such as those mentioned earlier) that could also affect results.

In fact, in the traditional DM world, it can often take years before any solid conclusions — that is, hard results that you can apply to your outbound efforts — can be drawn. However, this is something that is almost certain to affect your results in the future, so there’s no time like the present to begin testing this very important component.

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