Case Study

Email Marketing for the Holidays

Aug 11, 2015   •   7 Min Read

Welcome to part 2 of our eCommerce Holiday Preparation blog series! In this four-part blog series, you’ll learn tips and tricks from eCommerce experts on how to get your business ready before the busy holiday rush.

Now that you know how to develop an overall plan, it’s time to start digging into your email marketing strategy for the holidays. We’ll help you plan your emails from inception to execution and beyond. Follow these 10 steps and you’ll be on your way to creating your most successful holiday emails yet.

Holiday Email Marketing

Step 1: Look at benchmarks

In part 1, you created a promotional calendar. Before you create the messaging for your emails, you should look back at data from last year. Hopefully you annotated the campaigns and the emails sent. This is a great starting point. Review what was done last year in terms of offers and email messaging and take note of what worked and what didn’t. This will come in handy when we begin brainstorming for messaging.

A quick tip for helping you improve on last year’s numbers is to focus on one key performance indicator (KPI). For example, if you had an exceptional year last year and you’re looking to replicate that success and improve upon it, you can try focusing on increasing average order value. Instead of a BOGO offer (buy one, get one free) you can try a “buy one, get one half off” offer instead. However, be very careful if this is your sole tactic. You don’t want to upset consumers who might still remember the great deals you offered last holiday season.

When going over last year’s benchmarks, don’t forget to go through the year up to this point and see how the landscape has changed and if anything else has been working for you. Looking at your data can help you spot opportunities for campaigns that your audience could really benefit from.

Step 2: Brainstorming

Once you have last year’s campaigns and data fresh in your mind, it’s time to start brainstorming. This is the fun part, where you’re limited only by your imagination. A few key things to remember when brainstorming:

  • Don’t limit yourself to one-off emails – Brainstorm ways to automate emails during the holidays! It can save you time and peace of mind during the rush of the holiday season. Not to mention you can create automated emails based on behavioral triggers (such as unopened emails, site engagement, site action, lists, etc.).
  • Don’t forget to think of people who will be buying gifts for others – So many companies are focused on cutting prices that they miss out on some key messaging. For example, if your company is offering some sort of “starter kit” offer, it won’t make sense to send starter kits to users in your email list, as they’re most likely already familiar with your products. Instead, you can switch the messaging around and encourage sharing with friends to help spread the word.
  • Don’t be afraid to try out different things – Holidays can be one of the most hectic times of the year, and your competitors will undoubtedly be thinking of ways to stand out from the crowd. We’re starting to see more companies with promotional campaigns leading up to the holidays — why not give that a thought? That can help you stick out in a market that’s oversaturated with companies trying to one-up each other on price during the big shopping holidays (Black Friday, Cyber Monday).
  • Make sure you brainstorm ways to engage your audience early and often – You want to do this to build up hype. Think of how the film industry builds anticipation for a movie release a year or more in advance. Let’s take a page from their book and start building hype to prepare your subscribers for the most incredible holiday shopping experience they’ll ever have.

Once you’ve brainstormed content ideas for your email marketing campaigns, it’s time to think about how you are going to segment them.

Step 3: Segmentation

Hopefully you’ve been segmenting your list prior to the holidays, but now’s the time to get serious and take it to the next level. You’ll want to ask questions such as:

  • Who are the most active users in your email list?
  • Can we do something special with them?
  • Can we give them the first shot at certain deals?
  • Can we ask them to share?
  • Can we be exclusive with them?

In addition to segmenting your lists based on user engagement, you can segment your list based on behavior. To learn more about the other ways to segment your lists, check out HubSpot’s 27 Ways to Slice & Dice Your Email List for Better Segmentation blog.

Step 4: Personalize

Here’s where you can get a bit creative. Let’s say you’re running a holiday special: “This Weekend Only: Spend $100 & Save 25%.” You can first target any abandoned carts with spends close to $100 and let them know they only need a few more items in their cart to receive 25% off. You can also target abandoned carts with spends over $100 and remind them that they only have until Sunday or Monday to save 25%. Lastly, you can even target shoppers who didn’t take advantage of the deal (spent less than $100) and give them a consolation prize — 5% or 10% off their next order since they just missed the mark this time (this will encourage a repeat purchase), and you’ll build some good will towards your customers).

You can also create messaging for users who are not active in your list. You can hit them with a headline that lets them know that if there’s any one thing they should open from you, it’s this particular email.

When you’ve segmented your lists, it’s important to personalize your messaging. Personalizing your email messages will go a long way in increasing open rates and click-through rates, and takes us to our next step.

Step 5: Optimize for opens, clicks and mobile

It’s no secret that users are bombarded with emails during the holidays. That’s why it’s important to take the time to make sure your headlines and content stick out. As a subscriber browses their emails, you may get a glance. If you make it through to an open, you’ll have just a few seconds to make your case. Your email content should be clear and straight to the point.

It also almost goes without saying, but you need to make sure that your email template is optimized for mobile since 68% of Gmail and Yahoo opens are coming from mobile devices.

If you’ve been testing your emails up to this point, now would be the time to analyze which subject lines have been giving you the best open rates and what content has been giving you the highest click-through rates.

Don’t be scared to continue testing leading up to the holidays. As anticipation rises and traffic increases, you’ll receive more valuable and timely data that you can use to tweak your final messaging once the big holiday arrives.

Step 6: When in doubt, test it out

Leading up to the holidays, here are the things we suggest you test in your holiday emails:

  • Coupons – Does $10 off or 10% off resonate more with your customer base?
  • Subject Lines – Test long subject lines vs. short subject lines for tone, messaging, etc.
  • CTAs – Test sizes, colors and placement. See how these changes affect how your customers interact with CTAs.
  • Time of Day – Test days of the week and different times during the day for open rates.

All marketing efforts should be data driven. You should never be satisfied with just one test either. Test one thing and then test it again. You can never have enough tests. If you’re looking for tools to help you with A/B testing, check out our blog on 3 Tools to Successfully Run Your Next A/B Test for more great resources.

Step 7: Polish your CTAs and landing pages

Your CTAs and landing pages are just as important as your emails. A good email will do nothing if you don’t have a successful CTA and an engaging landing page. Do not concentrate solely on email and silo out other important factors. You’ll need to make sure that your CTAs are leading where they should lead, and that you are tracking them correctly.

Your landing pages should also be optimized to increase your conversion rate. Be sure that the landing page is relevant to the email that will lead to it and double check to be sure that the messaging is consistent. Also, be sure that your products, categories and forms are working just as they should. Finally, if there is a thank you page, make sure that is on point as well — and make sure you’re able to track events on that landing page.

Step 8: Prep, check and double check

This is where everything you have worked on comes together. Gather your data and brainstorming notes, and prepare the emails that you will be sending out. Make sure to update your content calendar to let the entire team know what will be going on and when. Schedule everything out once you have checked, double-checked and then triple-checked the work.

One word of advice: send test emails out to at least two other co-workers and have them proof it for you. Make any edits necessary and then go over them one last time prior to scheduling. Right before the time comes to push these live, give your emails a final lookover to make sure everything is ready to go. Finally, push the blogs live and watch as new data begins to collect!

Step 9: Preparing for the worst case scenario

If you make mistakes, fix them! If you send the wrong email to a list, be sure to send a follow-up email acknowledging any mix-up. This can, in fact, make your brand seem more human if you own up to it quickly. You might even find a way to make the best out of a bad situation.

Step 10: Analyzing data and closing the loop

Once the holidays are over, be sure to report on the success (or failure) of your campaign. Be sure to include open rates, click-through rates, and ROI. Tools such as HubSpot and can be a huge help with tying back emails to actual sales. Use these reports to show your success as well as benchmarks for the upcoming year. Finally, put everything you learned from this experience to use as you continue with your email marketing efforts throughout the year.

Final takeaways

With 49% of marketers having already created a holiday campaign to be launched before Halloween, it’s time to be prepared for the holiday rush now if you are not already.

With a wide range of ways to segment customers and personalize communication across multiple platforms, there is really no limit to the ways your business can increase sales through the use of email marketing this holiday season.

A strong email marketing strategy that can support the rest of your eCommerce holiday marketing efforts is crucial, and this blog has only scratched the surface of what is possible with eCommerce holiday email marketing.

Are you looking to learn more about how to improve your email marketing strategies for the holiday season? Contact us today to speak to a marketing expert and see how we can improve your eCommerce holiday preparations.

Stay tuned for the third blog in our eCommerce holiday prep series to learn about how to test your site’s security and site stress test best practices.

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