‘Tis the Season—Email Marketing’s Role in Your Holiday Strategy

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‘Tis the Season—Email Marketing’s Role in Your Holiday Strategy

The holiday season approaches, bringing with it sales opportunities that can make or break the whole year for many retailers and ecommerce companies. As marketers gear up to take full advantage of holiday sales, it’s vital they concentrate resources on proven strategies—that means keeping email at the top of the marketing list for the holidays.

Why do I say that in this multi-channel, digitally enabled, social media-inspired world? That’s because despite the advent of multiple new options to engage with potential customers, email remains as perhaps the best, and most trusted marketing strategy of all, with the capacity to deliver value and a strong ROI for marketers.

What’s the Value of Email?

Not convinced about the value of email? Here are some data points that might change your mind:

  1. Seventy-seven percent (77%) of people report they prefer to get permission-based promotional messages via email (versus direct mail, text, phone, or social media).
  2. Eighty percent (80%) of retail professionals indicate that email marketing is their greatest driver of customer retention (the next closest channel? Social media, identified by just 44% of those same professionals).
  3. Email growth in the U.S. is predicted to grow to 244.5 million by the end of 2017, and 254.7 million by 2020.
  4. There are approximately 105 billion emails are sent each day, and this is projected to more than double before 2020

Emarketer reports that email marketing produces, on average, a media ROI of 122 percent, which is more than four times the return produced via social media, direct mail, or paid search. Meanwhile the same article reported almost a quarter (24 percent) of U.S. email marketers said email accounted for more than a quarter of revenue, up from just 13 percent who had said the same two years earlier. My colleague and marketing expert, Shelly Kramer, covered this topic for us over on the V3B blog in a post that’s definitely worth your time to check out: Email: Winner Winner Chicken Dinner in the Marketer’s ROI Game. Bottom line, marketers need to get a little more serious about adopting smart email marketing into their marketing strategies, because there is no shortage of opportunity there.

Email and Mobile 

While the relevance of the correlation between email and mobile should be relevant to most of us, as the omnipresence of mobile devices means that we open emails, browse, and buy on devices. That means mobile plays a gigantic role in retail ecommerce sales today.

A recent eMarketer report suggested U.S. retail ecommerce sales would increase by 16.6 percent this year during the holiday season, reaching a record 11.5 percent of total retail sales. A key driver of that growth is mcommerce sales (mainly sales made via smartphone), which are anticipated to grow by an estimated 57.8 percent this year—something that should be of great interest to email marketers.

It’s clear that consumers are not only more likely to be opening an email on their smartphones, they are also significantly more likely to be engaging with the content when they’ve done so. Earlier this year MessageGears reported consumers are becoming more comfortable opening email messages on their smartphones. Indeed the change has been so pronounced they reported that in their analysis of their enterprise clients, email clicks on smartphone were now dominant over desktop.

Success when it comes to email relies on a number of things, including understanding segmentation, the importance of delivering personalized messages, and the role dynamic email targeting can play in your overall success. If you would like to take a deeper dive into this topic, and learn more about how dynamic email targeting is shaking things up, it’s something I wrote about recently on the BMG Blog: How Dynamic Email Targeting Will Change Everything.

Holiday Season Metrics 

Getting the most out of your holiday season email campaign requires a good understanding of the metrics involved. This was nicely covered by IBM in their 2016 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study. Let’s take a look at some of the ways email marketing has an impact during the holiday season.

Open rates. Unique open rates were found to be 18.8 percent lower on average during the holiday period, when compared to the rest of the year. For the retailer who increases email frequency significantly during the holidays this result shouldn’t come as any surprise. The study suggests that an increase in reach of 100 percent, together with an open rate down by less than 20 percent indicates a healthy engagement return.

Click-through-rates. Average CTR was found to be 26.8 percent lower during the holiday season. Although this may appear to be counter-intuitive at a time when attractive holiday season offers are generating increased consumer activity, the greatly increased email volume offsets any increases in clicks.

Click-to-open-rates. With higher purchase rates during the holiday season you might anticipate that CTORs would be higher. The study however, found results to be fairly even across all time periods and all measures. The study suggests that may indicate consumers aren’t being motivated to take action due to an absence of personalization; a topic I’ll return to shortly.

Bounce rates. Hard bounce rates were found to be significantly lower during the holiday period. Once again this shouldn’t be an unexpected result given the higher cadence of email during the holidays reducing the per send rate.

Unsubscribes. The result for unsubscribes on the other hand was relatively close to the non-holiday period. This suggests a problem with people opting out when they see an increased email frequency, something that could be mitigated with an explanatory message telling subscribers what they can expect to see during holiday campaigns.

Knowing the Customer

All of the online platforms we have become familiar with offer us something different. But whereas consumers may resent being subjected to never-ending marketing messages in their Facebook or Twitter feeds, people generally expect to see and indeed often welcome similar messages in their email inbox; particularly in the offer-rich holiday season.

Smart email marketers though know driving sales at any time of the year means more than simply delivering a message. The success of a campaign is intrinsically linked to the relevance of the message to the recipient, something that requires the marketer to have as much knowledge of the consumer as possible. And that means having data.

Thankfully, today’s marketer has access to unprecedented amounts of data from opt-ins, previous customer transactions, and online behavior. Crucially, they are also adopting and using marketing automation paired with CRM systems which enable effective segmentation of their email lists and targeting and personalization of marketing messages. Using data intelligently to provide helpful and relevant content is the key to engaging with your potential customer, in the process building a long-term relationship, which will fulfill the customer’s needs and benefit the seller’s revenues.

Vital to the process is an understanding that success with email marketing takes time, and because email and what you can do with email is becoming increasingly sophisticated, success with email takes a certain amount of knowledge and expertise. Email marketing shouldn’t be viewed as a one off hit during the holiday season, but instead as a long-term strategy that analyses responses, refines the approach, and applies insights to better target, personalize, engage with, and serve the recipients. This kind of action should be taking place all year long, not just during the holiday season. And if you’ve not yet started down this path, there’s no time like the present.

I covered the topic of personalization in a related post that you may be interested in over at The Marketing Scope: Why Personalization and Adaptability are Key in Marketing.

Creating Customer Engagement with Email

Social media channels are great, but email has some key advantages over them when it comes to creating the engagement brands crave. Here’s why:

  • The potential depth of the message gives marketers the time and space to provide relevant content and describe what they can do to solve the consumer’s problem or to meet their needs.
  • Crucially the opt-in, sign up, or subscription that email entails has indicated an interest beyond mere curiosity, effectively giving permission to pitch a product and engage in a conversation.
  • The email opt-in on the part of a customer sets the stage for a deeper, more meaningful, and longer-lasting relationship between customer and brand than experiences and conversations in the social media space allow.

How to Have Success with Email Marketing

That vital conversation, and the relationship we marketers seek won’t happen, however, unless the email campaign is built on a solid foundation. This includes:

Targeted lists. Developing segmented lists based on consumer data allows for separate campaigns based on their relevance to the recipient.

Marketing automation. The use of effective marketing automation and CRM tools facilitates the creation of segmented lists, the delivery of targeted campaigns, and the measure of their effectiveness.

Personalization. Effective personalization, which goes well beyond the mere addition of an addressee name, is vital to avoiding the spam or trash folders.

Content that adds value. Email content needs to be of interest and valuable to customers and prospects. This is especially true during the busy holiday season, where completion for attention in the inbox is at all all-time high. That’s where the value of powerful, well-written subject lines and compelling email offers allows you to stand out from the crowd.

Eye-catching design. Having a message with a creative, professional design is crucial to catching the recipient’s eye, holding their attention, and encouraging a conversation. Consider the use of images and above all make sure the design is responsive to viewing on a range of devices.

In summary, email marketing delivers great value for marketers. Email should play a significant role in not only your holiday marketing strategy, but your marketing strategy the whole year through. In order for that to work, build a solid foundation, focus on developing and fine-tuning your list and targeting wherever possible, serve up personalized experiences, integrate marketing automation and a CRM platform into the mix, never lose sight of the importance of content, and delivering the right message to the right customer at the right time, and make sure your email design is not only visually appealing, but serves up a great customer experience. Get these things right, and you’ll be reaping the benefit of email marketing ROI in no time. And if you need help along the way, my team and I are here to help.

How are you using email marketing this holiday season? Have you ramped up compared to your use of email last year? What is on the horizon for you for email marketing and marketing automation in 2018? What challenges do you have to making that happen? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Photo Credit: AZ-TECHJSC Flickr via Compfight cc

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