Heading into the Holidays: 6 Ways to Plan Now for Best Results!
How's your holiday email plan going?
The holiday shopping season can feel like a three-month-long hurricane. Our holiday email guide will help you navigate this crazy season with 6 steps you can use to focus your attention you work up your plan for all-important fourth quarter.
If you're lucky, you work for a company that marshals its forces for the big holiday season as soon as the previous one wraps up. But we also know that many marketers more likely move from one campaign to the next with no time to think about holidays and events like Thanksgiving, Black Friday or Christmas until just a few weeks ahead.
It pays to carve out some time now – even if you have to set aside some other work – to sketch out a plan now so you don't end up making hasty decisions in December that could have lasting repercussions.
Step 1: Get your email address lists in order
Of course we're going to make that your first step. We're AtData, and we know better than anyone else that you can't run a high-quality email program on a low-quality list.
If you regularly remove undeliverable email addresses and quarantine other addresses that generate spam complaints, you're on the right path. But even deliverable addresses can pose potential risks, like these:
- One-time-use or throwaway addresses
- Role accounts that belong to a job instead of a person
- Outdated addresses whose owners have moved on but didn't bother to deactivate
- Old email addresses that ISPs and blacklist operators recycled into spam traps.
The older your list, the longer these risky addresses have been piling up. If you haven't done a thorough email validation and verification in more than a year, you're overdue for a complete review.
Use an email validation service like SafeToSend that can review and evaluate every address on your list for both obvious bad addresses and the deliverable-but-risky addresses that are harder to detect but need to be ID'd and removed ASAP.
The results of this process – a smaller but more effective list – can be a little disheartening if you're under pressure to keep growing your list. But you can reduce your losses if you combine an Email Change of Address service with the "check-correct-protect" services of SafeToSend.
Tip: Scan your email list with our Free List Check to see what general shape your list is in.
Just upload your list, enter your email address and get your high-level overview. We can't tell you which addresses you should review or remove, but we can warn you if your list has high percentages of invalid addresses, spam traps or other risky addresses. It's secure and obligation-free, too.
Step 2: Update and expand acquisition
After you update your email list, your next job is to keep it as clean as possible by keeping undeliverable and undesirable addresses out.
At the same time, you need to review your acquisition strategy to take advantage of all the new customers who will be visiting your site as the shopping season picks up speed.
Audit all the locations where you collect opt-ins besides the home page on your website. You want to be everywhere your customers come in contact with you, like these locations:
- Every interior page of your website, including product pages, landing pages associated with your search and social campaigns, specialty pages like your "About Us," FAQ and customer support pages.
- The information or "About" sections of your social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest.
- Transactional emails (unchecked boxes only to comply with international and state data-collection laws) and other official company email correspondence
- Print collateral (flyers, bags, in-store banners, print ads, letters, account statements)
- In the scripts for call centers where appropriate
- At cash registers or point-of-sale kiosks.
What unique customer contact points do you have? The most unusual one we ever found: an opt-in offer on a bag of Southwest Airlines peanuts!
Caveat: If your marketing team doesn't own the pages or forms where you'd like to add an opt-in invitation, you'll probably have to make a business case for making the opt-in form more prominent or for giving you space to add a form.
Create a report showing how email contributes to the company, whether in revenue, reduced churn and support hours or whatever KPI best supports your case.
Step 3: Review last year's holiday email campaigns and performance
Hunt down the report that recapped the previous year's holiday email performance – the highs, lows, everything that either soared beyond expectations or didn't go as planned.
Don't rely on your own memory or your team's anecdotal comments. Someone had to write a report for your boss. Dig it out, review it, and see where you can build on your successes.
Also, don't copy what you did last year and just change the date. We are marketing in a different world from last year, especially with trade uncertainties and talk of recession in the air. The challenges likely will be different this year.
So, note what didn't work but could be revised, what worked and could be replicated, and what should be replaced with new thinking.
Tip: Get a head start on creative inspiration and keep tabs on your competition!
Step 4: Plot out a promotional campaign schedule
Without a schedule, you'll feel as if you're lurching from campaign to campaign. A basic calendar indicates when specific campaigns are scheduled to launch and helps you organize and stay on top of your campaigns. It also helps you spot redundancies and missed opportunities.
The farther out you can plan, the better organized you'll be and the easier it will be to work with your product and brand managers.
Bonus: You just know that at the most harried point of season someone's going to shout, "We're behind! Send another email!" Having your calendar handy lets you assure your frenzied co-worker that you have the situation well in hand.
Improve the way you track your workflow and process, too. Create a chart that shows which development stage each campaign is at and whether you've secured the necessary approvals. A Gantt chart on a collaborate site, like a team project-management system, will show you what's going on and what needs attention faster than a spreadsheet with 1,000 entries.
An example of a Gantt chart:
Campaign tip: Short-term or specialty campaigns, like a "12 Days of Christmas" campaign, breaks up the routine. Do something different to stand out.
This Meijer campaign highlighted one deal a day, but what makes it different is that it promotes the deal a day ahead. It prompts immediate action, though, with its "Clip today, save tomorrow" call to action.
Step 5: Develop intermediary content
Think about ways you can connect with customers via email besides sending yet another discount or free-shipping promo. What are your customers' unique pain points? How can you help them shop more successfully?
If your holiday email plan calls for increasing frequency during the fourth business quarter, think about swapping out one promotional campaign a week for an informational message. Build each message around key information your shoppers will need to shop confidently with you.
Consider these themes and adjust as appropriate for your company:
Holiday shopping hours through the season
- Shipping deadlines for free or expedited delivery
- Special services such as wish lists or shopping advisers
- Return policies, gift card purchase and redemption information
- Customer-care contact info and hours
- FAQ pages
- Invitations to join a loyalty program or customer community
- Buying advice, especially on complicated or high-priced merchandise
- Store locations and hours, especially as the days count down to Christmas
- Purchase reviews and short customer surveys
In the real world, customers like a good bargain but they also shop at stores that welcome them, make them feel valued and take the hassles out of shopping and buying. It's the same way in the digital world. Your specialty emails can be the virtual assurances that set you apart from your competition.
This Nordstrom holiday email promotes several of the company's special services – wish lists and shopper assistance – along with a regular footwear promotion.
Step 6: Develop a postseason plan
The work isn't over when you shut off the lights and head out the door on Christmas Eve. Now it's time to keep the holiday momentum going.
Engage with new customers. Many of them will be new or one-time visitors. Think about creating a special welcome message for customers who come on board at the holidays, one that encourages them to come back and shop again.
A "treat yourself" campaign, like this one from Walmart, can encourage people buying for others to come back and pick up something for themselves as a reward. Walmart offers a relevant freebie for ebook buyers, but a discount or other incentive can work, too.
- Get ready for returns. Create an email message that explains your return and exchange policies, both online and in stores if you have them. If you sent this information at the beginning of the season, send it again. You might be able to take a little burden off your call-center and customer-care teams.
- Promote gift card redemption's. Explain how to redeem gift cards and suggest merchandise at various prices to tempt card holders to cash in their presents. If you have the time and data, try segmenting your email who you can identify as gift-card purchasers or recipients and direct this email to them.
Finally ... Say "Thank You!"
Dedicate one of your final emails to thank your customers for shopping with you. It can be as simple as a few sentences sent over your CEO's signature with some appropriate artwork or a major production in which you turn your creative team loose to make a big impression.
This email from Brilliant Earth delivers a simple but heartfelt message that also affirms the company's social stance (racial diversity and marriage equality) and business philosophy.
A “thank you” email might not drive clicks or sales, but it's important to your customer relationship to let people know you appreciate their business.
It's a nice break in the fire hose of holiday communications, too. That can help your shopper feel good about doing business with you.
Here's to a safe, sane and profitable holiday email season!