It’s hard to believe the holiday season is already upon us - less than a month away, by my count - and harder still to imagine what it might look like for us marketers in the year 2017.
2016, after all, proved one of the biggest and busiest years yet for online retail. In the UK alone, Black Friday generated £1.23 billion in sales, in what was a 12.2 percent increase from 2015 (£1.1 billion), while Cyber Monday sales were up by more than a third from the year before (£968 million, an increase of 34 percent from 2015’s total of £720 million). Factor in the shopping habits of today’s buyers - expected to make 77 percent of their purchases online (compared to 17 percent in-store) - and the stakes businesses face couldn’t be higher.
It’s too soon to tell precisely what 2017 will bring, but it’s clear digital marketers have their work cut out for them; more commotion to contend with in reaching and engaging buyers, more hurdles to clear to stand out in consumers’ crowded inboxes. Previous years’ trends would suggest a higher volume of email sends overall - retailers in 2016 sent 55 percent more emails on Black Friday and 42 percent more on Cyber Monday than they did in 2015 - which means marketing automation and email vendors in particular ought to start preparing themselves today.
Here are 11 ways marketers can ready themselves for email’s biggest season:
- Maintain good list hygiene. Your customers are bound to have multiple accounts with you (1.70 is the average per person) - some dormant, some unused and some expired altogether - so it’s critical you check your lists regularly and ensure every email address you send to is active and engaged. Chances are, over a third of email lists every year go bad as accounts are continually created. In 2015, there were 4.4 billion email addresses worldwide - up substantially from previous years (2.9 billion in 2010, ~3 billion in 2012). Marketers need to determine an appropriate period since the last engagement for a specific account to be removed or targeted to a re engagement effort. Actively removing bounce backs will assure the highest possible percentage of successful deliveries.
- Start reactivation and re-engagement campaigns now. Identify opportunities to engage with accounts at risk of becoming dormant. Create offers and build personalised onboarding experiences for individual users.
- Complete customer profiles. The more data marketers have on individual customers, the better they can personalise offerings. Offering an incentive to customers to finish customer profiles, which may have been originally started some time ago, can lead to better data collection.
- Kick off nurturing campaigns. Advancing relationships with customers today will make them more receptive to holiday campaigns when released in November.
- Don’t just focus on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. The holiday season is longer than just a day or two. Start engaging as soon as possible and continue throughout the holiday season. Analyse clicks and offer additional incentives if sales aren’t made on the first attempt.
- Review current levels of engagement. Analyse this information to identify patterns related to active versus inactive accounts. This also helps with deliverability as receivers can determine delivery placement based on user engagement.
- Avoid data fatigue. How much email is too much email is a tricky question. Inevitably, some email accounts will go dormant or asked to be removed. Dormant email address can get “converted” into spam traps that will affect your deliverability. If email lists have increasing numbers of dormant accounts, marketers can set policies to remove email address if reactivation plans aren’t successful. This can be reduced with structured onboarding strategies setting your clients expectations for volume and frequency.
- Create urgency. Uninteresting emails won’t be opened. Instill urgency in subject lines by offering a special discount that must be used within a certain period.
- Link email campaigns with other digital marketing activities. All digital marketing activities should be tracked and reinforced through each other. Banner ads, Adwords, and SEO strategies can support email campaigns and close additional sales.
- Ensure networks can handle increases in email traffic. Evaluate last year’s activity and plan for a 10 to 20 percent increase in volume, and be prepared to add more sending capacity if needed.
- Set realistic expectations and goals. Look at past performance and current resources to set realistic digital sales goals. If sales aren’t living up to initial projections early in the season, avoid the temptation to increase the volume of emails, which will lead to list fatigue.
The holidays will be here in hardly no time at all. But with the right planning, email campaigns can still deliver great results for marketers during the holiday crunch time when they matter most.
Many of these best practices will prepare you for the upcoming implementation of the GDPR, as data subject management and their rights for accessing, managing and withdrawing consent is a big requirement effective next May.
As a final top tip, remember to document best practices as well as what didn’t work and incorporate findings in future campaigns.
David Fowler serves as Act-On Software’s Head of Compliance and Deliverability. He has over 20 years of experience in the marketing industry, including the last twelve years strictly focused on the issues associated with the digital channel including, email marketing, deliverability, social media, mobile, integrated marketing, marketing automation and digital privacy compliance.