Holidays, Unwrapped Recap: Making an email, checking it twice

Santa is taking no chances with his naughty and nice list and neither should you. What to do? Don't toy around with your email strategy this holiday season. Read on for tried and true tips from industry experts.

It’s hard to believe that Black Friday Cyber Monday (BFCM) is just a few short weeks away, and already, we’re deep into the holiday shopping season. What started out as a trickle back in October, quickly snowballed into a trend as businesses and brands jumped on Amazon’s bandwagon to kick off a record long sales season — with record breaking opportunities. How much is at stake for eCommerce retailers exactly? A recent report from Adobe projects that online sales will likely surge 33% this year to a whopping $189B. With so much on the table, it's no wonder that we’ve already seen a flurry of digital marketing activity as brands pile on to get a piece of the action – and it's safe to say that most of that is hitting your inbox.

A lot of time and effort goes into crafting and tailoring your emails to customers, but for many brands, these snowflakes will end up getting lost in a blizzard of other communications as retailers battle it out for their customers’ attention, and wallet share.

Not sure if your email strategy is cool enough to ice out the competition? You’re in the right spot. For the past several weeks, we’ve been pulling together eComm’s best and brightest in our on-demand webinar series, Holidays, Unwrapped. This week, we’re talking email. Read on for tried and true tips from industry experts to zero in on a winning strategy.

Making an email, checking it twice

Saint Nick was definitely on to something in his measured approach to gift giving — and since Santa is taking no chances with his naughty and nice list, neither should you. While no one could have predicted what the events of 2020 would bring, it appears that many eCommerce retailers have had their fill of uncertainty. What to do? In the months leading up to BFCM, our panelists (elves) have been busy, and they’re not toying around when it comes to email.

Test, test, and test again

After chatting with our panelists, one clear theme emerged: be rigid in your approach and adaptable in your execution. Digital marketers are well versed in being adaptable. Many campaigns change minute-to-minute as customer behavior forces brands to pivot their message and approach. What’s different this year? Brands don’t want to take any chances.

While we can’t mitigate all risk, many of our panelists cited strong efforts to control the chaos as best as possible. How? By looking at the data and taking a scientific approach to their email strategy. Using data and analytics to inform your email campaigns is a surefire way to improve customer engagement and conversion rates — and in today’s climate, that matters more than ever.

This year, timing is everything. Since 2020 is a black swan, you’ll want to be careful about what data you’re analyzing to make decisions about how to approach this holiday season. With the way things are shaping up, last year’s data may not be as critical, so leveraging recency bias is key. Looking at trends over the past several months will illuminate more than a year-over-year comparison. What metrics to consider? Here’s a couple they recommend watching closely:

  • Open Rate: the number of unique opens over the number of sends. You’ll want to check this daily to see if your subject lines are working.
  • Click-to-Open Rate: the number of unique clicks divided by the number of unique opens. Use this instead of Click Rate as it normalizes against the open rate. If your subject lines aren’t working, you can expect open rates to be low. If your content isn’t resonating, that’s where you’ll see click-to-open rates drop. Using click rate alone muddles these and makes it hard to understand where you didn’t perform well.

Open rate and click-to-open rate are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to email metrics, so once you get comfortable with these, be sure to check out the rest of them here.

Before we move on to the next topic, let’s go back to this concept of a ‘black swan’ for a moment. I won’t belabor the point that 2020 is an outlier in almost every sense of the word. In addition to the standard metrics, you’ll also want to look closely at external context clues to ensure that your messaging is hitting the mark. You want your emails to stand out for how effective they are, not for being tone deaf. Being aware of what your customers are most concerned about and affected by can help you tailor your emails and send schedules to hit the mark every time.

For the body of the emails themselves, you’ll want to use heat mapping to determine what content, layouts, and products are resonating with your customers. This can help to inform everything from your operations and fulfillment, to overall brand strategy. For example, if certain items have a lot of organic interest, you’ll want to stock up to avoid running out. For those that don’t, you can help drive engagement with deep discounts to clear inventory that’s gathering dust.

Needless to say, there was lots of talk in this session about how to test and optimize your email strategy to plan ahead for a smooth shopping season. Here’s three ways you can use this data to make your emails sparkle this BFCM:

1. Personalization station: segmentation is the gateway to authentic connections

A personalized email is about as close as it gets to a handwritten note these days, but doing this for every single customer is daunting to say the least. One effective way to get a wrangle on creating personalized content for your customers is segmentation, which allows you to organize them into groups or categories that will help you to tailor your messaging. A simple way to start doing this is to use RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary) to create simple buckets of customers. Have they purchased in the last year (Yes/No) and have they purchased more than once (Yes/No)? Many of our panelists also recommended a few season-specific categories, including:

  • Customers that only purchase during the holidays
  • Customers that only purchase with deep discounts
  • Customers that are VIPs: This one’s a biggie. We all love getting special treatment, which is why showing your VIPs (those customers that have been with you from the start) a little extra love with sneak peeks, extra discounts, etc. can really help to deepen their connection to your brand so they’re lifelong advocates.

2. Go with the flow: map and automate the customer journey

What pairs well with personalized email content? Automation. Part of getting intimately familiar with who your customers are means getting familiar with their overall experience with your brand — pre and post-purchase (If you’re not familiar with journey mapping, learn more about it here). Using workflows and automations is a great way to help dial in an exceptional customer experience through that journey. During the holidays, when attention spans are short, lists are long, and patience is thin, you’ll want to leverage these tools as sanity savers for your customers to help them achieve their desired goals.

For example, in pre-purchase phase, consider creating or updating your flows for customers who’ve abandoned their cart or abandoned a page on your site. Since inventory moves quickly during the holidays, creating a sense of urgency and letting them know they’ve made a sweet discovery, but it won’t be there for long is an easy way to help close the deal. In post-purchase, put yourself in the customer’s shoes. How can you send them timely content that helps them get the most value out of their purchase and avoid buyer’s remorse? Happy customers mean fewer returns — and that’s good for business.  

3. Stories are sticky: tell your customers who you are, not what they want

This last one is important. Segmentation and automation help you get your messages in the right inbox at the right time, but what of the messages they contain? In a time where you can expect an onslaught of promotional emails, pop ups, and ads, one easy way to stand out is to scale back the sales to show your customers who you are. While this goes against the BFCM mad dash discount mentality, it represents a stroke of genius. Here’s why: stories are sticky. Customers are not only more likely to remember stories over facts, they are also more likely to purchase from, and remain loyal to, brands that use storytelling in their messaging. Our speakers recommended doing this in a number of ways, including creating story arcs that help identify a real need for your customers. For example, one panelist shared that they created a campaign built on three waves: 1. Prep your home for the holidays, 2. Buy gifts for your family and friends, 3. (when it’s all said and done) treat yourself!

Building on this story line over the holiday season is an easy way to connect authentically with your customers.

Another tip? Quite literally introduce yourself to your customers. For retailers whose founders are critical to brand identity, incorporate this where you can to humanize your messaging. Tell customers who you are to make lasting connections.  

And that’s a wrap on session four! Be sure to catch the rerun here to get all the details on how to make sure your emails make the nice list this year from our speakers at Visiture, Park Seed, Black Halo, Andie, Omnisend, and Daasity (that's us!).

Join us for our final session in the series next Thursday, November 12th for last-minute tips and commonly overlooked items so you can make it your most profitable BFCM yet! Click here to register and save your spot.