Holiday advice

Holiday Advice for the Email Marketer

Written by Ryan P. Phelan, VP Strategic Services, BlueHornet

Santa – one of the most hated people by marketers on the planet. For them, the mere utterance of his name conjures up not visions of sugarplums, snowflakes, trees and elves, but nightmares of sales, free shipping, insane fire drills and a ridiculously high volume of email. Every year we start the season thinking, “I am going to do this differently and not go crazy. I will find a way make more money by doing something other than sending more email.” And every year we walk away thinking we could have done better.

So what are the keys to a successful holiday season? How can you come out the other side with increased revenue—not to mention all of your hair intact? Here are three simple tips that can help you succeed.  These are taken from the front lines by people who have survived past holiday fire drills and who live to tell their tales!

Tip #1: Take steps to reduce the risk of making mistakes. Have a mitigation plan in place anyway.

How can you reduce the risk of making mistakes with your email program during this high-visibility time of the year? This is going to sound elementary simple: Get more sleep. Why is this so important?  We all know that if you’re stressed out and exhausted, you’re more likely to make poor decisions, and poor decisions can cause you to make mistakes.  Mistakes happen when we are too hurried and not paying attention, which can lead to errors in emails, which means explaining the mistake to your executive team or CEO, and no one wants that.  So get some sleep. Keep calm. Breathe. And turn off your blackberry at the same time every night.

Just as mental clarity will help you avoid mistakes, program clarity will help you mitigate them should they still occur.  What is the escalation policy YOU are going to enact?  What is your recommendation going to be?

When gathering these recommendations, consider these points:

  1. Where is the acknowledgement of the error going to reside within your email template?
  2. What types of errors warrant an apology email?
  3. Who are you going to send your apology email to?  People that have opened? Clicked?
  4. Are you going to resend your email, or send a separate message?
  5. Who is part of your mistake resolution team?
  6. Are you going to use a humorous or serious tone?

Put a communication plan together in the event of an error or mistake.  When you take the time to document this process ahead of time, you’ll be ready when mistakes happen (and they do).

Tip #2: Prepare for “screaming down the hall” moments by developing a “fast-turn” process and template.

Sometimes I think email marketers deserve hazard pay based on some of the reckless requests we get from the higher ups during the holiday season. It’s always that one product push; it’s always that one sale email that MUST go out come hell or high water—planning time, message cadence, and segmentation be damned.  So how can you prepare for these “screaming down the hall” moments?

First of all, never stop advocating for best practices. Take time now to anticipate some of the crazy scenarios you might be asked to deliver to this holiday season and prepare a defensive strategy that relies on data from successful past campaigns. And since time is usually of the essence this time of the year, you’ll be more likely to win advocacy for your best practice approach if you can execute it fast.

I recommend a contingency fast-turn process.  This process is a plan that enables you to deploy an email to a pre-selected segment in as little as four hours.  Now, I know you might be thinking, “Four hours?  My CEO will want one of these every day!”  Well, that is where you’re going to have to explain that this plan is for emergencies only, and should not be used as normal protocol because of other emails you have scheduled during the busiest time of the year.

First, develop a postcard template that is pre-designed with your header, footer and holiday theme.  Then, add in areas for pre-defined text sizeand length.  Next, allocate a space for one photo to be used, and have one call to action.  Finally, make sure you have common list segments available for immediate use.

When you have a template like this completed, you will find that if you have the specifics of the promotion, you can draft a last-minute email in about an hour, and have approvals and testing done within four.  You will also find that you can provide options to executives.  If they want it out within four business hours, then they can have the “contingency fast-turn template.”  If they want anything custom, then it’s going to take longer.  Let them make the choice – but always have the process, rationale and consequences for overuse spelled out in a document in advance.

If you put this plan in place, you will find that “screaming down the hall” moments are nothing more than an opportunity to show how on top of your game you are!

Tip #3: For Pete’s sake, try something different!

Holiday is famous for noise in the inbox, and competing for that share of voice is more difficult than ever.  So how do you cut through the noise and get noticed?  Try something different this year!

Of course nobody wants to take too many risks during the critical holiday season. But there are some pretty sure bets out there that can really make your emails stand out. Video is a perfect example. It’s surprising to me that we have not seen an increase in the use of video in email during the holidays.  According to in-email video provider Liveclicker, “In recent tests, several Top 500 Retailers using video in email experienced 20%+ increases in average order value compared to a non-video version, with one Top 25 retailer reporting a 40% increase.  In another recent controlled A/B split, a midmarket retailer experienced a 35% increase in conversion rate compared to an email version that did not contain video.” Costs over the last two years have dropped considerably, as well. With this type of performance, why wouldn’t you send an email that included video?

That Black Friday email that’s begging for a new approach? Try video in email.  Pick out a product video from your top selling items.  Customers are not used to seeing video in email, so when they get something different, it gets noticed AND it gets sent to friends.  So, go create a segment of your most engaged customers and try this strategy!  And if you need help, give us a call and we’ll put you in touch with the right people to make it happen.

Remember, during the holiday season, it’s vital to keep your wits about you.  You will get through this season, and hopefully if you can do some of the things listed above, you can keep all of your hair and actually remember that this is a beautiful time of the year!