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Holiday Email Marketing: Listen. Learn. Win.

Posted on 10.06.2016

: By Bonnie Malone, Return Path ::

Planning for holiday email campaigns can be particularly tough on retail marketers due to the additional pressure from the business to drive more traffic and revenue than the year before.  

For most marketers, holiday campaign planning goes something like this:


Analyze what we did last year, note spikes in performance, and repeat those tactics.

Review what competitors did last year, glean some ideas.

Place merchandising submissions for what’s hot, what’s overstocked, items to be promoted.

Prioritize and rotate items and offers on the campaign calendar.

Incorporate seasonal branding treatment for promotions and colors.

Hope to cover everything and make numbers.

While this approach covers a lot of key areas – like learning from prior performance and leveraging the merchandising and branding teams for a cohesive approach – it isn’t a strategy that will help retailers win the season. Why? Because this approach is internally focused. It’s all about what the retailer wants to convey, items they want to sell, and company goals to achieve. It neglects the customer’s needs and preferences almost entirely.  

Times have changed. While there once was a day when consumers would buy what was advertised, or stacked high in an endcap display, we now live in a dynamic digital world. Online media influences trends and consumer behavior in real time. What consumers searched for and bought last year or even last month aren’t the same things that are driving their purchasing decisions today. It may seem a bit daunting to keep up, but our ever-evolving connected environment provides a useful tool for staying relevant: data.

Using data to listen to customers and inform campaign planning is the key to winning the holiday season.

So much of our lives are online, with cookies and tags tracking every move. Taking a bit of time to use the data available, glean feedback and guidance from consumers, and apply it to a marketing approach will put brands ahead of the pack this season. Conduct a listening tour of subscriber needs before finalizing a holiday campaign strategy, by using these data sources to inform messaging and resonate with buyers: 

Social media and reviews. Forty percent of consumers report online reviews, comments, and feedback as an influence before buying.  Those same social feedback streams can provide marketers with powerful insights into consumer sentiments, which are a useful barometer for determining the tone, topics, and content that connects best with the target audience.

Search terms. Google processes over 2 trillion searches each day and publishes the top ranked terms in real time on their Trends page, a great source for staying abreast of consumer interests. Additionally, marketers can also use website analytics to tune into what’s interesting to site browsers. This in-house reporting provides a wealth of information about popular search terms, browsed categories, keywords, and phrases. This insight can help to determine how best to prioritize content and write leading copy (like headlines and subject lines) to attract interest.

Email activity. With 4.35 billion email accounts and 72 percent of consumers siting email as their preferred communication channel with companies (according to internal research), the inbox provides a unique window into consumer preferences. Because consumers make constant, split-second decisions to take action (or not) on messages, email often provides the first indicators of a messaging disconnect. Regularly reviewing metrics like opens and clicks can pinpoint tactics that resonate from those that fall flat. Looking further into behaviors by campaign type, day of week, and offer strategy can also be very useful when forming a seasonal approach.

These are just a few of the data sources marketers could reference to get started. Both companies and vendors may have other potential resources available for use—internal purchasing data, loyalty club engagement, sister brand relationship, etc. Once marketers start the practice of intentionally listening to the target audience, it can easily become embedded into the operating system. 

Relevance never goes out of style, as it delivers immense value to customers. So be inspired by using data as a guide, and don’t be afraid to try something new. That new approach just may be just the thing to be elevated above the competition to win this holiday season. 

About the Author

Bonnie Malone is the senior director of consulting and knowledge at Return Path where she leads the Consulting, Client Training, and Knowledge & Editorial organization. Bonnie and her teams manage the curation of Return Path’s knowledge assets and application of email intelligence through client education and Professional Services.

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