Five Steps to a Successful Holiday Email Campaign

Linc Wonham
by Linc Wonham 16 Sep, 2011

As more and more consumers shift their holiday shopping to the Web, the importance of email as a marketing tool is magnified. But if subscriber targeting isn't executed properly, the result is a campaign that underwhelms and under-delivers.

Take the example of a man shopping for women's jewelry as a Christmas present for his wife. He might decide to subscribe to a couple of email newsletters to watch for special offers in the month leading up to the holiday.

Traditional email marketing wisdom would say that once the individual makes a purchase that originated from the email offering, the brand should target that individual with similar offers going forward. But chances are slim that the man is interested in receiving twice-weekly offers on women's jewelry in his inbox for eternity.

Smart email marketing needs to balance targeted marketing with subscriber preferences. Below are five things you can be doing right now to achieve that balance with your Black Friday and Cyber Monday holiday email campaigns.

Audit Your List
As a digital marketer, you'll first need to focus on removing inactive subscribers. Talk to your email service provider (ESP) about moving anyone who has not opened your emails in the last 90 days to a separate IP for future sending.

The remaining addresses can be considered your "hot list." Keep the hot list ultra-responsive by only keeping those who have opened your three most recent emails on that list. As a general rule, also avoid sending to any subscribers you haven't sent to in six months or more, and flag email addresses that repeatedly soft bounce.

Consult with your ESP, or use a service like FreshAddress or TowerData to skim out invalid addresses and merge new contacts into your existing lists. A list audit increases your deliverability rate and helps make sure you get to the inbox.

Update Preferences
It's also important to recheck your preference centers to allow people to immediately choose which types of email they want to receive, which types of products they're interested in and what frequency they prefer. Make these preferences easy for the subscriber to adjust.

When people purchase on Black Friday, for example, you want them to be able to update their preferences. If they are purchasing a gift, it's likely in a category that doesn't interest them personally.

Audience Segmentation
Another key element to gearing up your email campaign for the holiday season is segmenting your audience into specific groups based on their past behavior. Have they purchased or searched for a particular product?

Target them with a special offer or discount for relevant items based on their history, but make sure these target offers are in line with the subscribers' preferences.

Test Subject Lines
When it comes time to create the subject line, stick to one main idea, such as a percentage-off special or other exclusive deal. It is acceptable to mention Black Friday in the subject line, as it's probably top of mind for many of your subscribers.

Perform A/B testing on different subject lines to determine which ones resonate with subscribers prior to the holiday. Review the social media activity surrounding your brand, and select the language and wording that your audience seems to prefer.

Offer Early Deals
Finally, consider special messaging during October. For example, offer a private sale with an extra discount for those who pre-register so that your message is widely shared with your audience prior to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

The late summer and early fall months are when retailers should be gearing up for these all-important holiday email marketing campaigns. But the first step in preparing for a successful Black Friday or Cyber Monday campaign is dusting off your subscriber lists and getting them ready to go.

About the author: John Murphy, President of Chicago-based ReachMail, has been helping marketers improve their email marketing campaigns since 1999. He has been instrumental in making ReachMail a leader in email deliverability and usability.