Holiday Email Prep Right Now


Cancel your vacation plans, email marketers. This summer is not the time to relax. The back-to-school season that follows - and the intense holiday shopping season after that - makes summer the ideal time to test and optimize your email program.


Build Your Subscriber List with Social

Ramping up your social integration and sharing activities in the summer will generate new subscriptions and ensure your campaign has maximum reach through the end of the year. When the buying season hits in full force, you'll only be able to reach your customers in the appropriate channel if the proper connection points are in place.

Provide share-worthy content in your emails, such as educational tips or valuable offers and include social buttons to encourage subscribers to share the information with their social networks. Conversely, alert your social media followers and fans that you have a special offer available to anyone who signs up for your email newsletter. Also, provide different content according to the channel; social media are ongoing information streams, while emails are a chance for a personal and direct call-to-action.

During the summer months, conduct a special campaign with content and promotions tailored to different recipients applied throughout email, the Web and social media. This cross-promotion will generate a higher degree of relevancy, which means a greater chance to attract and retain customers. Perhaps most importantly, a summer campaign familiarizes the audience with your brand and your communications ahead of the all-important holiday season.


Test Offers and Visuals

Test the format of your offers to provide some early insight as to those that entice your customers to take action. Does your audience prefer $10 off a large purchase or 25 percent off any purchase?

Don't forget about the visual aspects of the email, which are vital throughout the holiday shopping season when consumers are bombarded by an endless stream of messages and offers. Should the call-to-action button be on the left or right? Does blue or green work better? Even these minor design aspects can make an impact. Establishing an effective design around purchase-oriented aspects of the email can pay out benefits that extend past the holiday season, as well.

Clean up navigation bars ahead of the shopping season, too. In the rush of the holidays, people are moving quickly and they might not read the content - but they could use the navigation bar to visit your website or connect deeper with your brand. Some email programs use a navigation bar that varies according to the season.

Summer is also the best time of year to start testing the format of subject lines. A great subject line pops out visually due to the formatting, but keywords and phrases can't be overlooked, either.


Segment Your Audience

Testing should revolve around key audience segments. For example, if your campaign involves targeting different age demographics, consider using images that correspond to each age group. Discovering what resonates with each segment before the heavy shopping season will increase the relevancy of your message, giving you a lift in response.

Another way to segment is to divide the audience into active and inactive segments, based on an algorithm for open or click-through rates. Understanding this dichotomy is important for two reasons:

- If you need to ramp up volume during the buying season, an understanding of your active and inactive segments shows where to focus efforts.

- The information allows you to measure success comparatively for future campaigns based on what percentage of your audience interacts with your messages.

Further segment your audience according to your subscribers' desired frequency of communication. If you are working with a large database, ask subscribers if they want to change how often they receive messages. Your inactive segment might prefer one particular communication each month as opposed to messages every week. While some marketers might consider ignoring inactive segments, these customers might become active over the holiday season.

These levels of activity apply to both purchasers and nonpurchasers, but purchasers should be treated differently. Make sure they know you appreciate their business by thanking them periodically or providing them with exclusive offers.

With list building, segmentation and testing alike, the key is engagement. You want to have as many people as possible engaged with your message and your brand when the holidays arrive to compete with all the noise consumers are exposed to. Summer is the calm before the storm. If you wait until the holidays, it will be too late.

About the Author: Rusty Warner is the Vice President of Product Marketing for Alterian, a full-service integrated marketing company that provides campaign management, Web content management, email marketing, social media monitoring and more.