Use Timing Strategies to Increase Open Rates

:: Gurjit Sandhu, Yesmail :: How to Increase Open Rates for Holiday-Themed Email Campaigns

From back-to-school to Black Friday, all holidays lend themselves to one thing: an increase in promotional emails.

Though some marketers may assume consumers disregard a large volume of holiday emails, consumers' behavior suggests otherwise. In fact, a survey conducted internally found that open rates for holiday-themed email actually increased in 2014 and consistently exceeded those of non-themed campaigns.

One of the most important factors in achieving an optimal open rate is the timing of these emails. For some holidays, it's more effective to send promotional emails closer to the actual date, while for others, earlier emails perform better. As we approach Halloween, a major consumer holiday in the U.S., brands can learn a lot from looking at the 2014 holiday season open rates. Overall, it's important to remember that themed campaigns generally do well when it comes to deliverability, but the timing can make a big difference when it comes to engagement.

The importance of themed campaigns

Holiday-themed emails continue to increase year-over-year with our study indicating 83 percent of retailers sent general "holiday" or winter-themed campaigns, making it the most popular 'theme' in 2014. Black Friday saw the second highest volume of emails at 80 percent, followed by Thanksgiving at 63 percent. Both of these themes also saw a significant increase from 2013.

While many within the industry may fear that an increase in marketing email volume could irritate consumers and drive response rates down, this doesn't seem to be the case. Retailers during the last two quarters of 2014 actually saw consistent open rates (14.7 percent and 14.6 percent respectively), and these rates were also higher than they were during the same quarters of 2013 despite a significant increase in volume. This trend is likely due to marketers making a greater effort to provide better mobile experience, improve inboxing strategies and create more personalized email content.

So not only are marketers deploying more holiday-themed campaigns, but consumers are responding in a positive way. While it's important to note that themed campaigns are crucial for many B2C brands during the holidays, it's also worth paying attention to the timing of these campaigns. For some holidays, themed emails see lower open rates as the holiday approaches. Here's a look at the most ideal email marketing timing for each holiday.

Early deployment

The previously mentioned study tracked 30 top retailers and found that consumers open Halloween-themed emails at a higher rate when they are sent within the first two weeks of October (15.2 percent) and at a lower rate when they are sent in the two weeks leading up to October 31st (12.5 percent). Like Halloween, Cyber Monday and Christmas campaigns benefited from earlier deployment in 2014.

If any retailers are just starting to send their Halloween-themed emails, they may have missed the boat. As most Halloween enthusiasts have long been prepared by the time October 31st arrives, it makes sense that earlier campaigns yield better results. This logic also applies to Christmas. It's likely that as Christmas approaches, consumers become preoccupied with other life events and are less likely to pay attention to email. What's more, consumers begin Christmas shopping earlier and earlier each year. Cyber Monday is no different -- for many, it's the first day back to work or school after a long weekend. Additionally, many may have become numb to email marketing after a weekend full of Black Friday deals. So, deploy these campaigns early or risk being lost in the shuffle.

Late deployment

While it makes sense that consumers are more likely to engage early for holidays like Christmas and Halloween, some holidays lend themselves well to later campaign deployment. According to the study, back-to-school, Black Friday, and Thanksgiving campaigns saw higher open rates when deployed closer to the holiday. These events require very little advanced planning (no more than a day or two), so it is likely that consumers are simply not thinking about them until they are fast approaching.

For example, back-to school campaigns that ran closer to the start of school saw open rates 32 percent higher than those deployed earlier in August or July. Parents and students are simply not shopping for school supplies until the days leading up to the start of the year. Similarly, Thanksgiving and Black Friday campaigns deployed in the two weeks leading up to the holiday saw higher open rates compared to those deployed further in advance, most likely due to the lack of advanced planning or gift-giving required. To get the most engagement from back-to-school, Thanksgiving, and Black Friday email campaigns, marketers should wait to deploy until a few days before the event.

So as the holidays approach, brands and retailers should pay close attention to the timing of themed campaigns. It's important to understand how consumers operate at this time of the year and adjust campaigns accordingly. Consumers can 'plan' for some holidays on the day of, while they require advanced preparation for others. While all holiday-themed campaigns can drive revenue for brands and retailers, in order to ensure maximum engagement, timing is everything. 

Gurjit Sandhu is a marketing specialist at Yesmail, a leading provider of enterprise email marketing software, which recently published a whitepaper on major trends and takeaways to have a successful 2015 holiday season.