Summer is barely over and we may still be a few months away from eggnog on supermarket shelves, but for marketers, the holiday shopping season is already large on the horizon.
For good reason too: The holiday season is a make-or-break moment for every retailer. The difference is that some email programs are ready for anything and some are still playing catch up.
Come January 1st, marketing managers will either be celebrating a great year or drowning their sorrows. Some marketers will be putting their phones on silent as they sit down for Thanksgiving while others will be working a late night.
Are you going to be taking a victory lap on Cyber Monday? Or hiding in a darkened conference room?
Holiday season ramps up the pressure and obstacles marketers have been dealing with all year. Deliverability will be tougher, getting eyes on your campaigns will be more difficult, and revenue generation is going to be mission-critical. I bet your heart rate is already spiking just thinking about it.
You can be successful though. It isn’t all bad news. Success in the holiday season is about being flexible, doubling down on the fundamentals, and tweaking your existing programs and tools to fit the needs of the season.
Read on for details on how you can relax this holiday season. You might even take a vacation. We know you won’t, but you might.
1. Develop a content calendar
This isn’t the time of year to “wing it” and a detailed calendar will ensure you don’t miss important dates or deadlines. Chances are that your typical content calendar won’t cut it during the holiday season. You’re going to want to be more detailed and tighten up the timelines for all stakeholders.
Plan to adjust your timelines to give stressed teams more time to handle all of the requests coming in. Your designers may need an extra day or two to finalize assets and you should be prepared to have messages scheduled, ready to send a day or two ahead of your typical timeline. You want to give key stakeholders throughout the organization time to review the final product before it deploys.
Depending on the size of your team you should also plan a new step 1-2 days before deployment that I like to call “inventory review.” The fact is that inventory changes fast throughout the holiday season. The products you’ve planned to feature 2-3 weeks ago may no longer be in stock or may no longer be relevant to the organization’s marketing plans. Planning time for an “inventory review” gives your full team one final opportunity to ensure that your campaigns are as up to date as possible.
Your content calendar this time of year will be very full so it’s important to remember that while every email is important, there are some that are more important than others. Understanding and planning around your key deployment dates is more important than anything else I’ve outlined so far. Big days (e.g. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the last shipping day) should be receiving extra prominence in your content calendar and should have extended timelines. These are the critical messages that have to be done right so starting earlier and checking more thoroughly will never be wasted effort.
Between vacations and increased volume, your creative and development teams are going to be very busy. But there is a lot you can do today to lighten the load and increase the nimbleness of your program. As mentioned above, there are a few big days where you are going to want to pull out all the stops, but the majority of the messages you send out over the holiday season should be leveraging reusable templates.
Reusable templates have a lot to offer year-round and should be an integral part of your program, but that is doubly so during the holiday season. Consistent branding in colors, copy, font, and images increase your customers’ familiarity with your brand and will help you quickly build trust.
A consistent layout will help your customers easily navigate your messages and find the CTA you want them to see. Reusable templates will also decrease your team’s workload since they won’t be starting from scratch with each new campaign. It will also be easy to swap out products if there are last-minute product changes.
We recommend limiting yourself to 2 or 3 templates during the holiday season. By rotating templates, your messaging will stay fresh to your subscribers’ eyes without confusing your established branding. Working with a few different templates will also give you the flexibility to meet any of the messaging needs you may have over the holiday season without having to build a new message. Typically, you are pulling these templates from things you already have in production with some small tweaks to make them season specific.
3. Map out your customer journeys
The primary goal of your holiday program is to drive conversions.
Driving the first conversion is the goal of your batch and blast messages and you should already have post-purchase automations driving repeat or add-on conversions. That shouldn’t change between now and the end of the year.
What should change is the language and cadence of those automations. To compete with the high frequency of emails users receive during the holiday season you should adjust your subject lines to be as compelling and clear as possible. You may also want to add one or two additional touches to a series to make sure a customer has as many chances to convert as possible.
You’ll also be dealing with a lot of new subscribers along with reaching out to subscribers who may not have engaged with your content in a while. A lot of these users will be engaging with your brand and email list specifically for holiday shopping. Don’t just dump them into your batch and blast messages and don’t send the same welcome series that you use all year round. It’s fair to make some assumptions about customers that are engaging with your brand for the holiday season and you should feel confident in making season specific updates to your welcome and re-engagement series with those assumptions in mind.
4. Back up plans
Mistakes will happen.
Advanced email marketing programs utilize many complicated moving parts, including dynamic content, cutting-edge designs, and pinpoint segmentation. There is nothing to gain by pretending that mistakes don’t or won’t happen. In fact, the only email programs that don’t seem to have mistakes are the ones that aren’t aware that they are happening.
Smart marketers will prepare for eventualities instead of pretending it won’t happen to them.
The last thing you want to do in an emergency is waste time waiting for a message to be created, coded, and tested. So, take some time now to build a couple “just in case” templates. Get them fully QA’d and make sure the headline is in live text so it is easy to edit. Keep those saved as drafts in your ESP so that your full team has access to them. When a mistake happens you will be able to quickly adjust the headline, update an image or two, and get your apology to customer inboxes quickly.
5. Make time for A/B testing
I know, I know, I’ve spent most of this guide telling you to simplify and streamline your program for the season. And now, I’m going to throw a wrench in that and ask you to do one thing to make it more complicated.
I’ve stressed before how important the holiday season is. But ask yourself honestly, “Do I think that there isn’t any room for improvement in my campaigns?”
Testing small variables in creative and copy throughout the holiday season will help improve engagement, increase revenue, and help your creative team improve their messaging with each subsequent send.
Would you rather know that your audience prefers a flat discount over a percentage discount or do you want to guess?
In summary, while expectations are certainly high during the holiday season there isn’t anything new happening that you will catch you by surprise. The strategies outlined above are things you should already be doing just with a few tweaks. And, while nothing can guarantee a successful holiday we would all do well to remember that “luck favors the prepared.” Take some time now and in the next couple of days to prepare for what is coming and clear out obstacles that will cause trouble. The future version of yourself relaxing after Thanksgiving dinner will be thankful you did.