Six Holiday E-Mail Marketing Tips

Tuesday Nov 27th 2007 by Vangie Beal
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Even if you're new to e-mail marketing, it's not too late to kick off a campaign to harness the holiday sales hoopla.

This time of year consumers are bombarded with holiday e-mail from merchants offering everything from gift guides to free shipping. A recent Forrester Research report indicates that US online retail sales this holiday season will reach $33 billion, a 21-percent increase over last year, making your e-mail marketing campaign an important part of reaching new customers and cashing in on holiday sales.

One obstacle you are going to face in creating a holiday campaign is making sure that yours stands out among all the other ones in a customer's inbox. Small online business owners also need to consider how to build their holiday contact list and then decide how to present the mailing.

ECommerce-Guide recently spoke with Melanie Attia, the product marketing manager for Campaigner, who suggested six key tips for launching a successful holiday e-mail marketing campaign — even if you have never considered sending one before this year.

1: E-mail Marketing Is Both Easy and Inexpensive
For those new to the idea of e-mail marketing, you can save yourself time by using an online software-as-a-service (define SaaS) solution. It's an affordable strategy, for example, Campaigner starts at $25 per month per 2,500 e-mails, but will also help you deliver a professional marketing campaign to boost your brand exposure and improve consumer trust. These types of solutions offer everything you need, including step-by-step online set-up, campaign creation and delivery.

The service will also make it easy to manage your subscriber list through automated subscription and unsubscribe functions. Plus, you can also track click-through rates and ensure that your e-mails meet industry standards as well as applicable privacy and spam laws.

2: Build Your Contact List
Most merchants will want to include a check box somewhere on their Web site that allows consumers to opt-in to receive periodic e-mail. But since the holiday marketing season is upon us now, Melanie Attia said even small businesses will already have a good list to start with. "Use prior contacts and your customer database to build your marketing campaign. In the first mailing, smaller merchants should remind the recipients about who you are and where the user would have given permission for being contacted." In this mailing it is a good idea to also ask the recipients if they want to receive future holiday or periodic mailings from you.

It is extremely important to continue contact only with those people who are interested. "Merchants need to honor all unsubscribe requests immediately. One feature of Campaigner is that it automates the process of unsubscribing contacts for you. The software will flag those e-mail addresses who have requested to unsubscribe and no future mailings will be sent to that user," said Attia.

For those merchants who might be tempted to buy e-mail lists to spread their holiday message, we warn you: resist the urge. Attia said that buying lists of customers will have a very negative effect in terms of customer trust. "Merchants really need to steer clear of sending non-permission based e-mail. It doesn't work."

3: Avoid Being Generic: Use the subject line to its full potential
Behind the scenes it's all about a really good fight. You really are fighting all other merchants for the subscribers' clicks and dollars. Holiday mailings can sometimes lead to multiple e-mails from different merchants sitting in a shopper's inbox at the same time. When the subscriber scans the subject headlines, your e-mail needs to be the one that stands out.


Holiday E-Mail Marketing Tips
Getting the In-Box to Stand Out: Using an attractive non-generic subject line that is specific to you will give the subscriber a reason to click and open the e-mail.
(Click for larger image.)

To help your e-mail rank higher, Attia said you need to use the e-mail subject line to its full potential. "Don't use generic subject lines like 'e-flyer' or 'special discounts inside.' You need to give the subscriber a good reason to click and open the e-mail, and that means being more descriptive." She suggests that merchants use a specific brand name or something similar that the customer would expect from you.

For holiday campaigns you can also consider subject lines related to discount percentages or dollar number reductions. Forrester Research's 2007 holiday report says that 61 percent of online consumers indicate that they are more likely to shop online with a retailer that offers free shipping, so shipping discounts will also make an attractive subject line for holiday marketing. In designing e-mail subject headers you should also avoid using the word 'free' to help keep your e-mail out of subscriber's spam or junk folders.

(Continue to Page 2 for More Tips on Content and Delivery)

4: Campaign Content With a Holiday Focus
Once you have nailed down your contact list and have worked on the e-mail subject header, it's time to get busy with composing the message and deciding which holiday-inspired incentives you will offer to your subscribers, and how to word it. Merchants would do well to keep their messages toned down to a simple 'holiday or season's greeting' or even focus on the New Year.

This time of year you can expect consumers to be specifically looking for really good deals, so consider adding a time limited e-coupon code in your e-mail that offers your subscribers a discount on a specific product. To provide a direct call-to-action, you can include a countdown within the e-mail where you inform your subscribers of exactly how many days are left for guaranteed holiday delivery. This will encourage consumers to take action because of time constraints and should boost conversions.

Other ideas, for those who want to include a mix of sales and some original content based on their area of expertise or passion, include offering tips on how a sale item can be used for the holidays, or suggesting the types of people that would enjoy a particular gift. Doing this helps your subscriber remember the product and why they should buy it from you, rather than from your competitors.

For those using an online service for their mailing lists, this is where your automatically generated reports will come in handy. As you try different offers, like free shipping or e-coupons, you can track click-throughs and the number of "forward to a friend" actions that were performed to help you determine which special offers are most attractive to your subscribers.

5: Step It Up As the Holiday Approaches
As the holiday approaches and the number of days in which consumers can order and expect to have their items shipped on time decreases, Attia said merchants should start stepping up their holiday campaign with more frequent mailings. In your initial holiday campaign e-mail it's a good idea to ask your subscribers if they want to opt-in to receive these special messages from you. This means you might have to break your list into separate mailings; those who opted for more infrequent mailings and those who want to receive all your holiday messages.

As we get closer to the holiday, merchants can get more aggressive with product price drops, shipping specials and other deals. Combining these specials with a guaranteed shipping countdown reminder will further encourage subscribers to act when they receive your e-mail.

6: Remember - A Simple Thank You Works Too
For merchants new to e-mail marketing, don't forget that you can kick off a holiday e-mail campaign with a simple note of gratitude. Attia suggests starting — and ending — with a thank-you note. She said, "One thing we often don't think about is thanking our customers. You can e-mail your current customer contact list with a simple holiday greeting that is centered around thanking them for being your customer."

Take the thank you message and add in a deeply discounted offer or coupon code and even small online merchants can kick-start a great holiday e-mail marketing campaign.

Vangie Beal is a seasoned eBay seller, frequent contributor to ECommerce-Guide.com and managing editor of Webopedia.com.

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