There are 21 shopping days left until Christmas. As short a time as that seems, it’s not too late for retailers (on- or offline) to either start or boost holiday marketing efforts. In fact, if you use e-mail marketing, you can start your campaign as early as this weekend. To find out the best ways to do this, I talked to John Arnold, director of Constant Contact University.
According to Arnold, it is key to get your promotions out before Dec 15th, as that’s the date most Americans start their holiday shopping in earnest. One of the fastest, easiest, and least costly ways to promote your business is via e-mail marketing. But before you send out your promotional e-mails, Arnold advises you keep your branding consistent. “Don’t,” he warns, “swap your logo or its colors for one with a holiday theme.” Arnold explains that e-mail volume is huge in December and you don’t want to risk your customers not recognizing your business and deleting your e-mail. If you really want to add some seasonal sparkle to your messaging, you can add holiday elements to the body of the e-mail message.
Surprisingly, Arnold says there’s still time to test your holiday messaging (but you better do it quickly). He suggests you take 20 percent of your mailing list and split it in half. Test two different subject line messages, one each to half (10 percent) of that list. Since you can know instantly how many recipients open and act upon your e-mail, you’ll quickly learn what message is best and then you can roll that version out to the remainder of your mailing list. (Arnold says 80 percent of e-mails are read in the first 48 hours of being received.)
A good “bargain” message test might be:
- Subject line A: Buy 1, Get 1 Free
- Subject line B: Buy 2, & Take 50 Percent Off
According to Arnold, these messages will work well if you can get your e-mail campaign out before December 15th, when consumers are looking to save money. Post-December 15th, customers are more interested in saving time than money, so change your message to one that emphasizes offers like free gift wrapping, companion gifts, or express delivery.
Despite the rise of social media, Arnold says e-mail remains the best way to reach customers. E-mail is, he explains, an “interruption marketing medium” that reminds people you’re there and keeps you top of mind. He cites a survey conducted last year by Internet services company AOL that essentially declared Americans are “addicted” to e-mail, so addicted that 15 percent of us check e-mail while in church, and 59 percent check while in the bathroom. The key is to make sure your e-mail points customers someplace and drives them to action, whether it’s to a brick-and-mortar store or online retailer.
And don’t think you can rest once Christmas is over. Arnold says the busiest day of the year for sending commercial e-mail is actually December 26th. This is the time to focus on building relationships with your customers so they become loyal to your business. Make sure you capture the e-mail addresses of everyone who buys from you or visits your Web site, so you can market to them throughout the year. With so many customers actually shopping on the 26th, looking for bargains and returning unwanted gifts, this is a great time to upsell or cross-sell your remaining merchandise.
Post-Christmas is also a good time to begin working on your 2010 e-mail marketing plan. Arnold says most consumers “tolerate e-mails with almost any frequency if the content is relevant and valuable.” For instance, if you’re a stockbroker, your customers would welcome as many as two e-mails a day from your company. To determine your best mailing frequency, Arnold advises you look at your sales cycle. Hair salons can e-mail weekly, since many of their customers are on a 30-day sales cycle. He warns that you should never go more than a month without sending an e-mail to your customers.
Arnold subscribes to the 80/20 rule when it comes to e-mail marketing: 80 percent of your e-mail messages should be informative and 20 percent promotional. You can achieve this by having an 80/20 mix in each e-mail, or for every 10 e-mails you send, make sure eight are informational and two are promotional.
All entrepreneurs should be constantly building and maintaining their e-mail lists. Make sure, Arnold says, to have a place to sign up for a newsletter on every page of your site, since many customers may land on a random page within your site rather than the home page. Give visitors value for signing up even if they’re not buying anything. The “value” could be tips, an ebook or white paper, or discount coupons. (This is great advice for service business as well.)
Survey your customers regularly, find out what they want, and then consistently deliver on your brand’s promise. And remember, says Arnold, “Consumers want what they want. They’ll tell you what they want. Don’t confuse that with telling them what you think they want.” The most important factor? Arnold says, “Always be listening.”
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