Can you believe it? September’s almost done, another year has almost passed us by, and if you are like us – the days just keep getting busier and busier.
With the new year only a little more than a quarter away, it’s important to think about your email strategy going into the last part of 2016. Whether you’re a B2C, B2B, or a B2B2C, you’re hopefully all over your Q4 planning already.
For B2C companies, the holidays are a giant opportunity: the US Census Bureau reported that Q4 2015 saw a 33% rise in ecommerce sales over Q3, followed by a 20% drop in Q1 2016. And according to Statistica:
- In 2015, retail e-commerce sales during November and December amounted to $56 billion during the holiday season, up from $46 billion in 2013.
- On Black Friday 2015, US online revenues amounted to $1.66 billion, up from $1.5 billion the previous year.
Q4 is no less important for B2B
It’s your chance to meet or beat the forecast for this year, and if you made some mistakes and lost ground earlier in the year, maybe you can apply your lessons learned and make it up now. What about your buyers? If you sell to people who have to spend budget by December 31 or lose it for the next year, you’ve got opportunities. If you’ve got people who spent all their 2016 budget and are waiting for 2017 to refresh the kitty, you need to make the sale in Q4 so you can do the contract in Q1.
And don’t overlook your existing customers. They may have year-end funds to spend; can you upsell them? Can you put an attractive, easy-to-buy package together that just extends and deepens your relationship with them?
What this means for your buyer’s email inbox
The upshot? Your buyer, no matter who he or she may be, is going to hear from a great many hopeful sellers. Your buyer’s name may also be circulating on lists that get purchased, meaning your buyer may well get a ton of mail that they didn’t expect and don’t want. They might get a bit more suspicious about unfamiliar email.
You know the competition for inbox placement is going to heat up exponentially in the coming months. That makes it very important that you plan ahead and get your sending in shape for winter.
What this means for you, the sender
With a good sending strategy and best practices, you can tilt the odds that your emails and offers are noticed by your recipients, which in turn can help you lock in crucial end-of-year engagements.
Here are a few tips to help you plan accordingly. Tailor these to your own business for the best results.
1. Segmentation and Engagement
These two factors are already very important in overall delivery, but they become even more important during the holiday send season – as they could spell the difference between a response and a spam placement.
Engagement is important for a lot of reasons: First, because people who engage with you are responding to you, which means they’re interested or curious, and so more likely buyers than people who just ignore your email. Second, because ISPs are in the business of getting wanted email to recipients and diverting unwanted email, they pay a lot of attention to engagement rates. Strong engagement rates are a boon to your deliverability.
For that reason, if you don’t do any other kind of segmentation, at least segment by engagement. As a baseline (and your mileage may vary), we recommend starting with defining engaged: as anyone who has opened and clicked or interacted with your email in some capacity during the past 180 days. “Unengaged” is vice versa; recipients who ignored you, or may have occasionally opened or responded to an email during the same period.
Even more defined segmentation can only help! Try job title, geographic region, or any sort of applicable area that helps divide your recipients into well-organized, well-differentiated groups. This lets you send messages that feel more personal to the recipient. All this can help drive engagement, which is very important when trying to fight for inbox space at various ISPs. They are keeping a close eye on senders and will throttle or flag them if they see anything remotely suspect.
This is one of the key differentiators in holiday sends, as you need to make sure your message sticks out above the rest. Recipients will be getting completely bombarded with all sorts of offers, giveaways, discounts, prizes, and so forth. With so many emails coming in, the recipient is going to be much more discriminating as to what they open. Rather than using the standard, bland “holiday sale” subject lines – try personalization, and cater your subjects and overall messages to the particular recipient (Segmentation by interest or likely purchase can help here). That way they feel like an actual customer or prospect, and not just a cash grab. If you have arresting imagery that is really specific to your product or service, make the most of it (More on using images in your email).
Keep your calls to action “above the fold;” this helps guide the recipient to an action. If they have to search your email for it, or scroll all the way to the bottom, you many lose out on a potential click.
Keep your emails simple; too much text or too many images can not only be distracting to the recipient, but can trigger ISP spam filters that may affect inbox placement.
Keep in mind: the goal is to make your email stick out from the clutter, so be creative and inventive when coming up with content! Keep it relevant to the season and your product offerings, but try new things to help your brand achieve your goals!
3. Tailor Your Sending Strategies to Your Recipients
Once you’ve created your segments and content, it’s time to think about your send strategies.
It’s vital to send your emails at the right time and using the right cadence to get your offers out there, but not overwhelm the recipient with too much information and/or too many emails.
During the holiday season, many (if not most) of us tend to increase volume and frequency by a large amount. However, this can be more detrimental than successful. More sends do not always equal more engagement, and if your recipient is weary of their total volume of email (from all sources, not just you) it can have the opposite effect.
Make it easy to opt out
When the aggregate amount of mail coming in hits a personal high-water mark, a recipient can be more inclined to report messages as spam – especially if an opt-out (also called an unsubscribe) option is not easily visible or accessible.
Keep in mind, opt-outs won’t affect delivery, but spam complaints can harm your reputation and therefore make it harder to reach the inbox during crucial sending periods.
Additionally, make sure the volume and cadence of your emails do not vary too much during the holiday sending season. A recommended send schedule would be 2-3 times per week at consistent volumes. Some slight variations in volume are ok, but stay away from following up small sends with large sends, and vice versa. The more consistent you are, the better your chances of successful delivery, placement, and potential engagement with your customers and/or prospects.
A final note: Get help if you need it
Now is the time to start planning for the holidays – a head start on the competition can be crucial for getting your messages out there and into the hands of those recipients that are most important to your business. If you just can’t get to it, consider bringing in an agency or consultant (or, ahem, Act-On Pro Services) to help you rethink how to make the most of your Q4 opportunities.