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Comment: The five stages of winter email marketing

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Christmas is undoubtedly a make-or-break period for retailers. Sales made during this time can have a significant effect on the whole year’s results – advanced and meticulous planning or the lack of a well thought-out cross-channel marketing strategy can either be the game changer or the last nail in the coffin.

With this in mind, to drive the best possible sales amongst a landscape of Christmas cheer, tinsel and turkey consumption, brands are acknowledging the need to plan their cross-channel marketing campaigns for this season before we’ve even turned over September’s page in our calendars. Key to this cross-channel marketing strategy is email, which still remains the killer outbound channel for most marketers. Here we offer some tips on how email can be used, alongside the interactive channels of web, social, mobile and display, during the five stages of winter marketing.

Pre-Holiday Period

It may sound strange, but the first stage of winter marketing really begins at the end of Summer, as thoughts of Halloween and pumpkin carving start to pop into our head. Research has shown that 40 per cent of consumers start their Christmas shopping before Halloween. As a result, this is a great opportunity for retailers to capitalise on consumers’ appetite to spend and build momentum for their Christmas promotions. Responsys found that last year 60 per cent of major retailers mentioned the Christmas season in promotional emails before the end of October.

As marketers start to lay the foundations of festive campaigns across web, email, social, mobile and display, retailers should also make sure that they have the correct customer details on file ahead of any wider engagement with subscribers. This will help them to profile and segment customers and send personalised, tailored emails based on their preferences, personal details and past purchasing behaviour.

Black Friday

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving in the US. Traditionally a US trend, the concept has now reached British shores. This is the day that retailers launch special promotions hoping to drive huge sales: this year, online sales jumped more than 20 per cent in the US on Black Friday. Touted as the busiest shopping day of the year, in 2011, 69 per cent of retailers sent email on Black Friday, with an increase in email volume helping to drive a 24.3 per cent increase in sales compared to 2010, according to IBM Coremetrics.

But Black Friday doesn’t stand alone. It’s the climax to a month of pre-planned promotions and pricing deals. Everything prior to November, particularly the first three weeks, is the warm up for retailers. During this time, Christmas messaging really comes to the fore, and brands begin to use free delivery or other offers to incentivise purchases.

Cyber Monday

After Black Friday, Cyber Monday is also considered to be one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Although the term stems from the US, British retailers have also seen sales boosted on this date. This year Capgemini forecast that Cyber Monday would kick-start a two-week online shopping spree in the UK to the tune of £4.6 billion.

Although Cyber Monday set a new record in 2011 for the busiest email marketing day ever recorded, this doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the best day to engage with your customers. Competition is fierce, with the majority of retailers fighting for eyeballs. So in a bid to maintain momentum and ensure emails are at the top of the inbox, many retailers will opt to send email promotions on the days surrounding Cyber Monday. Think punchy subject lines to attract attention and entice click throughs.

Countdown to Christmas

Once Cyber Monday has been and gone, email messaging quickly shifts to reflect the impending countdown to the big day. Retailers will encourage shoppers to rush to the shops for one-day deals and online retailers will notify users of the upcoming shipping deadlines for those last-minute buys.

Another prevalent feature for many retailers is the “12 days of Christmas” email campaign which, in advent calendar style offers shoppers new deals each day. Delivery deadlines feature heavily and savvy retailers target consumers with e-gift card promotions as soon as the deadline passes, just in case someone has forgotten a loved-one from their list.

Post-Christmas Period

The turkey has been eaten and the presents have been opened. Yet the urgency still remains, as retailers shift their focus from gift-buying to clearances, gift card redemptions and up-selling. As expected, sales messaging is the strongest between Christmas Day and New Year. Any retailers sending out emails on Christmas Day should make sure they are mobile-optimised, for those consumers checking emails from their shiny new tablet.

There still might be some way to go before Christmas Day arrives, but as the saying goes ‘the early bird catches the worm.’ This has never been more true for retailers, when the pressure to drive sales becomes tangible. To relieve the pressure to hit targets, brands should plan their email marketing programmes, as part of a complete cross-channel approach. By taking note of what type of email messaging works at each stage in the Christmas period, retailers can revel in the success of their festive winter marketing.

Published on Monday 03 December by Editorial Assistant

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