For us marketers Christmas starts early

While everyone else complains when they first see decorations in shops and stores, advent calendars on sale and Christmas adverts on the box, our pain started even earlier. As those self-same festive campaigns have been in the planning for weeks and months (and in some cases even years).

As we know email remains the key channel for marketers, especially in retail. So it’s important that over the Christmas period you do what you can to be heard over the noise. In a recent survey we discovered that 69% of consumers receive an email from a retailer every single day and activity will for certain increase in the run up to Christmas.

Let’s take a look at what happened last year. According to data from our email platform overall there was an average increase in email activity of 11% over the festive period compared to the rest of the year – which is a lot – and just goes to show not only the importance of the festive period to retailers but also the level of competition.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday were the busiest days and it can be surmised that the increased levels of email activity were at least partly responsible for the peak in online interest, website visits and estimated spend.

However, more emails were sent on Cyber Monday than Black Friday. Potentially this is due to retailers who missed out on the Black Friday frenzy setting up campaigns to try and play catch up on Cyber Monday (which was three days later).

Clearly the volume of emails on Black Friday and Cyber Monday means that consumers were bombarded with a lot of messaging. Those brands that had the most accurate, helpful and relevant messages would have had more success than those that didn’t or were unable to. This will definitely continue to be a factor in 2015.

Subject lines

As we know, subject lines play a major role in whether a recipient decides to open an email or not. Not surprisingly, 6% of emails sent in November and December used Christmas, ‘Xmas’, ‘Santa’, or ‘Festive’ in their subject lines. These emails were 4% more likely to be opened than those with subject lines that did not include any of those words and generated an average click-to-open rate 54% higher than average.

Evidently, discounts and sales play a major part in retail strategy, especially with the influence of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Boxing Day and the January sales in mind. To this end, 6% of emails sent from November 1 to January 10 included either ‘discount’, ‘offer’ or ‘% off’ in their subject lines. Although these emails, on average, had a marginally lower unique open rate than those emails with less direct subject lines, they generated a click-to-open rate 5% higher and were 50% more likely to convert to a transaction.

Which days resulted in the best performance?

Unique open rate – The second weekend of November was an interesting period. Emails sent on Sunday, November 9 achieved the highest average unique open rate across the festive period, while emails sent on Monday, November 10 achieved the highest average click-to-open rate. Emails sent on both of these dates achieved relatively low conversion rates, however, suggesting that engagement may have come from gift browsers.

Conversion: – Peaks in conversion rate across the festive period occurred on expected dates. Emails sent on December 27 achieved the highest average conversion rate, closely followed by emails sent on January 1. This suggests that consumers continue to respond to traditional sales, allowing marketers to plan ahead effectively. Emails sent on Christmas Day were the least likely to be opened and the least likely to convert across the entire festive period, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not important.

Tips to increase the effectiveness of your Christmas 2015 email campaigns

Plan – Plan ahead for the key dates. 2014 showed, once again, that audiences respond to key dates on the calendar; Black Friday, Cyber Monday, post-Christmas and New Year sales all performed well in 2014 and will continue to do so in the coming festive period. We predict that these dates will be huge again this year with a 5-10% increase in website volume across the board. Retailers need to be ready for huge demand and geared up for extra delivery pressures (next day, click and collect, etc.) as some got caught out last year and there’s no excuse this time around.

Personalise – Marketing is all about the customer experience and this is even more important over the festive period with the sheer volume of marketing consumer are subjected to. The brands that can provide relevant, interesting and useful experiences and customer journeys are the ones which customers will choose, prefer and advocate. Personalising your emails sop that the content you send is more likely to resonate and be of interest is a key tactic – no longer is ‘spray and pray’ an acceptable practice. Your email campaigns should be tailored for individuals or to segments of individuals based on shared characteristics.

Check out this article on personalisation for more.

Clean your email lists – There’s little point in personalising to any extent if you can’t rely on the data you have, so it’s important to clean and potentially enrich it. Twenty-eight per cent of companies in recent research reported lost revenue as a direct result of emails not getting through for one reason or another. In addition, if an ISP believes you are frequently contacting bad emails it will reduce the delivery of any good emails in your list, thus reducing your engagement rates. The less you take care of your list hygiene, the lower your delivery rate is likely to be. When it comes to email marketing, there are many factors that ISPs look at when determining how many of your emails to place in the inbox – your inbox placement rate (IPR).

Because of this, regular cleaning and check-ups are a must – especially in the run up to the Christmas period. Without it, there’s a risk that your emails won’t be delivered and research shows that will impact on service quality, cause unnecessary costs and lost revenue – not to mention the wasted resource put into creating the emails in the first place.

Subject lines – Be direct with your subject lines: Using ‘content specific’ subject lines (subject lines that make it absolutely clear what is to be expected from the email’s content) can often lead to high conversion rates when the right expectations are set from the offset. Remember, we saw that emails with subject lines containing words like ‘offer’ and ‘discount’ were 50% more likely to convert. On the flip side, being purposefully mysterious or vague with subject lines can often lead to high open rates (as curiosity is piqued) but lower ratios of clicks-to-opens and conversion as expectations are not matched by the subsequent content or offer.

Remember it’s Christmas time!

Christmas is supposed to be a relaxing and fun time spent with family and loved ones. While this isn’t necessarily always the case (and probably not top of your mind as you rush to put together your email campaigns), but remember, your customers are probably fairly stressed themselves. The last thing they want is to be peppered with irrelevant and annoying messages.

Make sure you’re adding to the customer experience and making your messages more relevant to the recipients.

All insights in this article are taken from the 2015 Festive Insights white paper. Grab your copy today for more analysis of the key dates plus a look at festive email performance and a breakdown of who is likely to shop when – based on our demographic data.

Experian Marketing Services is a leading global provider of consumer insights, targeting, data quality and cross-channel marketing. We help organisations intelligently interact with today’s empowered and hyper-connected consumers.

By helping marketers identify their best customers, find more of them, and then coordinate seamless and intelligent interactions across the most appropriate channels, Experian Marketing Services‘ clients can deepen customer loyalty, strengthen brand advocacy and maximise profits.