If there’s one channel you’re smart to focus on this holiday season, it’s email. Its efficiency is undeniable: email offers a potential return on investment (ROI) of $42 for every $1 spent. Sounds promising, but the 2020 holiday season will be the most atypical in decades. What approach should marketers take? What changes should they make in their messages and timing? Is there a best day to send promotional emails?

First, let’s see what data from previous years shows us.

Emails sent on Thursdays get the most attention
In a webinar on email strategy during the holidays, Oracle’s team of marketing researchers uncovered some interesting behavioral trends. “Most of the spikes in responder rates happened on Thursdays,” they say, referring to both 2019 and 2018 holiday seasons. “Thursdays tended to be lower volume days. With that lower competition in the inbox came a higher share of consumer attention and positive engagement,” explains Chad S. White, Head of Research at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting.

Here are a few other observations White and his colleagues made to help you pick the best time to hit “Send”:

While Thursday stands out as a clear winner, Fridays saw a dip in responder rates.
In the days after popular holidays, sending volume drops, but engagement increases – there’s less competition and people are more active in their inboxes.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day had lower than average sending volume in 2019 and also, poor engagement. You may want to consider pausing your campaigns during those days.
Now that you have a good idea about timing, let’s make sure you have everything you need to make your emails a success this holiday season.

Verify your email lists to reduce sending costs and land in the inbox
Email service providers charge based on the number of contacts you store and the number of emails you send. So, before you send, “double-check your email lists to ensure all your contacts are valid and active,” says Siva Devaki, founder and co-CEO of MassMailer.

Related: How to Write an Email Subject Line That’s Sure To Get Clicked

Especially if your business was among those affected by the pandemic, the last thing you want is to waste precious resources. Validating your lists not only helps reduce email marketing costs but also, supports good deliverability.

Using accurate lists is crucial to your email performance — but so are other pieces of the puzzle. “In the time of COVID-19, where rules and procedures are changing, prepare yourself to adopt last-minute changes in your email strategy,” says Devaki.

The email expert advises: “Update your email content to provide safety guidelines, new policies, contactless payment options, any special shipping offers, curbside pickup options, shopping hours for senior citizens, and holiday hours.” In a nutshell: put yourself in your customers’ shoes and go out of your way to offer them a safe and enjoyable experience with your brand.

Finally, Devaki suggests to “try boosting your customer loyalty by providing more incentives, show your empathy, and don’t capitalize on the fear people feel in these testing times.”

Related: 6 Reasons Why Building an Email List is so Important

Focus on creating positive emotions Josh Brown, Digital Marketing Consultant at Helpjuice, reinforces this approach. “Creating feelings that we typically think of as “negative” — like fear, greed, guilt, need for approval — can be effective in getting people to take action. But holiday season campaigns should revolve around positive feelings and soothing experiences,” Brown told me.

This is even more true in 2020 when many people have been going through an especially hard time. The last thing you should do is add to the negative atmosphere.

Related: 4 Ideas for Your Holiday Marketing Campaign

“Instead,” Brown suggests, “find ways to surprise and delight subscribers and create feelings of hope, comfort, and joy. Perhaps you can share positive stories from within the company or your customer base, or rally your community around a positive cause.”

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Segment your list by Average Order Value

Another useful tip Josh Brown gives is to segment your list by Average Order Value (AOV), which tracks the average amount a customer spends each time they buy from you.

Once you calculate that, further segment your target lists based on the following:

Look at customers that had a high AOV prior to the pandemic but are no longer making purchases or have a much lower AOV since the pandemic. “This group of people may be loyal customers who have been hit hard — perhaps you can find a way to really help them out,” Brown points out. A small business gift might be ideal.

Also, look at customers that had a high AOV prior to the pandemic and have maintained under this trend in 2020, or new customers who have shown a high AOV during the pandemic. “Do something extra to reward this group for their loyalty by creating a memorable experience for them. For instance, you could plan a special unboxing moment or include some unexpected freebies that you feel they’d enjoy. The value of what you include doesn’t really matter. As long as it’s authentic to your brand and resonates, it’ll be well received,” Josh Brown believes.
Stand out in people’s inboxes
Email volumes are usually higher during the holiday season — sometimes, by up to 122 percent. “The contest for attention in the inbox is going to be even more challenging this year,” says Tom Wozniak, Executive Director of Marketing at Optizmo. “Many businesses will be leveraging email marketing and choose to kick off the traditional holiday season early. So, it’s imperative that marketers not go into Holiday Season 2020 with a business-as-usual mindset, using the same strategies that worked last year,” Wozniak told me.

Related: Constant Contact Makes Online Marketing Easier Than You Ever Imagined

His advice? “Stand out! With more competition for the attention of every recipient, email marketers need to focus on not only grabbing initial attention but driving engagement. Whether it is a unique offer, original subject line, or different sending schedule, find a way to rise above all of the other marketing emails in your recipients’ inbox. Catch their attention and then be sure to deliver great content to drive performance.”

It’s a winning strategy not only for this holiday season but for all your email campaigns going forward.

Related: Customer Loyalty: Ten Ways to Earn More Repeat Buyers

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Liviu Tanase
Liviu TanaseFounder & CEO of ZeroBounce