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Thanksgiving is the official start of the email marketing season. While much of the world is thinking about parties and gifts, email marketers are obsessing over getting their emails read during the most important – and congested – time of the year.

To put the behemoth that is email marketing during the holiday season into context, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at a few stats from the last couple years at Campaign Monitor.

Our volume of email campaigns has been growing considerably over the years, with an impressive 38% increase in campaigns sent from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday in 2013 vs. 2012. But we’re also fortunate enough to have 36% more clients mailing this year than last, so on a per client basis the number of campaigns has been fairly steady.

Email marketing activity from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday

Email marketing activity from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday

So what’s changed?

The total number of emails going out year over year is growing rapidly. Even starting off of a sizeable base, we still sent nearly 60% more emails this year.

The same number of campaigns per client but significantly more emails sent means subscriber lists are growing. That’s right: keep rolling your eyes the next time someone tells you “email is dead.” There’s more valuable content out there than ever before, and email is still a popular way to consume it.

Naturally, more subscribers equals more activity. By sheer volume, we had a 50% increase in opens year over year, and more than a 30% increase in clicks. To put that in some perspective: campaigns sent through Campaign Monitor from 28 Nov 13 through 2 Dec 13 were opened more than 4x the number of breaths you’ll take this year.

Good news all around. Right?

The dark side to all of this is, of course, the responsiveness of lists on a per subscriber basis. The average open rate for Thanksgiving weekend campaigns this year was just under 17% — a 5% decrease from last year’s average of 17.8%. And the average click through rate as measured against the number of recipients fared even worse: down more than 17% to 2.8% from 3.4%.

Performance of campaigns sent from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday

Performance of campaigns sent from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday

So people might be subscribing to more email lists, but the standards for what makes something worthy of reading and reacting to are increasing too. Below are some tips for driving engagement with your holiday email marketing campaigns this year.

Improving open rates

Optimizing your subject line is one of the best ways you can break through the inbox clutter. Some best practices for email subject lines include:

  • Concise. Keep it short and compelling. Some recent favorites I’ve come across include “You first.” for a safety-related product announcement; “hey” for a winback campaign; and “You are the winner after all” for a post-competition follow up campaign. Have writer’s block? Stick with short and informative.
  • Scannable. If short won’t work – get the good stuff upfront. “New fitness gear: limited edition & weather-resistant” is generally a better idea than “Introducing: New limited edition weather-resistant fitness gear.”
  • Personalized. When used appropriately, personalising your subject line can be a simple way to catch your subscribers’ attention. They key is to make sure it’s useful, and to cover your bases in case data is missing from your subscriber by using fallbacks effectively. Think along the lines of, “New fitness gear for [firstname,fallback=you]” or “New fitness gear for runners in [City,fallback=your town].” Dynamic Content also offers unique ways to personalize your campaigns.
  • Tested. This is the most important “best practice.” What will work best for your subscribers, your content and your business this holiday season may end up being generic 150 character subject lines. If your A/B tests have shown that going against the grain works best for your business, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Increasing click-thrus

Driving response to your campaign is first and foremost a function of your content. But there are a few ways in which you can present that content that will help drive clicks.

  • Make your emails responsive. Most studies converge on somewhere around half of all emails being opened on mobile devices. If your emails aren’t rendering correctly for mobile users, you’re not optimising your performance. Check out our guide to responsive design for practical advice on creating mobile-friendly emails.
  • Keep your CTA clear, visible, and accessible throughout your email. Generally speaking, a standout button placed above the fold with contextual call to action links throughout your copy is most effective.
  • Increase relevance through personalisation and dynamic content. Using the example above, sending me information on cold-weather fitness gear in December is pointless if I live in Sydney, Australia. Use dynamic content to make your emails relevant to everyone on your list.

And again: remember that the most useful thing you can do to improve the results of your email campaign is test. Even if you’re seeing success with your current approach, it always pays to try alternatives. I recently came across a promotional campaign that was sent to over 10,000 subscribers and had an open rate of more than 50%. Fantastic results by any measure… until you consider that the “B” version of their campaign yielded over 60% opens.

Worried about hurting the performance of your holiday campaigns by testing versions that don’t work as well? Keep in mind that Campaign Monitor determines your winner early on and automatically delivers that campaign to the majority of your list. And if you haven’t tried sending your emails with our platform yet then give it a shot – you can always pay for a single campaign without signing up for a monthly plan.

Have any additional thoughts on what makes a successful email marketing campaign during the holiday season? Share them in the comments below.

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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