7 email marketing tips to boost holiday sales

It's here-that wonderful, magical time of year when consumers are in the shopping mood and ecommerce business owners turn to email marketing to drive holiday sales.

Mike Effle, CEO of Vendio, says email marketing can be your ecommerce door buster, if you have a particularly good deal (or offer) and a clear call to action that drives visits to your ecommerce store. Once you get customers to visit, though, "you need to cross-sell intelligently to increase overall cart value and profits," he says.

How-To: 10 Holiday Shopping Changes to Make Right Now to Your Ecommerce Site

To discover what email marketing trends will hit inboxes this year, and to learn what you can do to improve your own holiday messages, ecommerce and email marketing experts CIO.com spoke with offered the following tips.

1. Create a Holiday Schedule and Stick to It

Ron Cates, director of new market development at Constant Contact, recommends starting with a schedule that dictates the exact dates on which you'll be sending emails and stick to it. "It's better to figure out when you will send emails corresponding to these events in advance, so that you can gather content with a good amount of time to prepare," he says.

Plan email marketing messages for upcoming holidays such as Hanukkah, Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year's. (And next year, don't forget about Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.)

2. Offer Content Readers Will Love

It can be a juggling act, but a good holiday email marketing strategy is to provide readers with relevant content they can use, not just a sales pitch. Rick Faulk, Campaigner's GM, insists that what's "inside the box" is important. Spending time writing content that your readers will love is essential to any great email campaign, he says.

"There is nothing more disappointing than a bad gift wrapped in pretty packaging. While design is an important element of a successful campaign, engaging content is the most significant part of your email," Faulk adds. "If your layout or design is lacking, people will still read a well-thought-out email that theyre interested in."

3. Integrate Social Media Channels with Email

Mitch Harper, co-founder and CEO of ecommerce platform Bigcommerce, says social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+ are "mission-critical marketing tools, as well as powerful customer service and sales tools," for small online retailers. "Be sure to update social profiles with current links, photos or videos of featured products, plus contact information to make the engagement experience for customers as simple as possible," he adds.

How-To: Use Social Media to Create Business Value

Similarly, Constant Contact's Cates recommends integrating social media channels with email. This is particularly pertinent during the holidays, because consumers are looking at all digital outlets to find the best deals. Cates suggests promoting your most recent email marketing campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. Include direct links to your social media pages in the body of email marketing messages, too.

4. Wow Your Readers With Holiday Rewards

The fact that someone has subscribed to your mailing list shows that he values your brand, and Cates says there's no better time to reward him for his loyalty than during the holiday season.

"We often talk with our customers about the importance of 'wow' experiences," he says. "If you can provide an experience that goes above and beyond what consumers have grown accustomed to from other retailers, then you have a good chance of securing a new loyal customer."

While there's a lot of talk about free shipping and other "wow" promotions during the holidays, Cates says you have to make sure you can incur the accompanying short-term losses for the potential of a long-term gain. If not, then there are other ways to wow, including offering exclusive discounts to loyal customers.

Likewise, Vendio's Effle recommends offering social followers and email subscribers special exclusives during the holidays. Position these offers next to your website's social icons to build those valuable social media marketing channels, he says-and don't forget to follow up in email and in social with those exclusive offers.

5. Remember Your Mobile Customers

Keep in mind that your email customers are increasingly mobile. Citing a recent report from Knotice, Effle says more than one in three emails are read on a mobile device or tablet. On the design side, your holiday email marketing messages should be formatted to fit these devices with a clearly visible call to action. "Direct these mobile email marketing leads to buy your products or services through an equally compelling mobile or tablet shopping experience to increase conversions," Effle adds.

How-To: 9 Ways Mobile Commerce Will Increase Your Holiday Sales

For ideal email formatting on mobile devices, Campaigner's Faulk says the ultimate solution is to have the email fill the screen completely, regardless of whether the phone is in portrait or landscape orientation. When coding templates, you can increase email text size, change fonts or use email-valid CSS to improve the mobile viewing experience, he adds.

Finally, remember to use thumb-friendly buttons for Sign Up, Register and social media links to make it easy for readers to click on the buttons. "Nothing is more frustrating than wanting to click on a link in an email, but [it's] too small to click on," Faulk says.

6. Make a List and Check It Twice

Like Santa, you should make a list and check it twice, Faulk says. After sending messages, check the analytics of your subscriber list to see how your emails are being read. "You may find that 25% are reading on a desktop versus 75% on a mobile device," he explains. "By checking your list and analytics to understand how your subscribers are accessing and interacting, it will help you design campaigns that match their needs."

How-To: Use Big Data Analytics to Stop Customer Churn

7. The Perfect Email: Simple, But Not Unnoticed

"Remember that this is the time of year when your readers receive a lot of emails from brands vying for their attention," Cates points out. To make sure emails don't go unnoticed, dial up the frequency of emails slightly-and with the rash of holidays over the next few weeks, you shouldn't be at a loss of interesting content to provide readers. Above all else, though, "maintain respect for their inbox and don't overdo it," he adds.

Michael Lee, director of global marketing for Alibaba.com, says you can set your messages apart by using simple designs and a clear, single-minded call to action to increase click through. "For example, include one or two deals in each email," he advises, adding, "remember to not saturate your customers with a plethora of emails during the month of December."

Faulk compares email marketing to having the perfect gift in a simple package. "When it comes to email marketing, graphics and HTML have enabled us to serve up content in a pretty package," he says. "However, when designing for both desktop and mobile subscribers, simple styling is the prettiest package of all."

Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has been covering small business, electronic commerce and Internet technology for more than a decade. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.

Read more about e-commerce in CIO's E-commerce Drilldown.

This story, "7 email marketing tips to boost holiday sales" was originally published by CIO.

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