In this article you will find questions and answers that can help you prepare for another busy Black Friday and a following holiday season. These solutions are primarily about Black Friday, but they can and should be applied to all special promotion campaigns, during the holiday season and beyond, too.
Black Friday - Email Campaign Preparation
Q: Black Friday is still a few weeks away. What should I be doing now?
1. Re-engage and plan
First of all, you should start re-engaging. Instead of suddenly increasing your email volume with inactive contacts for your Black Friday campaigns, this increase should be done over time, re-engaging older customers before the event. Try to create appealing re-engagement campaigns and teasers promoting your campaigns to help build the expectation and anticipation.
You should also draw up a plan. You probably know what you want to achieve this year, but have you defined your objectives and performance metrics? And how will you test and optimize your content to maximize results?
2. Select your audience
Be selective about your audience – When selecting data outside of your usual active base, it’s important to think about who you are sending to. You can’t go wrong sending to your occasional and sale-only customers, but the contacts you messaged two Black Fridays ago, who still haven’t opened an email? Maybe not…
Check your data, segmentation, plan your sendings (content, personalization, timings, etc). Also, use some re-engagement strategy now, so that you can separate the good from the bad data you might have.
Prepare ISPs for larger volumes – we're seeing this more and more often, marketers sending pre-Black Friday campaigns days before the actual weekend – which can distribute volumes and help ramp-up leading towards to the big day. Mailbox providers will be more receptive to volume spikes on the day as they would have already seen a steady increase. Be careful not to overdo your campaigns, though - you don't want to annoy your subscribers.
3. Target your campaigns
Targeted campaigns are more effective. Start preparing and creating your segments now based on the offers and content you plan to send. This way you can understand the volumes, solve any issues and refine your sending plan.
Start testing early so you have actionable data when it's time to act – you will be competing for limited subscriber attention so being prepared in advance is critical. Have a clearly defined marketing calendar aligned to your target segments. Run a re-engagement series now, so subscribers aren't surprised to hear from your during Black Friday when they may not have heard from you for a while previously.
Plan ahead, identify your key campaigns, create your segments, test the content and pre-schedule them. Having the most important elements of your Black Friday campaign already prepared, tested and scheduled means that no matter how busy you are, you know these will be unaffected, and will go out at the time you planned.
Q: How do I define my active and inactive email recipients?
A customer is typically defined as active if they have some sort of tracked activity in the last 30-90 days. Your segmentation has to be based on engagement. This means: clickers, openers, buyers, web visitors, social media engagement. Divide your contacts into two sets of actives and inactives and send plan to send first to your engaged contacts. You can also use registration date, purchase history, multiple engagement points (I.e. multiple clicks vs just one) for segmentation.
You may as well test them. What works for you and your customers will be based on your products, your marketing and your customers. Here's two links to help:
- Dela Quist explains how to re-engage and drive revenue from 'inactive' recipients.
- Antony Humphreys from the RSPB explains how switching from a definition of active from 6 months to 2 years resulted in an increase in responses, website activity and memberships - and reduced complaint rates.
Q: Testing subject lines and content requires test sends - how can I perform email testing for time-sensitive offers and daily sending over Black Friday?
Start by doing research around what Subject Lines worked for your brand in the past during Black Friday. While you don't necessarily want to completely recycle these subject lines, you can at least adapt them to your needs this year. If possible, you can also do a small test the days leading up to Black Friday with verbiage similar to what you want to send. This is a good opportunity to pre-emptively warn your subscribers of what to expect so they can be on the lookout for your deals.
You can also always test some time-sensitive deals prior to Black Friday. In this case you can consider it as doing your homework before an exam and being prepared. It does require additional work, but it is definitely more efficient to know your target audience before actual Black Friday comes.
Q: While I am planning, what else should I consider?
Learn from previous years' successes and mistakes:
- What went well in terms of product sales?
- What targeting and segmentation worked?
- What problems did you have?
- Review last year and refine your strategy.
- Who are you sending to?
- What are you sending?
- What is the best time to send your emails?
If you plan to send to a considerably higher volume around Black Friday, start to increase the volume slowly in the weeks before. Most ISPs don't like a sudden and huge increase in volume.
If you have time-sensitive deals, consider strategies have you used during previous years that worked well for your brand (and what didn't)? Try to address any deliverability problems that you have had.
Start preparing your personalization - Blasting to a full database a product that is interesting to only 10% of recipients will just create noise - especially with your early campaigns. On Black Friday marketers are competing for attention. Sending low-interest emails will make it less likely that future emails are opened. DMA research shows every year that the brand, not the subject line, is the primary reason why recipients choose to open an email. Make sure your brand is associated with interesting, relevant, compelling offers that trigger that automatic response to open your mail.
Do not forget to consider at which times of the day you are sending emails to your recipients. Chances are that other of marketers will send at similar times, especially at the top of the hour and that is the main cause of email delays. Instead of sending a newsletter at 8:00am, consider sending at, for example, 8:17am - this way you will be able to:
1. Avoid larger delays due to mail queues in the outgoing and incoming mail servers;
2. Avoid being bunched up among all other Black Friday deals from your competitors and appear at the top of the offers in your recipients' mailbox.
Black Friday - Email sending
Q: What are things that I can do to help guarantee success?
Prioritize active recipients first. To determine all your valid, subscribed contacts, you need to understand what goes on behind the scenes, so you can prioritize them. Here are some good tips to achieve this:
- Since email providers can see which campaigns get a good response, the more of your emails that are read and clicked, the more they will trust your campaigns and deliver more of your emails to the inbox. If, on the other hand, they see that your emails are not being read and clicked, they are more likely to limit your emails and give your space in the inbox to someone else. So your sending priority should always be to your most engaged contacts first, with less engaged sent a little later.
- During the weeks leading to Black Friday, prepare your campaigns and your segmentation, look at your planned sending volumes and compare with your normal sending volumes. If your planned single-send or daily volumes are higher than normal, consider splitting large sends over multiple campaigns. And don't just send on Black Friday, but also send the days before and afterwards.
- Don't forget abandoned baskets. Even on Black Friday consumers do not buy on impulse. They browse, save items, compare and finally make a decision. Sometimes they tend to decide very close to the end of the day, after they have weighted all the pros and cons of each product they are buying. But this also leads them to forget where they were, which products they saw and most liked. So they can be very happy to receive a “reminder” of where they left some of the products they have browsed. Here is where an abandoned basket campaign makes the difference. Make sure your abandoned basket program is up to date and is working properly.
- Try something different. This is the busiest time of the year for email and you need to stand out, so play around with subject lines and content. Of course you should test and optimize your key campaigns where you have the time and resources, but what works in a normal week may not work for Black Friday and vice versa; so don’t be afraid to try something new.
Q: What sending strategies are risky?
The most obvious answer to this question is anything that causes a spike in volume. ISPs and email filters know the volumes you typically send and you risk being filtered if you introduce huge spikes in volume that aren't expected behavior by your brand. To avoid spikes in volume, use the weeks before Black Friday to slowly increase your volumes to your planned Black Friday levels.
Another risky thing to do is dipping too far back into your older data. Black Friday will see customers coming back and so is a great time of year to refresh and reinvigorate your list. But you have to be sensible. Contact data still needs to be correct and valid; you must send emails that your chosen recipients are likely to be interested in. And this goes without saying, but you must always operate within the laws of the countries or regions you are sending to.
The biggest mistake you can make is if you don't make a plan prior to Black Friday or if you don't test anything in advance.
Q: The Deliverability Advisor in the Emarsys platform shows a warning for the use of 'Friday' or 'Black Friday' in the Subject line - is my campaign likely to be flagged as spam in this case?
The majority of marketers are sending Black Friday deals in the last week of November. This phrase becomes so generic that it is found in both legitimate email traffic and spam, so there is a chance that 'Friday' and 'Black Friday' in email bodies and subject lines will be identified and checked by email filters. However, email filtering is highly intelligent and complex, looking at more than email content. List hygiene, good targeting, plus subject lines and content which generate attention and engagement (as well as a correctly authenticated sender domain), are the most important factors for successful email deliverability.
So the warning is there for you to be aware of, so that you can incorporate these words in your content and subject line testing, to see if alternatives drive better delivery engagement and campaign success.
Q: I need to send full-list campaigns, including contacts that typically are not included in campaigns - what Emarsys features can I use to make those big sends less risky and more effective?
Use the Segmentation (and maybe some Automation Center) that allows you to start the send based on the most engaged contacts to get a better response form the providers and avoid your emails getting blocked.
Start engaging already with this subset of contacts to build up their expectation.
Q: What time of day should I send my most important Black Friday campaign?
Before you program the send, see which are the best times based on your results: which time of the day you have your better results? And avoid sending at the same time as others (advance or delay your send 5/10 minutes) to uneven hours (i.e. 2:56pm).
Earlier is not always better: while you may get ahead of other deals, not all subscribers may be awake to see your emails at 3 AM or 4 AM. By the time they do check, your campaigns could be buried under the hundreds of others they've received since then. Be cognizant of when your subscribers engage with your emails historically.
Black Friday - Other topics
Q: Will iOS15 and/or iOS16 impact my Black Friday email marketing?
Most probably the changes are going to have some impact in your results, however, this will be on the analysis part as you will not be able to know with accuracy the opens and clicks of the Apple Mail App contacts. Opens in Apple as in all providers are already skewed due to pre-fetching of data. Relying only upon this metric and judge the success of your campaigns is certainly not enough. For more information, see our guide to handling the changes of the iOS 15 update.
Q: With iOS15 and later versions changing open rates, what success metrics should be used for marketing and testing?
If you have historic data (before iOS15 went live) for Apple users it may be worth using these. The point of an email is ultimately to convert them to a purchaser, which is much more valuable than just an open or click.
Q: Over the Black Friday period, what changes do ISPs and email providers make that senders should be aware of?
There is more scrutiny on the engagement of your campaigns. Also, the providers most probably will have a less friendly approach to emails as they need to separate between good and bad emails, so make sure that your email are good and interesting (more opens/clicks = less spam). Some ISPs may also apply more scrutiny to emails for which the words 'Friday' or 'Black Friday' are used in the subject line.
Keeping in mind that mailbox providers will receive email traffic that is incomparable to any other day of the year, there are some things to pay attention to. Most likely priority will be given to emails that need less time to be analysed and processed, so really check whether you want to include those large HD images, gifs and loads of links (especially refrain from adding any new links that were not present in your content before). When it comes to email content, "less is more" will be the trend that mailbox providers would like senders to follow during the Black Friday weekend.
Black Friday - What should every marketing team know or be thinking about?
Engaging your inactive customers
Black Friday is a time when many marketing campaigns use typically inactive data. And it works because Black Friday is a time when consumers make one-off purchases. When done well, the Black Friday period is a good opportunity to re-engage inactives and expand the active segment. But it's really important to go back to normal good practices for segmentation, targeting and data lifecycle after Black Friday - consumer behavior and email filters will go back to normal, and so should you.
Avoiding limitations by ISPs
Online services have taken a beating in previous Black Fridays, with outages and delays hitting the big providers and retailers. Email services are no different and may protect themselves from outages by strictly controlling traffic, resulting in delays that you can't control or influence.
Our advice is to split your campaigns into segments that are most and least likely to generate revenue, and send the highest revenue generating campaigns at your chosen peak times, and send those with lower likelihood of generating revenue in between your peak times. And try not to introduce problems by putting strict time-bound content or offers in your emails.
Understand previous years, so that you can learn and improve this year. Understand what went well, what targeting worked, what didn't work as well as you hoped, whether you had any problems.
The importance of testing
Test, test and test again! Use the time between now and Black Friday to test. Perform A/B testing for your subject lines and your CTAs. Test your responsive HTML for rendering across desktop and mobile. Test your multi-channel processes - is it more effective to follow-up with an sms or social targeting? Content testing helps improve inbox rates, click rates, open rates, and ultimately improves revenue.
And test your technology too. Test your APIs, your automation, your personalization, your targeting, your segments. Test your links and images. And if you are planning campaigns over the evenings and weekends, test your scheduling too.