Observations from holiday 2016 to take with you in the new year

As I look at my Christmas tree that I still have not yet put away, it immediately brings me back to the family, shopping, stress and email that just ensued over the past few weeks. The volume of email that marketers sent during the holidays definitely spiked. Year-over-year increases were steady and Black Friday itself showed a 55% volume increase. When volume increases like this it’s even more difficult to stand out from the clutter of the inbox. So what did marketers do this holiday season to differentiate their brand? And what can we learn from these approaches for the year ahead?

Feeling altruistic this season – and beyond

A number of brands went to new heights to stand out during the holidays. Patagonia, for one, donated 100% of their Black Friday sales to environmentally friendly organizations. It ended up being a HUGE sales day for them, well beyond what they anticipated, resulting in donations of $100M to charity. Other brands ran similar campaigns throughout the year like Eddie Bauer and REI who capitalized on environmental friendly and charitable content with Earth Day, and REI #OptOutside, which encouraged consumers to get outside instead of shopping on Thanksgiving.

Takeaway: An altruistic spirit strengthens emotional consumer connections that will extend well into the new year. If an altruistic approach aligns with your brands’ core values it can be a successful approach, but it has to feel genuine and tightly aligned with your customers’ values as well.

Looking at business differently

While many brands focused on the bread and butter messaging of shopping (i.e. back in stock, promotions and sales), other brands looked for new ways to differentiate their message to grab the attention of the subscriber with unexpected content.

Two brands that made us take notice were Uber and Blue Apron.

It isn’t unusual for Uber to shake things up. The ride-sharing service has delivered everything from puppies to ice cream and 2016 Cubs Championship gear. And this holiday season they took the opportunity to deliver consumers their favorite ugly sweater. It wasn’t just about delivering ugly sweaters though, there was an added layer of personalization on top – sweaters that aligned closely to participating cities.

For Blue Apron, the switch was in their messaging strategy. Their email content tends to be very transactional in nature delivering, “get these meals this week,” messaging. But over the holidays the messaging style changed dramatically and shifted to an offer based, gift giving theme. They leveraged fun and clever animation to capture consumer’s attention and get their subscribers thinking about Blue Apron as a gift-able item.

Takeaway: An ‘out-of-the-box’ messaging strategy enhances personalization. Consider finding opportune times throughout the coming year and dare to be different. Keeping your customers engaged with content and strategy variations creates a sense of anticipation when your message hits their inbox.

Finally leveraging SMS effectively

An increased number of brands leveraged the promotional nature of the holiday season as an opportunity to drive channel acquisition, especially SMS. Finding the right marketing application of SMS has been a hot topic of conversation for years now, but cross-channel execution hasn’t quite caught up.

Pier 1 recognized that consumers who are actively engaged with multiple channels are often more valuable customers. So, just days before the Christmas holiday and the first day of Hanukkah, Pier 1 included SMS acquisition messaging as the primary message content in their email, encouraging registration in exchange for notifications for in store events and deals.

Takeaway: Connecting cross-channel experiences creates more valuable customer experiences, especially when it is complimentary messaging and a logical extension of messaging for the customer. This year, look at your cross-channel strategy closely and find opportunities to get email workinging seamlessly with complimentary channels.

An increased use of live content

An increased number of brands included live content within their emails to stand out in a previously static inbox. Count downs are always popular during the holiday season and Target did a great job with their “10 days of Deals,” campaign. The retailer’s calendar approach of the days/dates to save in addition to the countdown notification of the ‘hours left to save’ helped consumers plan their holiday shopping.

Takeaway: Email is no longer a static channel, excitement breeds engagement

So as you’re starting to think about your plans for 2017, here’s a few things to keep top of mind:

  • Every day is not Black Friday. With the massive expansion of the “Black Friday” shopping experience, it has lost its luster a bit. Look for ways you can differentiate your messaging while still appealing to the bargain hunter in many consumers – throughout the year.
  • Evaluate your post-purchase communication strategy and make sure it’s consistent with (and stands out from) your peers. Consumers have come to expect certain things following a purchase. – Additional promotional offerings, items that might be of interest to them based on past purchase history, notifications about a ‘no hassle’ return policy, etc.
  • It’s important to recognize the various holidays consumers are celebrating throughout the year. But don’t make it too generic to try and generate the most appeal. Don’t lose sight of what you know about your customers. Market to their behaviors, their interests. Leverage data to understand their profile. It will give you insights into the types of presents they plan to purchase during the holiday season and all year long.