During the Holidays, the Email Must Go Through

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polarexpress_smallADOTAS – Despite a slow-to-recover economy, all indicators point to record-breaking volumes of email leading up to the all-important Cyber Monday again this year. Last year, we published a post-mortem report on the retail holiday — email volumes hit all-time new heights.

Even as bad as the sales numbers seemed, sites like Amazon still saw visits to their site were up 44% from the year before! The economy is in a slightly better place this year, and email volume is poised to set record-breaking numbers again. Although the projected dollars are fewer, consumer interest is still high, which calls for marketers to be even more clever in how they engage their customers and prospects.

While it’s tempting this time of year to send lots of campaigns, it’s better to be targeted and focused. Otherwise, you risk brand disengagement, lower sales and deliverability fall-out that even the most talented of ISP relations managers would have a hard time cleaning up.

A quick look at how major ISPs are handling the ramp up to this week’s holiday bonanza reveals moderate patterns. The most striking thing to note, however, is the contrast between before and after.

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For the most part these are fairly normal delivery rates – with the exception of Gmail, which has been trending down since the start of the month.

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Overall, deliverability has a perfectly flat trend line with a slight increase of mail going missing. But for all intents and purposes, this too is normal, given that on average, 20% of consumer mail doesn’t reach the intended recipient. Additionally, analysis reveals a 14% increase in email volume in November over October and thus far delivery rates to the inbox have held steady ground.

In the week leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday last year, analysis showed a definite decrease in overall deliverability. There was a decline of as much as 25% in mail that went missing and wound up as either junk mail or simply didn’t arrive.

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It’s worthwhile to ask why this trend keeps happening each year in the days leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Marketers’ zeal to get mail into the inbox backfires every single time. It’s been nearly a decade since the invention of the spam button by AOL – yet marketers still choose to send email on roughly the same days.

Marketers cause a virtual traffic jam of advertising bound for the same ISPs. In order to deal with that digital mess, ISPs are forced to queue messages as they deal with the backlog and continue mitigating the millions of pieces of spam bound for those same inboxes.

The holidays shouldn’t be a nail-biter if marketers are prepared to make fundamental changes to their mailing habits. Change can be difficult, because of the fear of the unknown and the sometimes paralyzing need to drive sales. Still, without experimentation and variety, marketers will find achieving consistently higher ROI difficult, because change goes hand in hand with risk.

The following recommendations are based upon our observations of how a little change can make a potentially big splash for your marketing program this holiday season.

1. Modulate the time of day that you send your messages. According to our research, marketers that send between 8pm and 12am see the highest average rate of delivery. However, this conflicts with the strategy of most marketers, who insist on delivering their marketing between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Average delivery rates for traditional times run between 67%-73% inbox placement, while late night sends see 88% to 92% inbox placement.

2. Avoid the Tuesday/Wednesday cyber traffic jam. It’s long been assumed that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best days to send email. According to our research, these two days see inbox placement, on average, 10% lower than Saturday and Sunday. These weekdays also demonstrate much longer delivery times, indicative of fierce inbox competition.

3. Always adhere to best practices. Keep your lists free of unsubscribers and bounces. This is, of course, always a great idea, but during an already difficult period, you will do yourself even more disservice by drawing unwanted and negative attention towards your reputation as a sender. Make sure your lists are up-to-date and trouble free.

4. Create more segments to give you greater control. Segment your list and split out your top tier ISPs from the rest. Because the top-tier ISPs see the most volume and traffic, they will potentially slow down the rest of your campaigns. By creating separate segments, you can get the rest of your mail out sooner and assume that delivery to the largest ISPs will move a bit slower.

5. Test your creative to ensure brand consistency and IP reputation before going into production. Make sure you stay on top of your IP reputation by conducting pre-flight testing. Optimize your emails to ensure they render properly when they arrive; code them correctly to avoid being identified as spam. Test, test, test and test some more!

The competition is fierce but there is room for success. Yes, there is logic that says simply stay the course and do what’s worked in the past. However, the rate of change is constantly accelerating. By adapting to new technology, the new media consumption habits of your customers, and most importantly, taking advantage of new and exciting ways to engage in meaningful dialogues with your consumers, you can gain more by listening than just talking.

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