Not all ecommerce revenue is created equal. Especially holiday revenue.
Spoiler: CPMs are on the rise … cutting into already razor thin margins throughout Black Friday, Cyber Monday.
Worse, a combination of factors are making competition for attention and share of wallet even more fierce.
With the pandemic still in effect, major retailers that used to rely on brick-and-mortar traffic are shifting their focus to ecommerce, adding major dollars to their digital ad spend compared to years’ past.
The sheer volume of online orders is putting a strain on fulfillment, forcing shippers to apply surcharges that will take another slice of your profit pie. Plus, there’s the whole issue of supply chain disruptions.
Oh, and did we mention iOS updates?
Let’s explore 10 email marketing tactics with tons of email examples for your best Black Friday, Cyber Monday:
- Grow Your Email List Starting Now — Right Now
- Analyze Last Year’s Holiday Performance
- Conduct a Brief Competitive Analysis
- Entice Gift Givers with Irresistible Promotions
- Increase Open Rates with Email Subject Lines
- Realize Revenue with Early Black Friday Deals
- Build Momentum During Black Friday Weekend
- Differentiate Cyber Monday with a Sense of Urgency
- Keep Your Offers Simple & Shipping Dates Obvious
- Retain Holiday Shoppers with Post-Purchase Flows
Planning Your Black Friday Email Campaigns & Strategy
1. Grow Your Email List Starting Now — Right Now
Email subscribers spend 138% more on average than non-subscribers (Wordstream). So, the most important tactic to prioritize today is building your audience. A larger list means greater reach, driving incremental revenue over the holiday period.
There are a number of opportunities to capture email addresses both onsite and off.
Every online retailer should have a sign-up form in the header or footer of their site. In-line forms on your most-visited pages are equally simple and effective.
Your checkout flow is another easy way to gather new subscribers.
You’re asking for their email address as part of the purchase process anyway — be sure to capture the opt-in and pass that information into your email service platform for future retargeting.
Adding Facebook Lead Ads to your paid social mix can also be a great source of list growth, particularly for a last-minute push. New subscribers are typically cheaper to acquire than new customers, and a well-executed email welcome series is sure to motivate that first conversion.
The Power of Pop-Ups
The list growth tactics mentioned above are fantastic, but there’s no better way to supercharge your email acquisition efforts than through the use of an effective pop-up.
Some retailers may be skeptical of interrupting the pre-Black-Friday shopping experience, but a pop-up that offers an enticing incentive to convert is welcomed by most consumers.
While it may be tempting to utilize a giveaway to get stronger engagement, beware of low quality leads. Better to start with a nominal discount (10-20% off) to ensure you don’t pack your list with unengaged contacts who will drag down the health of your program.
Putting extra energy into capture now will pay dividends come November.
Test your creative, incentive, trigger rules and targeting. Switch up your creative or pop-up types (lightbox vs. banner vs. exit intent) for new vs. returning visitors.
When we get closer to the holidays, the promise of early access to Black Friday, Cyber Monday sales can incentivize well. If you’ve got compelling discounts coming for the holiday (as you should), remove discounts for subscription and focus exclusively on early shopping.
Shoppable Quizzes: The Holiday Triple Threat
A huge opportunity to set yourself apart this holiday — and drive conversions and loyalty beyond — is to set up a shoppable product quiz.
The benefits of quizzes are threefold:
- Gating results behind an email sign-up fuels list growth
- Helping shoppers find the perfect product drives sales
- Quizzing provides a treasure trove of data for future remarketing
Holiday-specific quizzes can help shoppers pick out gifts for others and give your brand information about each user’s buying habits. For example, is this person shopping for themselves and likely to come back on their own, or should they be tagged as a gift giver for future retargeting?
Pass responses back into your email service platform to glean insights about holiday customer cohorts. Then, use this information for personalized reactivation efforts after the holidays have passed.
Driving Urgency with SMS
Fully 82% of consumers engage with marketing content primarily on their smartphones (Adobe), so using SMS marketing to reach your customers should be a no-brainer.
Sadly, many companies have been slow to adopt this channel due to confusion over how to implement it or the feeling that text messages just don’t fit their brands. Because of these perceived barriers, SMS has yet to reach a point of saturation.
But this may be one of the last years that is true.
Remember all that competition we were talking about earlier? With open rates of 99%+ (Attentive), SMS is a surefire way to get your message across with less external noise than consumers will face in the inbox or on social.
Many ESPs now have native SMS functionality, and vendors like Attentive and Postscript have robust functionality to power text campaigns for broadcast and within flows.
Get started today by building a list of mobile numbers for targeting with holiday deals. You’ll not only give yourself a leg up this holiday period, but set your brand up with a nice head start on mastering this channel for future use.
2. Analyze Last Year’s Holiday Performance
Now that you’ve got your list-growth tactics running in the background, it’s time to plan your holiday email marketing calendar.
Analyzing past performance of your own program will give the most valuable insights for future planning.
Review your 2020 Black Friday and Cyber Monday email campaigns to identify top-performing promotions and messaging, and key dates to mail for maximum return.
Look at the campaigns with the highest open and click rates from the last year to identify key themes:
- Subject lines
- Call-to action (CTA buttons)
- Email design and creative elements
Though underutilized, click tracking across campaigns often yields unexpected insights. For emails that have multiple elements, examine which sections, promos, images, or calls-to-action are most effective.
This can also help you to identify if there are wasted clicks throughout your email templates: you may not want a top or bottom navigation or social icons in the footer if those links aren’t driving users to take the desired action.
3. Conduct a Brief Competitive Analysis
There’s a reason we recommend analyzing your own program before looking at your competition: your audience is not their audience, your business is not their business.
While it’s important to keep a pulse on your competitors, focus on quick insights and opportunities to differentiate yourself, keeping in mind that what’s proven to work for your audience is much more likely to yield results than copying off your neighbor.
Pay close attention to the frequency, timing, and offers of your competitors’ email strategies.
How often did they mail over peak periods?
This will give you a good understanding of the number of touchpoints competitors will be sending to their audience so you can determine how best to match that level of exposure.
What time of day did they send?
Consider opportunities to beat them to the inbox, or to mail during lulls throughout the day that might allow for your message to stand out.
Even for brands that mail just once per week during the rest of the year, we recommend mailing multiple times per day on key shopping days to ensure your message can be acted upon by the maximum number of subscribers, despite the flood of competing creative.
How steep were their discounts?
More than ever, consumers will be looking for good deals. Be sure yours stack up by comparison. If you aren’t already tracking direct competitors, then you can get a baseline in our detailed examination of 437 ecommerce holiday offers from last year:
Just be sure you don’t sacrifice competitiveness for profitability. In fact, that’s exactly where we’ll turn next.
Running Your Black Friday & Cyber Monday Email Sales
You’ve done your homework, you have a plan, and now it’s time to execute.
4. Entice Gift Givers with Irresistible Promotions
Consumers always want a good deal over the holidays, but compelling offers should not come at the cost of margin or poor quality, one-and-done customers. Striking a balance between driving up order volume and maintaining profit is difficult, but it’s not impossible.
Based on those 437 sites mentioned above, we found the sweet spot for promos is somewhere between 25-35% off.
Anything under 20% isn’t worth a consumer’s time — they can likely get 10-15% from signing up for your email list most of the year.
At the same time, going too steep will undercut your margin, and Black Friday shoppers are simply harder to retain, dragging down your LTV.
When it comes to your Black Friday emails: keep it simple.
Sitewide savings are easier for consumers to understand and act on, and typically easier for your team to execute.
That doesn’t mean you have to run a flat 30% off across the board, but consider the use of tiered offers that require a higher spend to unlock greater savings.
5. Increase Open Rates with Email Subject Lines
Ecommerce marketers often get so in the weeds of promotional planning and creative execution that email subject lines become an afterthought. Don’t miss this crucial opportunity.
You know how we said it was going to be competitive? Well, it is.
Consumers will be waking up on Black Friday morning to dozens of promotions from pretty much every brand whose email marketing they’ve opted into.
All those carefully planned promos and pixel-perfect designs mean nothing if your subscribers don’t see them.
Subject lines can be used to drive urgency, communicate the depth of discounts they’ll find in the message itself, and generate so much excitement they can actually increase purchase intent.
Here’s a few of my favorites from years past:
🍗 Put Down the Drumstick. Black Friday Starts NOW.
This Thanksgiving Day email offers an entertaining nod to the holiday that stops users from scrolling, and the all caps NOW generates excitement to browse the newly launched promotion before anyone else.
👇 Better Than Their Deals ☝️
This brand gives a cheeky nod to the fact that your inbox is certainly flooded with offers. The emojis catch your attention, and the sheer bravado of the subject makes you want to open to see if their deals are, in fact, better than the rest.
Black Friday Doorbusters END TODAY. Snag ’em before it slams shut.
This subject line does a lot of heavy lifting in just 66 characters. You’re immediately made aware that some of the brand’s best offers of the year are about to end. And the clever copy on the door “slamming shut” activates some serious FOMO.
Make sure subject lines are included as part of your comprehensive campaign strategy. Understand the length, tone, and content that compels users to open throughout the year.
If you don’t have any standout subject lines from the past year, or it’s your first Black Friday, Cyber Monday, there’s plenty of time to run A/B tests between now and then.
Go back to your competitors or favorite brands for inspiration and put ideas to the test with your own audience to drive holiday engagement.
6. Realize Revenue with Early Black Friday Deals
It’s hard to believe the holiday promotional period would start even earlier than it has in year’s past, but all signs point to an October kick-off.
Retailers facing fulfillment delays, either from supply chain or carrier slow-downs, should also begin early. Why? Because …
Holiday shopping won’t be centered on Black Friday, Cyber Monday; it’ll be a full-quarter activity.
Starting your 2021 holiday sales early will be imperative for capturing a greater share of wallet from shoppers, and ensuring you can get items to your customers on time in the face of delays.
Build your marketing calendar around timely product launches, early promotion of gift guides, or by running sales in conjunction with underutilized holidays:
- Single’s Day (Nov. 11): Developed by Alibaba to celebrate treating yourself, this holiday is a great opportunity to message self-gifting, or play with discounts or pricing based on the date: select SKUs for $11.11 or 11% off.
- Veteran’s Day (also Nov. 11): This is another great opportunity to run an early flash sale to drive revenue if the Single’s Day vibe doesn’t match your brand.
VIP early access for particular segments or for your email or SMS subscribers is another key opportunity; make your best, most engaged customers feel special and capture early revenue to kick-start your holiday sales.
Finally, absolutely mail on Thanksgiving Day.
With more retailers closing physical stores on the holiday itself, consumers looking to score early deals will be turning online.
Time your messages to hit either early in the morning before festivities begin, or after the early dinner when revelers are stuffed to the gills and spending time on their smartphones waiting to feel hungry enough for seconds.
7. Build Momentum During Black Friday Weekend
If you’re launching your deals early as we’ve recommended, you’ll need to think carefully about how to keep momentum and interest high throughout the weekend leading up to Cyber Monday.
Extending your Black Friday sale keeps conversions coming. Consumers will naturally believe your Black Friday sale is only good day-of, so a “sale extended” message on Saturday will make them feel like they’re getting away with something.
Campaign messages are only one piece of the puzzle, however. A huge opportunity exists in optimizing your flows to ensure window shoppers and cart abandoners come back to purchase.
Shopping around is common during the holidays as gifters consider which items are right for the special people in their lives, as well as reviewing the myriad of hot sales available across the internet.
Shoppers will be browsing multiple sites and using their carts as “wishlists” until making a final decision.
To convert customers who are shopping around, make your trigger rules more aggressive.
For example, a cart series that triggers three-hours post-abandon during the rest of the year should be adjusted to trigger within 30-60 minutes … before the user has an opportunity to convert with one of your competitors.
If you don’t already offer free shipping, this is the best opportunity for you to grease the wheels at checkout.
Hidden costs are the top reason shoppers abandon their carts; if this incentive isn’t already part of your abandonment flows, add it as a deal-sweetener.
Finally, be sure to communicate clearly when each promotion will be coming to an end. Pepper urgency-driving statements throughout subject lines, banners, and hero images to encourage users to convert before the offer expires.
8. Differentiate Cyber Monday with a Sense of Urgency
Keeping your deals and creative fresh is critical to sustained engagement and revenue, so be sure to add variety to your promotional mix. Promotions — no matter how splashy — will get stale after a couple of days.
To keep shoppers coming back, switch up your promotions between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
This example of graduating offers from ModCloth is fantastic.
The Black Friday discount on the left is compelling, but to unlock the highest percentage off you have to reach a high order value threshold. On Cyber Monday, the threshold disappears.
For someone who didn’t convert, this may be the extra motivation they need.
Plus, there’s a big enough difference in the promotion to compel someone who purchased just a few days earlier to click through and shop around for another gift, perhaps for themselves.
Above all, make it clear that the time to take advantage of these deals is limited. Use urgency statements in subject lines and in the body of the email itself, and add in countdown timers to activate conversion-driving FOMO.
Your Best Black Friday & Cyber Monday Email Campaigns
With your promotions outlined all that’s left is compelling creative and merchandising to get your audience excited to buy.
9. Keep Your Offers Simple & Shipping Dates Obvious
The strongest holiday campaigns are typically the easiest to understand.
No less than 160,000,000 emails were sent last Black Friday (Campaign Monitor), so if your message doesn’t get right to the point, your subscribers will be quick to trash it and move on to the next deal.
Ensure your offer can be digested at a glance so users are compelled to click through and start shopping.
Bonus points if you can make gifting easier through the use of gift guides. Organize your products by persona, category, or pricepoint to make it simple for shoppers to find what they’re looking for for everyone on their list.
This year more than any other, be sure to communicate early and often about your ability to fulfill orders in time for Christmas.
Consumers are keenly aware of shipping slowdowns since COVID and anxious about getting gifts early enough to put them under the tree.
The worst thing you can do is overpromise and underdeliver for gifts during the holiday season. Set reasonable deadlines that your shippers can certainly hit, and be transparent in communication.
Aside from the benefit of strong communication for customers, this messaging drives urgency, and motivates consumers to convert quickly.
Turn Holiday Shoppers into Loyal Customers
Driving revenue over the holidays is the easy part. The real challenge comes in retaining new customers acquired over this promotional period.
10. Retain Holiday Shoppers with Post Purchase Flows
As shoppers turn online, they’re being introduced to a host of digitally native brands they’ve never shopped from before. During Q4, they’re primarily looking for good deals.
Great for acquiring new customers. Terrible for retaining them.
To check our assumptions around holiday shopping behavior, we examined LTV over time for 50 ecommerce retailers, comparing non-holiday cohorts (customers acquired during business-as-usual periods) to new customer cohorts from BFCM and the gifting period.
While we see growth in LTV over time from all three cohorts—even some of the deal-seekers and gifters come back for more—the difference is clear: the LTV you can expect to generate from customers acquired over the holidays is significantly lower than non-holiday.
This is made even more frustrating with the knowledge that the margin for holiday shoppers is further crunched thanks to the stellar discounts on offer that attracted them in the first place.
The good news is a well-executed post-purchase flow can help to drive excitement for impending deliveries, build brand affinity, and increase the likelihood of repeat purchase.
You may already have a post-purchase series live, but now is a great time to review it through the eyes of a new customer. And not just any new customer, notoriously disloyal gift shoppers.
Literally print out your entire post-purchase flow and ask yourself, does this series (draped in holiday cheer) …
- Thank them for shopping?
- Send shipping updates automatically?
- Provide care instructions and how to videos?
- Lower the likelihood of returns and ease exchanges?
- Gather feedback and marketing assets via reviews or UGC?
- Entice them with a timely and personalized bounceback offer?
If you answered no to any of the above, it’s time to make some tweaks.
Email Marketing for Black Friday: ‘Plan for Change’
The reality of 2021 is that the best laid plans can easily be made obsolete by changes in the economy and consumer confidence.
Brands that mix one part planning with one part planning for the unexpected will come out on top. If you’ve downloaded this article as a guide to share with your team — or shape your strategy — you’ve nailed the first.
But how do you plan for change? Three tips …
First, pay attention to economic news. Plan promotions accordingly and know that shoppers’ confidence may wane and wax throughout the fall and into the winter months.
Second, it’s never a bad idea to create contingency campaigns in case a promo falls flat and you need an extra boost.
If you think you might need to add a deal-sweetener like free shipping or a gift with purchase to a campaign, design and code those messages now so you have them at the ready for a quick deployment as needed.
Third, errors inevitably happen (go find some wood to knock on!) and high-traffic times can make them difficult to address quickly.
Spend a few minutes putting together a process for sending an “oops” email and have a template ready to customize and send if you experience a site outage, coupon code error, or other unexpected problem.
No one knows what this quarter has in store, so be ready to roll with the punches. Happy holidays!
Mandi Moshay is the Director of Retention at Common Thread Collective. She’s been managing retention marketing campaigns on the both the brand side and at agencies for over a decade. Connect with Mandi on Twitter or LinkedIn to talk about email and SMS marketing or, better yet, to share a picture of your dog.