Getting holiday email marketing right

Data and views from the Consumer Insights & Targeting team at Experian Marketing Services

*This is a guest post by James Murray, Digital Insights Manager at Experian Marketing Services*

James Murray, Experian

For retailers across the world, the end of year holiday season continues to be incredibly significant as by far the biggest revenue driver across the industry. Every year from October to December – during which period there are 29 key holiday dates – brands across the world look for increasingly innovative ways to approach holiday shoppers with marketing messages designed to maximise revenue and engage customers.

However, as any global brand knows not all markets are identical – and local nuances around key shopping periods can often be the difference between success and failure when it comes to marketing campaigns. Experian’s first international holiday email performance study looked at the approaches of global brands to email marketing, across a variety of countries and found that there are significant geographical differences in customer behaviours and responses among the tactics some retailers employ.

So how can marketers learn from their local markets and create campaigns that work across the different borders?

Cross-border campaigns

For any brand that is looking to operate on a global scale, consideration as to how local events and holidays are celebrated differently throughout the season is very important. The international holiday email performance study examined more than 100,000 email campaigns sent by more than 1000 brands across ten markets including Australia, China, France, Hong Kong, India, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, the United Kingdom and the US. The study indicated that timing is imperative here, and event and date significance may vary greatly by country or region. For example:

  • Starting points for campaigns vary from market to market – France, for example, sees the bulk of its holiday emails begin to be deployed in November whereas Spain starts much earlier in October, tying into the region’s Dia de la Hispanidad
  • In New Zealand, holiday emails are often linked to the start of the Summer season – significant volume peaks come at the start of December and are often accompanied by end-of-season campaigns
  • Asian countries showed pronounced volume variability as the region is less influenced by the Christmas calendar – in China and Hong Kong, for example, email activity slows down in early October due to National Day

Balancing volume with relevance

To capitalise on the large amount of gift giving associated with the holidays, marketers typically increase the volume of campaigns sent between October and December. Although volume increases during this time of year, it’s important that marketers still maintain relevance with their subscribers to help their communications and get subscribers to the open and click.

To ensure relevance and boost engagement, a variety of tactics are being leveraged globally to attempt to stand out from the competition. These include:

  • Personalisation – using existing customer data to personalise content is used to varying levels. France (37.5%)and Spain (13.7%) have some of the highest personalisation rates in their holiday emails, with Spain garnering a 21.2 per cent open rate and 4.5 per cent click rate using this technique
  • Urgency – the Asia Pacific (APAC) region used urgency as a tactic to influence purchase decisions, with some of the highest results. In China, urgency campaigns achieved 12.5 per cent and 2.2 per cent for open and click rates respectively, compared with standard mailings that achieved an 8.8 per cent open rate and a 1.7 per cent click rate
  • Triggered response emails such as “abandoned cart” campaigns typically produce high response rates, especially in Spain where click rates during the holiday season reached 13.2 per cent
  • Social media – for France, the United States and the United Kingdom, social media messages achieved higher open rates than standard mailings. In Spain the results were slightly below standard mailings. This is consistent with the overall usage of social media sites across the world, especially Facebook within European countries

It’s clear from these results that global brands can benefit from a “first mover advantage” in specific markets where certain techniques are less mature, and use this opportunity to test and develop these campaigns to stand out from other global brands.

Develop offer strategies that are suited to each region

Developing offer strategies is a key business decision that should involve revenue drivers and cost, and results vary across regions. Globally, the most popular types of offer sent by brands during the holiday season are percentage and money off vouchers, yet response results vary significantly by country. For example, China has higher open rates for percentage offer campaigns than standard mailings, but lower click rates. On the other hand, in Spain, the percentage off mailings performed worse than the standard mailings. In contrast, New Zealand and France rely most on money off promotions.

Across all regions, customers receive offers all year long – in order to differentiate your holiday messages, brands should explore what incentives work for them, and make them specific to this period.

Timing it right

Marketers consistently question when the right time is to send their email campaigns. This question has even greater importance during the holiday season because changing the day or even the hour of a campaign can have a significant bottom-line impact due to the high volume of email in subscribers’ inboxes.

In spite of assumptions about shoppers’ behaviours, there are real patterns supporting when to communicate and as a rule, retailers should properly test timing options to determine the best approach for their own brand, customers, products and services. In our study, tests conducted on a weekday vs. weekend basis found varying results globally:

  • UK consumer expectations for ecommerce sites to have the best deals, and the explosion of smartphones and mobile devices, may be contributing to higher response rates on weekends, as smartphones enable all shoppers to multitask and compare prices online whilst shopping in-store
  • During the holidays, India and France experienced lower opens and clicks for weekends than weekdays. In the United States it was the reverse occurred, with higher engagement on weekends
  • Australia, Singapore and New Zealand all have higher engagement rates during weekends, yet Asia Pacific markets such as Singapore, Hong Kong and China are not deploying a large amount of holiday emails on weekends

By understanding regional behaviours and reactions to different marketing techniques, brands gain important insight into better execution of global marketing campaigns at local levels – and a brand that understands its different customers across the world is in a much better position to maximise revenue and ROI during this peak period.

Full results of the international holiday email performance study can be found online

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