Late Season Tweaks for the Best Back to School
This time of year can be very hectic. We (and our customers!) are running around in a rush to prepare for back to school (BTS). From the flurry of deals filling inboxes to the competition of price matching to the stream of commercials on TV and radio, we're in the throes of this prime retail season. Anxiety is everywhere.
This year, like every year, presents a new set of challenges. On one hand, with the National Retail Federation forecasting 2016 seasonal revenue to be up 7 percent over last year and 37 percent coming online, there's upside potential. On the other hand, Return Path’s 2016 Deliverability Benchmark Report indicates that with one in five emails going to the junk folder or being blocked altogether, all the messages you think you're sending aren’t actually making it to your customers.
Mailbox providers are increasingly leveraging engagement indicators from subscribers as part of their methods for sorting the billions of emails they process every day. Actions such as reply, forward, foldering and reporting as spam are all direct feedback from customers about the email they want and the email they don’t want. Increased volume of messages for the BTS season and shorter subscriber attention spans make it crucial for marketers to carefully examine their sending strategies to avoid major deliverability issues.
Gone are the days where you can blast the same message to your entire database. So what are marketers to do? Just like children everywhere going to school for the first time, brands need to muster up their courage to make friends, be open-minded and put their best selves forward.
Your Priorities = Your Customers’ Priorities
Ask yourself if the featured content in your messages connects with all audiences. If not, personalize where possible. Failing to customize merchandising strategies based on market demand (e.g., dress code and climate) will drive customers to deem your messages irrelevant. More so, missing the mark in connecting with their priorities not only loses the sale this year, but leaves a lasting (negative) brand impression.
Tip: Take a quick look at response rates for messages you’ve sent so far this season. Any big spikes or valleys in open or click rates? Do they correlate with certain product categories, headlines or images? If so, adjust the approach for any similar campaigns planned for the remainder of the BTS season.
While Crayola crayons may never go out of BTS style, it’s important for your messaging strategy to evolve with the times. If you're sending the same type of content you sent last year, and the year before that, and five years before that, it’s time for a refresh! In our on-demand world, consumers’ attention spans are very short, so it's critical to make the most of every email element: subject lines, pre-headers, headlines, images, offer strategy, timing. Test, measure and optimize to keep your approach fresh and evolving.
Tip: If you're too deep in season to make major changes, test your subject lines. A simple A/B split test can be done quickly and generates immediate results. Return Path’s All About A/B Testing e-book has everything you need to get started.
Be You, as Only You Can
Competition, especially in retail, is fierce. While it's important to be informed about what others are doing and trends in your vertical, everything that works for the competition isn’t necessarily going to work for you. Deliver what your customers need and expect, but do it in your own way. Brand personality is a powerful tool in helping your emails stand out in the inbox; don’t be afraid to use it.
Tip: If you don’t have a brand guide, ask a few colleagues or friends to describe your brand in three words to five words. Use the crowdsourced input as a reference when proofing to ensure the message aligns with brand perception.
Just like a child anticipating his/her first day of school, we all stress about making it through the BTS season. You aren’t going to be able to predict every hiccup that may arise. Taking a few minutes to objectively review your seasonal strategy and making even minor adjustments will help your email program to shine (and give you a boost of confidence!).
Bonnie Malone is senior director, professional services, North America for Return Path, an email data solutions provider.
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Bonnie is passionate about excellent customer experience. With a background in marketing, merchandise buying and retail management, she helps companies stay relevant amid the changing digital landscape. Bonnie leads the knowledge and consulting teams at Return Path, the global leader in email deliverability. She is an active Email Experience Council committee member, featured speaker for events, and writes monthly for the Return Path blog and Total Retail.