August 7, 2014, 5:05 PM

The e-mail marketer’s holiday planning checklist: summer edition

Making the most of November and December e-mail marketing sales opportunities takes preparations that start months in advance. Use this checklist to ensure that you’re using your summer to properly gear up your e-mail marketing program for the holiday season.

Adopt a mobile-friendly e-mail design, whether by using mobile-aware techniques—like employing large images and text and spacing out buttons and links—or more complex responsive design. The majority of e-mails are now opened on mobile devices, making mobile-friendliness an imperative this holiday season.

41% of retailers send mobile-friendly e-mails, according to research the Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud conducted in June involving more than 100 major retailers. This is roughly on par with a sampling of other non-retail B2C brands. However, much of the adoption of mobile-friendly e-mail design is concentrated among retailers sending their subscribers at least one e-mail a day.

August and September are popular months to unveil new e-mail redesigns—and I am expecting a significant spike in adoption through the summer and into the fall. The brand risks associated with sending mobile-unfriendly e-mails is rising.

Make mobile-friendly improvements to your web site. Much of the benefit of having mobile-friendly e-mails is squandered if your web site isn’t equally as friendly. Here retailers are doing fairly well, with 76% of retailers using mobile-friendly landing pages as of June, but I expect that to rise going into the fall as well.

If you can’t update your whole site, aim to update major landing pages. Another alternative is linking from e-mails to your mobile app. If this is your plan, then a fall cross-channel campaign to boost mobile app downloads is probably in order.

Launch a cart abandonment or browse abandonment e-mail. And if you’ve already launched these, update them before November arrives, as these highly effective triggered e-mails are even more valuable during the busy holiday season.

According to our 2014 State of Marketing report, 77% of marketers say cart abandonment e-mails generate good to excellent returns. And 80% say the same thing about browse abandonment or retargeting e-mails.

Warm up new IP addresses for the holiday season or ramp up existing ones to be prepared for the increases in volume you’ll be sending. This is a particularly critical issue for highly seasonal retailers that e-mail very little outside of the holiday season.

Test your online e-mail signup forms. Try different messaging, form lengths and layouts, and positioning on your site to reduce signup friction and maximize opt-ins. Also consider testing a signup lightbox.

While you’re at it, go ahead and audit all of your acquisition sources to ensure they’re functioning properly, being sure to pay extra attention to those sources that generate your more valuable subscribers. When I looked at this issue last year, 15% of opt-ins via the home pages of 160 B2C brands were not honored. And I know of several brands that suffered issues that went unrecognized for over a year.

Review your e-mail opt-in calls-to-action for your stores and call centers. These are great sources of high-value subscribers, but kinks in the signup process can lead to potential problems.

Specifically, (1) avoid having cashiers collect e-mail addresses verbally without having the customer verify that it was captured accurately, (2) don’t be vague about what you’re going to do if a customer gives you their e-mail address, and (3) don’t offer immediate rewards for e-mail addresses, as some customers will lie about their address in order to get the reward.

Identify opportunities to improve your holiday messaging by reviewing what other brands have done. Get inspired by what they’ve done and then find your own twist that fits your brand.

Explore your swipe file, looking for ways to apply your past successes to upcoming campaigns. For example, repurposed a Halloween campaign idea for the holiday season in this e-mail. And Norm Thompson made incremental improvements to this winning e-mail design, which they used six holiday seasons in a row. Repeat this review at the conclusion of the back-to-school season.

Start on the “dream big” e-mail now. Thinking of sending an amazing campaign this holiday season that will take months of work? Start brainstorming now and put a plan in action.

I hope these items help get your e-mail program in shape to have a stellar holiday season. Stay tuned for more tips in a Fall Edition and a Winter Edition of the E-mail Marketer’s Holiday Planning Checklist in the weeks ahead.

Chad White is the lead research analyst at the Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud and the author of “E-mail Marketing Rules.” Reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @chadswhite.


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