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Holiday Emails: A Lesson in Relevance

It’s a mantra of email marketing that relevance is the key attribute to getting your emails opened by your recipients. Unlike many of the shiny new objects or truisms that seem to arise every day, this particular mantra is true. Your email messages and promotions must be perceived as useful, or at least applicable, to your recipients to avoid having your messages marked as spam, deleted without being opened or having your recipients unsubscribe from them completely.

How easy is it to identify relevance?

Relevance may or may not be hard for you to determine depending upon a number of factors including:

  • How your list was built. Recipients who consciously opt-in to receive information from you are likely to behave differently than recipients who opt in via a pre-checked box that they may have missed, for instance.
  • The age of email addresses on your list. Newer names are more likely to be active than older names, but older names that are opening your emails may have greater trust in you and may be more likely to find your communications relevant.
  • The type of business you are in. If you offer a large variety of products and services you have more opportunities than a business that sells just a few.

One thing is for sure - one size, or in this case, relevance does not fit all.

This is what relevance looks like:

The best way to understand relevance is to see it in action. Here’s an overview of the types of Subject Lines of emails that I received from a number of retailers this Holiday Season:

11/22/14 – We’re Starting Black Friday Early 11/26/14 – Get a Jump on Black Friday
11/27/14 – Avoid the Crowds Shop for Black Friday Today
11/28/14 – Today is Black Friday
11/29/14 – Black Friday Savings Extended
12/01/14 – Today is Cyber Monday
12/02/14 – Cyber Monday is Extended
12/05/14 – Cyber Monday did so well we’re continuing it for another week
12/07 thru 12/22 – still time to buy gifts, save money, etc…

Despite this barrage of emails from many retailers, I do not resent receiving them. In fact, I consider them a service in my quest to wrap up my holiday shopping by introducing me to unique gifts, giving me discounts, and providing the convenience of online shopping or the option of picking items up at a local store.

Why this works: it’s targeted; the duration of the barrage of email is limited - the Holiday Season guarantees these emails will come to an end; it satisfies a pressing need that I have, and each email offers something different (free shipping, savings, new products). Trade Shows can often use a very similar messaging pattern – though with more time between emails.

See how ‘one size relevance’ doesn’t work:

Now let’s imagine applying this same idea to selling something like a magazine subscription or any business that offers one product that can be purchased at any time. For simplicity, we’ll use the same timing as noted above to illustrate the idea:

11/22/14 – Subscribe and Get a Discount
11/26/14 – Claim your Discount Subscription
11/27/14 – We are Holding your Subscription for you
11/28/14 – Today is the last day to Claim your Discount
11/29/14 – Good News we’re Extending your Discount Offer
12/01/14 – We Need to Hear From You
12/02/14 – One More Chance to Claim Your Discount
12/05/14 – Did you miss our emails about your Discount?

I can almost guarantee you that if you try this approach your email recipients will unsubscribe in droves, begin marking your emails as spam, and send your marketing department some strongly worded correspondence.

Why this doesn’t work: it’s not specific to a particular need; your recipient has no sense when this barrage will end; your recipient doesn’t have time pressure to respond as they can buy your product at any time that suits them, and the offer is repetitive.

My next blog will address how to build relevant email communications and promotions.