This is a guest post by Wendy Lowe, director of product marketing at Campaigner, which is an email marketing solution.
The holidays are here: the most important time of the year for retailers, as they hope that huge sales bring them to profitability for 2009. Big box retailers will use millions of dollars to flex their marketing muscle to bring attention to their products and sales. It gives them a huge advantage over small retailers, but the little guys do have an equalizing arrow in their quiver: email marketing campaigns.

Email marketing campaigns are affordable, and can help small retailers to compete with the big boys during this crucial sales period.
Before launching any email marketing campaign; however, retailers have to ensure that the program will meet the objectives they have defined. They also have to determine what will make their campaigns stand out and what value they will provide to their subscribers. In order to pull that off, retailers have to combine aspects of promotional, informational and operational communications in their email marketing efforts. Programs that include all three help retailers to promote longevity and strong relationships, while still encouraging immediate sales.
Here are strategies any small retailer can employ to make their email campaign click with their audience:

  1. Clean up promotional campaigns. Every promotion should include these items to be effective a: subject line that describes the offer; call to action listed in the top right corner; relevant offer;clickable image of what you're promoting; and short text.

  2. Tone down informational campaigns. Since informational campaigns focus on loyalty, tone down the sales pitch. Even during the holiday season, retailers need to balance quick sales with long term revenues. Create a monthly (or weekly or bi-weekly) e-newsletter to run throughout the holiday season and fill it with recipes, gift ideas, and other holiday goodies. That will keep brand recognition high amongst subscribers and provide more unique value than just a product discount.

  3. Spread holiday cheer through operational emails. Spread a little holiday cheer through welcome, thank you, and confirmation messages. While these messages are not meant (or allowed by CAN-SPAM laws) to be predominantly marketing focused, adding a little company branding is 100 percent acceptable and even suggested by most email experts. Operational emails can be easily leveraged by including a link: to an email header that links to the retailer's website; to a coupon offer; to a web page with complementary products; or where recipients can manage their subscription preferences.

  4. Select occasions not days. Stop stressing about email send dates. There is no universal best time or day to send an email campaign. While historically, marketers have tried to define this, the result was merely a greater volume of email sent at the same time, leading consumers to tune out more and making the marketer's theory completely obsolete.

Instead, base the email schedule around audience behavior and environmental factors. Retailers should ask themselves: When are my consumers at their computer? Moreover, when are they interested in my
Additionally, tie messaging to occasions such as each holiday, the weather, new product releases, etc. For the holiday season, try creating seasonal campaigns that deploy before each big holiday.

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Ann Handley is a Wall Street Journal best-selling author who recently published Everybody Writes 2. She speaks worldwide about how businesses can escape marketing mediocrity to ignite tangible results. IBM named her one of the 7 people shaping modern marketing. Ann is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a LinkedIn Influencer, a keynote speaker, mom, dog person, and writer.