Is user engagement driving your holiday email strategy?

Hopefully it is. Regardless, I thought it might be appropriate to start out this article by asking a simple question. After all, asking questions is a baseline for promoting a response. That may be why some marketers use them in the subject line. Engagement is the number one factor ISPs/filters look for when determining if your message will access the inbox. There are many retail marketers this holiday shopping season that will avoid that conventional wisdom and, instead, leave deliverability up to chance.

‘Tis the season to give your users a reason to engage with you! Don’t buy into the idea that retail marketing success is only achievable by blindly blasting out redundant, static billboards (emails) to the masses. Such strategies leave your campaigns to the mercy of advanced filtering; particularly, between the end of October to year’s end. Try automating those campaigns to help gain better access to the inbox with better and more meaningful engagement.

This is a picture of a woman wrapping a holiday present with a pull quote asking whether user engagement driving your holiday email strategy

Automation drives engagement

The reality is more seasonal marketing emails are pushed out in Q4 than at any other time throughout the year. Does that sound true for you and your own inbox? Those piloting the filters probably would agree, and you can expect them to close ranks this holiday season and shut the door to a lot of retailers who are stuck in the mindset of old school, traditional email marketing.

If you have access to automation tools, use them. If you don’t, get them. User engagement and deliverability in a successful marketing automation campaign will trump the traditional batch and blast method every time.

Halloween, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, the list goes on. It’s a virtual cornucopia of retail opportunities to those who can find access to the inbox. And while you should do your best to take advantage wherever you can, don’t forget automated campaigns will better feed personalization to your database and future contextual marketing campaigns.

You’re sending emails to humans after all, and individuals want to see individualized content this holiday season. Utilizing marketing automation in your e-commerce solution creates the opportunity to get to know your users. And when that happens, user engagement thrives and your deliverability will follow suit. If engagement is what the email filters crave, then please feed them accordingly.

Marketer vs. Consumer. Who will drive engagement?

As a marketer, it’s easy to put yourself in the driver seat and base decisions about content and micro targeting around the needs of your bottom line. This is your campaign after all, right? Wrong. Although you’re offering the deals and blasting the emails, the consumer is, or at least should be, viewed as the driver steering the relevant content. Your campaigns are just the gas, brakes, and clutch of the email campaign.

Email engagement and deliverability, particularly in the retail space, is consumer driven. Traditional engagement campaigns this holiday season will continue down that path of batch and blast email delivery using only a few targeting segments. And that’s also how they will base their promotional deals and seek to convert users. Some may even be successful at it.

However, if engagement truly is what moves campaigns to the inbox. Wouldn’t it be better if those marketing models are more contextual in nature? Ultimately, being adaptive and valuing the user’s experience is what will drive a real consumer-led campaign. Those are the campaigns I see trending the best engagement rates and the ones getting better access to the inbox. Which in turn drive more meaningful website traffic and leave behind fewer abandoned shopping carts and conversions at point of sale.

Beauty is pain. How pretty is your email list?

If your email list is stacked with what you believe are active contacts, that is awesome. But how many of those contacts are actively engaged with your messaging campaigns? Any solid email platform should contain tools for automating some of those list hygiene efforts.

Now suppressing hard bounces is a given, I’m also talking about tools that can be structured to identify things like excessive soft bouncing and email fatigue rules. Nobody likes to willingly remove a valid email from their list, particularly if it’s still mail-able. However, if user engagement is your pipeline to the inbox, then there is no sense in risking your deliverability this holiday by sending to those who aren’t responding. Continuing to do so likely will harm your overall deliverability and inbox placements.

I can appreciate the need for a good re-engagement campaign, but prospecting to the now unengaged user can almost be like door-to-door salesmanship. If you knock on the same door enough times then, sure, someone may open or eventually report you to the authorities (hit the spam button). The ISPs/filters are intelligent systems. Even if that un-engaged recipient never complains, the filters will pick up on your unwillingness to give up and chances are other users will start funneling to the spam folder consequently. Even worse, the un-engaged could be turned into a recycled spam trap. So please keep your list pretty (and on the nice column) this holiday shopping season. There has to be a threshold where you are willing to cut ties with disinterested email recipients.

Will you let engagement determine your deliverability?

That question is rhetorical. Really. Sorry, you don’t have a choice in the matter. The filtering agents deployed today are more advanced, more intelligent than ever. They are only going to get even more strict with allowing access to the inbox as we approach peak holiday season, too. The deliverability of your email campaigns are consistently being weighed and measured by robots that hold all of the keys. This can make prospecting a nearly impossible feat, and, in fact, doing so heavily is actually starting to work against many email marketers.

I’ve often said in the past the purpose behind automation isn’t to create lazy marketers. It’s to help pull information from your list so you can trend and target recipients based on things they will care about.

Exploiting those unique characteristics, probing human curiosity, and aggregating data is how to build genuinely responsive content that bonds with users. This promotes engagement and builds on your deliverability. Also, it’s how you harness data that can even generate interest in users for things that they may not yet even realize they were interested in. If it sounds like science fiction, it’s not. It’s automation!

Although not every engaged user will necessarily convert this shopping season that is okay. The point is they are engaging with your emails and can now be a part of a larger, more meaningful dialog with your organization. It is in that conversation you’ll find a true path to the inbox and better access to improved deliverability.