Holiday e-mail smarts can give you a year-round boost

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Retailers who count on the 20% lift of holiday sales know they can't wait until October to formulate their seasonal sales strategy. Although consumers spent some $475 billion during the 2007 holiday season, the mixed forecasts for 2008 increase the pressure to make the holiday selling season extend beyond the traditional September-to-December window.

As retailers review their arsenal of marketing strategies, e-mail — with its returns of $48 for every dollar spent, according to the Direct Marketing Association — should sit atop everyone's go-to tools list. E-mail marketing strategies that build holiday sales and establish year-round traction aren't accidental. Use a phased approach that improves e-mail marketing performance across all industries and segments. The first step? Ask what you want to accomplish.

Pre-planning is key to focusing your value proposition, refining messages, analyzing what has or hasn't worked in the past and designing elements that stand out.

Timing comes next. With holidays, start early and build a schedule that's based on increasing frequency rather than arbitrary mailing dates. Create “occasions” that support program goals. Early on, send information about products of prior interest to customers. As the season winds down, shift focus to a demographic — such as men, who typically make purchases late. Holidays also help marketers develop the quality of their house lists while continuing to build quantity. Avoid the short cut of renting lists; let your subscribers select their e-mail preferences to guard against list fatigue, and use sign-up forms and surveys to refine customer data. This information allows you to fine-tune your campaign content as the season progresses and results in a strong foundation that gives your holiday promotions legs.

Personalization, a year-round strategy, allows you to sustain a relevant dialogue with customers. E-mail tools now support automated mass-customization with appropriate levels of personalization. Advanced e-mail tools also support segmentation and enable marketers to tailor offers and create dynamic, holiday specific content.

Don't neglect the marketing basic of measurement. Since you'll set objective goals early, you'll also need to continually test campaign components, measure results and make adjustments as necessary to meet objectives.

A successful holiday e-mail campaign will offer you year-round tools, metrics and benefits. As a component of a multichannel sales strategy, e-mail offers marketers flexibility, low cost, high impact and an unparalleled path to consumers during the holiday season and beyond.

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