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Deliverability Ghosts of the Past, Present and Future

NEWS FLASH! Okay, not really, but it is an important reminder that email remains one the most powerful marketing channels and delivers the biggest return on investment, when targeting subscribers to get your best deals, newsletters and information out to the masses.  

We know all too well what is creeping around the corner, what will be here before we know it, and what is starting earlier and earlier each year… 

That’s right! Holiday sending. Black Friday! Cyber Monday! Now more than ever before, your subscribers will be ready to shop online, safe at home, rather than join the masses in brick-and-mortar retail.  

Our recent survey on 2020 E-Commerce Holiday Shopping Trends reports that 67% of respondents plan to complete most or all of their shopping online, and only 7% stated they would prefer to shop exclusively in-store. This data and direct shopper feedback are why it is critical to get to the inbox! 

Below is a breakdown of how to banish those deliverability ghosts and get ready for this holiday season—leveraging what we have learned from the past, sending in the pandemic-present, and hopes for a marketing future.  

Holiday Sends of the Past

Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge wanting to avoid his ghosts of Christmas past, forcing him to make major changes for the future, we do want to reflect on what we have learned from previous years, their revenue outcomes, and what we still can carry forward with our email practices.  

Why? Because, while the landscape of online versus brick-and-mortar shopping will be changing, getting your infrastructure and the mailbox providers ready for the holidays largely remains the same.  

Let’s start with a review of the data of these past few years. Deloitte released an illustration highlighting the spend from 2015-2019, and the growth rates are in the billions, year over year. For the 2020 holiday season, they are forecasting an increase of 1% to 1.5% in spend, compared to that of 2019, and the 4.1% increase, which resulted in $1.14 trillion in spend. 

Knowing now that holiday spend is still expected to increase this year, but that the end of the pandemic isn’t clearly known, here is what we have learned from the past and still need to consider for the present and future of holiday email deliverability. 

Let’s quickly recap what’s tried and true, from our last year’s Do’s and Don’ts of Holiday Sending:

  • Do methodically ramp volume, and do not open the flood gates—doubling or tripling volume—in one instance. Keep it consistent and allow time for the mailbox provider (MBP) to make adjustments to your sending volume and audience engagement with your brand.
  • Do target an engaged audience. Engagement from your subscribers remains one of the most heavily weighted metrics that MBPs monitor and use in their filtering algorithms when making their filtering decisions. Positive engagement includes opens, clicks, replies and forwarding, while negative engagement includes complaints, deletions without reading, and not taking any action at all.
  • Do leverage user segmentation by putting yourself in your subscribers’ shoes. What have they been interested in recently? What preferences have they opted into or out of?
  • Do monitor your metrics on an ongoing basis. Let the data tell the story of what your subscribers are wanting, not wanting or how the MBPs are viewing the reputation of your sending IPs and domains. This means monitoring not just campaign-level metrics like opens, clicks and complaints but also taking into consideration postmaster feedback from Google Postmaster Tools and Microsoft SNDS.

Holiday Pandemic Present

We all know that COVID-19 has impacted how you think through your strategy for holiday sending this year. 

Here are a few big picture scenarios to consider when reviewing your target audience and how they have historically interacted with your brand.

  • How much will high-income households splurge? After months of being cooped up, 42% of consumers we surveyed plan to spend more money on gifts during the holiday season this year. By providing much-needed retail therapy, many brands could experience an overall increase in holiday spend.
  • How much will those impacted by job loss and decreased income cut back on spending? For the 58% of consumers who will be spending less on holiday shopping this year, some of them have unfortunately lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic or are coming back after a layoff. Marketers should be mindful of their needs, whether it’s by offering bargains and discounts, price matching or “buy now, pay later” programs.
  • For those who are going to spend, is it realistic to expect to see them in your brick-and-mortar stores? 67% of consumers plan to complete most or all of their holiday shopping online, so it’s hyper-critical to get to their inboxes and drive value from the comforts of their own homes.

So how can we take what we’ve learned from the past and the “what if” scenarios of our present to make the most of this holiday season? 

Here are four top tips to focus your email marketing efforts and achieve optimal deliverability.

1. Methodically Build Volume

We’re going to repeat this tip, because it is always critical—before, now and in the future. Review your recent volume and who you are expecting to target during Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday and any other holidays during the remainder of the year. 

Gradually build with an engaged audience in the 4-6 weeks leading up to your big push. Don’t surprise the mailbox providers with your biggest volume of the year and risk being throttled or blocked, due to a drastic increase in volume.

2. Win-Back Subscribers Before Holiday Sends Deploy

If you are looking to dive back into your list and re-engage subscribers (who haven’t opted out or complained), make sure they want to still be on your mailing list before Black Friday. 

Mailbox providers will continue to monitor engagement, and they will be vigilant in protecting their account holders’ inboxes to ensure they are receiving the mail they want from brands they have interacted with in the past or have safelisted. 

Feel confident about suppressing subscribers who aren’t engaging or contributing opens or clicks, because as we know, negative engagement can influence and impact campaigns, possibly sending them to the Spam folder. 

3. Deliver Relevant Content With Segmentation

Regardless of the time of year, make sure your subscribers are receiving what they signed up for, what they expect and what they consider relevant content.  

Our recent blog post on “Marketing for the Unexpected in Holiday 2020” discusses the opportunity you have to tap into your subscribers’ recent purchase behavior and preference center updates to help drive the best experience.

You can also download our Personalization Playbook on User Segmentation to learn why traditional strategies aren’t cutting it and how you can advance your email marketing program.

4. Be Agile

The days of having a set email calendar, hitting “send,” and then sitting back—well, they’re long gone. It will be crucial to be prepared to adjust course if deliverability starts to take a dive. In addition to opens and complaints, monitor hard and soft bounces and any shifts from the Inbox to the Junk folder.

If you start to see negative metrics impact your campaigns, be ready to shift or tighten your target audience. 

Here are some strategies to have ready or confirm they are implemented: 

  • Tighten inactive suppression
  • Immediately remove subscribers who have complained
  • Interpret bounce messages, either hard bounces that point to being blocked due to “spam-related” content or soft bounces due to throttling from sending too much mail at once.

Banish Those Deliverability Ghosts: Hopes for the Holiday Future

While I do enjoy a hot Starbucks coffee at 3 a.m. with my family and friends, standing outside my favorite stores in the freezing cold and not-so-patiently waiting for the doors to open, like many retailers themselves, I can’t help but wonder what the future of in-person shopping will hold. Will it ever be the same? Or is this year a glimpse into our future selves as always-online shoppers?  

If anything, 2020 has only reinforced the importance of optimizing the way in which marketers are engaging and interacting with their customers, determining the channel of communication that works best, personalizing their relationship with your brand and avoiding subscriber churn.  

Work to ensure that what you have learned in the past and the present data at your fingertips will secure your subscriber base now and determine who you can target in the future. 

Best of luck as you embark on your 2020 holiday email marketing journey!

Need help banishing those deliverability ghosts? Learn more about Iterable’s Deliverability Services and contact our expert team of ghostbusters for a custom demo of our platform in action!

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