Black Friday & Cyber Monday: 5 Tips to Stand Out in a Crowded Inbox During the Holidays

Stores are busting out wreaths and giant bows. Santas are sitting in shopping malls. There’s a faint chill in the air (or at least that’s what we’re told; we’re based in Texas).

brace yourself, emails are coming

It’s official. The holidays are coming. And so are a lot of emails. Retailers sent 55.4% more email campaigns on Black Friday last year than they did the year before. And, of course, that only accounts for marketing emails. With more shopping activity and sales, the number of transactional emails sent during this time period is also on the rise.

Every year, in preparation for the busy sending season that is Q4, our engineering team monitors our pipeline and maximizes its efficiency to make sure we have the stability, capacity, and speed in place to support our customers’ holiday sends.

The great thing is that, if you’re using a smart, reputable ESP like Mailgun, the infrastructure behind sending emails during a busy time of year is taken care of. You don’t have to worry at all about the actual sending of your emails; we’ve got you covered. But the challenge of getting more opens and clicks when your customer’s inbox is flooded with dozens of other emails vying for their attention… that challenge is still very real.

Here are a few of our best tips to help you get the engagement and results you want from your holiday emails:

1. Land in Inboxes, Not Spam Folders

Inboxing during the holidays is getting harder. eDataSource found that, in 2016, only 19% of Black Friday emails had an inbox percentage exceeding 90%. That’s a pretty sad statistic, especially when you compare it to 2015’s 44%. So before we come up with a plan for standing out in a crowded inbox, let’s talk about how to actually get into the inbox in the first place.

A good starting point is separating your reputation by message type. This is a best practice year-round, but it can be especially helpful during the holidays. Basically, you want your transactional emails and your promotional emails on different IP addresses and subdomains. Doing so will separate the reputations of these two channels, so if your marketing blasts start landing in spam folders, your transactional messages won’t be impacted, and vice versa.

You’ll also want to make sure your content isn’t sounding too gimmicky, and you’re following best practices for deliverability. If you want to dive deeper into this topic, you can check out our Art of Inboxing tip sheet or talk to us about our managed service, which pairs you with a deliverability expert who can help you devise a tailored plan to land in more inboxes.

2. Choose Your Sender Name Wisely

According to a joint Litmus-Fluent survey, 42% of respondents said that the sender or from name was the first thing people looked at when deciding whether or not to open an email. Whether you send job alerts or promotional discounts on coffee, the key to better engagement is consistently sending great emails that your audience finds interesting. You want people to get excited when they see your sender name in their inbox, and that requires building a brand people love.

If you’ve laid the groundwork and people are engaging with your emails at a rate you’re happy with, chances are you’ll see pretty good performance come Black Friday and Cyber Monday. If you aren’t seeing as many opens and clicks as you’d like, the holidays are a great time to try out a different sender name to see if that moves the needle.

There are two primary schools of thought on sender names: 1) use a straightforward sender name like your company name, and 2) use one that humanizes your message like an actual person’s name. You can also do a combination of the two like “Alice from Company.” Some evidence suggests that using a real person’s name as your sender will increase your open rate and CTR.

Try A/B testing the sender name with tags on your next send. Once you’ve found a clear winner, stay consistent with future messages.

3. Drive Opens with Better Subject Lines

After the sender name, people look to the subject line of your message to decide whether or not to open your email. In an effort to stand out around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, marketers sometimes get a little aggressive with the ALL CAPS, emojis, and exclamation marks.

At Mailgun, we don’t really love these subject line strategies, mainly because they can trigger spam filters, but also because we like eating turkey without people yelling at us to buy things. In our opinion, you can still add in those keywords that consumers tend to click on without being overly aggressive.

Last year, J. Crew’s subject line “For Cardmembers: Early access to our biggest Black Friday sale ever.” saw a top-performing read rate of 46.7%, and Sephora got great results from “Today is Sunday, but for you it’s Cyber Monday” as well. Both of these make the recipient feel like they’re getting something special – early access to deals – without a single exclamation mark.

The stakes are high this time of year, and there’s no exact science to email subject lines. So we highly recommend that you A/B test two or three subject line variations rather than putting all your eggs in one basket. You can learn how to A/B test using tags here. Try playing up exclusivity and urgency or try doing the opposite and standing out with a short subject line.

4. Find the Right Time to Engage

There’s a lot of information out there about send-time optimization. In essence, it’s about using the data from past messages – what time of day customers received emails from you and whether or not they engaged – to draw conclusions about the best delivery times for future messages. You can use Mailgun’s hourly feature in the analytics tab to figure out your optimal send time.

But keep in mind that, over the holidays, your regular send time may not be ideal. To stand out, you may want to communicate with customers on relatively lower volume days like the week before Thanksgiving or the Sunday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday (emails sent on this day have particularly good ROI) and avoid heavy email days like Thanksgiving and Black Friday altogether.

If you do choose to schedule your message for peak volume days like Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, Experian noted that the most opportune times on these days (by highest revenue per email) were around 12pm on Thanksgiving, between 4am and 8am on Black Friday, and from 8am to 10am on Cyber Monday.

Big senders with a specific delivery window to hit might be interested in Mailgun’s Rapid Fire Throughput SLA, which guarantees extremely fast processing of your messages. Learn more about it here.

5. Keep An Eye on Your List

This is a time of year when a lot of customers might join your list temporarily to get a discount code and then unsubscribe later. It’s also a time of year when marketers up the number of emails they send. These two factors combined make list hygiene even more important during the holidays.

For starters, make sure you’re using email validation to capture email addresses of real people so you’re not wasting your budget sending to misspelled or nonexistent addresses. This will also help reduce your bounce rate, which will in turn help improve your sender reputation.

You’ll also want to actively manage your suppressions and bounce notifications as well as come up with a plan if you start to see low engagement with your messages. We recommend running a re-engagement campaign with customers who aren’t interacting with your emails. Once you’ve tried that, take any non-engagers off your list.

Another strategy to try during the holidays is segmenting your list and adjusting the frequency of your emails to send more messages to your high engagers and less to your low engagers.

By following these best practices for holiday emails, you can drive more opens, clicks, and hopefully, sales during the peak volume email season that Black Friday kicks off.

For assurance that you’ll have the capacity and throughput to get your emails to customers within your desired delivery window, check out Mailgun Rapid Fire. And if you’re looking for an email partner to help you achieve better deliverability, our managed service might be a good fit. Learn more from our deliverability experts here.

Happy Holiday Emailing!

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