3 Ways to Boost the ROI on Your Holiday 2020 Email Marketing


I started my career in online marketing, but a few years in, I spent about 6 years managing both online and offline direct marketing campaigns. The lessons I learned working in traditional offline direct marketing were invaluable -- applied to email marketing they are the basis of my optimization methodology. And they are even more important this holiday, as we market in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Lesson 1: Analyze and Repurpose Your Best Holiday 2019 Campaigns

I just did this for a brand new client -- and it reminded me how important it is. 

I went back to Holiday 2019 and ranked every email campaign they sent by revenue-generated-per-email sent (RPE). I did a deep dive into the top quartile, the best performing campaigns, as well as the bottom quartile, the worst performing campaigns. 

The best performing campaigns automatically earned a spot on the 2020 schedule. We’ll be doing minor tweaks: 

  • Updating copy where needed to reflect 2020, but no more than we have to
  • Updating products to include a mix of 2019 top sellers and anticipated 2020 hot items

But otherwise, they’ll be mailing pretty much as they did last year, including trying to match timing and audience(s) that drove performance. 

The worst performing campaigns were not included on the initial schedule, and it’s unlikely they’ll make it. Some of these were single-category sends, which we might repurpose as automated holiday browse reminders for people who visited that section of the website. But they won’t get the large audience they got last year since they didn’t generate enough revenue. 

If you think you need to develop completely new creative for every email campaign you do, you’re wasting a lot of time. Better to repurpose or reuse something that has worked in the past than to start from scratch with something that has no track record. 

Lesson 2: Adjust Expectations Based on Current Performance

Leverage the quantitative analysis of past sends, it’s possible to estimate performance for the 2020 holiday season. In this instance we started with the 2019 performance, but then we looked at key metrics (open rates, click-through rates, conversion rate from quantity sent, and RPE) to see where we might need to adjust for current performance. 

We start by looking at the average variance between 3Q 2020 performance to date and 3Q 2019 performance for each of these metrics. This variance allows us to adjust our holiday 2019 estimated performance up or down, depending on how 3Q 2020 compares to 3Q 2019. 

This in turn allows us to estimate performance for each planned 2020 holiday send. Before you start sending your holiday 2020 emails, it’s an educated guess; we can adjust and refine projections for future sends once we start getting actual 2020 holiday performance. 

You might wonder why we benchmark the diagnostics metrics (open rate, click-through rate and conversion rate) as well as the business metric (RPE). It’s so we can estimate resend quantities (we often suppress those who have converted (purchased) and resend to those who opened and/or clicked). 

Why not resend to everyone you may ask? Sometimes we do, but only with very high performing emails. For those that are good but not great we resend to those who clicked, knowing this will have a very high conversion rate and RPE, but that the low send quantity protects us from overmailing the list, since we only resend to those who expressed interest by clicking. 

Lesson 3: Test Early, then Leverage your Lessons for November and December 2020

Some will tell you not to test your holiday campaigns, test before the holidays and then rollout to maximize income. I disagree, especially this year. 

Sure you should test all year. But you can’t just not test your holiday campaigns. And it’s more important than ever this year because the macro-environment, with the pandemic, social distancing, closed brick-and-mortar stores, high unemployment in the U.S., concern over travel, the list goes on. Much of what you learned last year will most likely be different. So you need to test to get a read on where people are this year. 

I use the beginning of my holiday campaigns, from when we begin (sometime in September, usually) through October to test. But I test something very specific -- I begin with the best performing campaigns from last holiday (see Lesson 1) and I use scientific method to develop hypotheses and test to boost performance on these campaigns. It’s often easier -- and it’s always more lucrative -- to get a 10% boost on your most successful campaigns than it is to get a 10% boost on campaigns that performed poorly last year. 

Once we get our holiday learnings in September-October, we stop testing and just leverage what we’ve learned to lift performance on our November-December campaigns. 

Next Steps

It’s not too late to apply these lessons to holiday 2020! Let me know how it goes… 


About the Author

Jeanne Jennings

Jeanne Jennings is a recognized expert in the email marketing industry and a sought-after consultant, speaker, trainer and author specializing in email marketing strategy, tactics, creative direction, and optimization. She helps organizations make their email marketing programs more effective and more profitable.

Jeanne is Founder and Chief Strategist at Email Optimization Shop, a boutique consultancy focused on optimizing bottom-line email marketing performance with strategic testing. She is also General Manager of the Only Influencers community of email marketing professionals, Chair of the annual Email Innovations Summit conference, and an Adjunct Professor in the graduate program at Georgetown University.

Her direct response approach has helped B2B, B2C, government and non-profit clients including AARP, Capital One, Consumer Reports, Hasbro, National Education Association, Network Solutions, New York Times, PayPal, Scholastic, UPS, US General Services Administration (GSA), Verizon, Vocus (now Cision), and the World Bank.

Jeanne is based in Washington, DC, she earned her MBA from Georgetown University (Hoya Saxa!), and she is an avid hockey fan (Let’s Go Caps!).

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