Small businesses' secret weapons for driving holiday sales
By Jonathan Kateman, general manager of Constant Contact
Ready or not, we're now in the midst of the holiday shopping season. Always a critical shopping period, the average retailer makes about a fifth of its annual sales during the holidays. This year, analysts project upwards of $923 billion in total spending and a 16.6 percent increase in U.S holiday e-commerce sales. For small businesses, it can be an uphill battle to stand out from the crowd.
It's no secret that small businesses have a lot of competition during the holiday season. Even before Thanksgiving, consumers were being inundated with holiday marketing, from commercials, billboards, radio jingles, newspaper flyers and magazine spreads, to big money sponsorships for those holiday TV movies we've all seen 10,000 times. And it works – every year.
Up against all this, how can businesses with small teams (or no teams at all) and budgets possibly break through? The answer is simpler than you may think: with effective email marketing and smart design.
Effective email marketing begins with audience insights
The most effective marketing is grounded in timely audience insights. Holiday email campaigns should be no exception. Constant Contact recently analyzed tens of billions of emails sent and opened during the time around Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday for the past three years, and uncovered interesting trends in consumer behavior that suggest it may be time to buck conventional wisdom about email marketing around the start of the holiday shopping season.
Here's some things markets should be thinking about for next year when it comes to timing their email campaigns around the unofficial start of the shopping season:
● Want to get a message out about Black Friday? Avoid inbox clutter on Friday and plan to send it on Thursday. The data show that Thanksgiving is the best bet if you want your customer to open your email over the holiday weekend. Whether it's a necessary break from family or a rest after dinner, consumers are opening emails and there are far fewer in their inbox competing for attention. For the last three years, email open rates were higher on Thanksgiving day than Black Friday. In fact, the email open rate on Black Friday has dropped 11 percent over the last three years, despite a 20 percent increase in total emails sent in that same timeframe.
● Overall, there is a significant dip in open rate percentages from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday compared to the days right before and after, which makes sense given how much retailers want to make sure their message gets heard. In 2016 there was an 8.5 percent jump in open rate from Cyber Monday to the next day, an upward trend that continued through Thursday of that week. So, if you're a small business, you may be better off targeting the Tuesday after Cyber Monday next year for the best results.
Good design is your secret weapon
Businesses that aren't taking advantage of the holiday season by sending out holiday-themed emails that drive sales are leaving money on the table, but timing isn't the only factor that matters. Good design is another secret to success, whether in holiday campaigns or throughout the year.
It's easy to trivialize branding and design as a “nice to have,” rather than a business essential. A lot of small businesses approach it as something to tackle down the road, or think making things look good can wait until they're more established. But the reality is, design can make or break a business, and small businesses that prioritize good design win perception wars against their competitors, big and small.
In fact, research has shown that 71 percent of U.S. consumers will choose a product or service over competitors because of good design. And according to Adobe, businesses that invest in design are 73 percent more likely to be financially successful and 83 percent more likely to foster innovation.
Exactly how much is good design worth? Matt Juszcazk, founder of Turnstyle Cycle, a cycling studio in the greater Boston area, attributes $20,000 in sales in sales to a well-designed email.
Five-digit sales from a marketing email is no small feat for a small business and it's a great example of how small businesses can leverage email to drive record sales during the holiday season and beyond.
Turnstyle's campaign design started with a mobile-responsive email template and an easy, straightforward formula: Picture, Paragraph, Call to Action. The short, eye-catching message with a clean design and clear call to action drove huge engagement and business results.
The idea of overhauling your business' design might seem overwhelming, but you don't have to be a designer to get the job done. Most email services provide you with professionally-designed email templates and some will even let you test different versions to see which design and message performs better. Once you hit your stride, you'll find the real impact of design in the numbers: email open rates increase, there are more clicks to your website and online pages, and most importantly, sales will rise.
Whether you're a marketing pro or just starting out, remember, there's no reason why small businesses can't have a big impact during the holidays and throughout the year. But to really stand out at the start of next year's shopping season, make sure to use strong audience insights to optimize the timing of your campaigns and use good design and it will pay dividends.