2021 holiday marketing preparedness guide

2021 holiday marketing preparedness guide

To help provide some insight about what small marketers are planning this year, Emma conducted an email marketing survey that included a variety of organizations across non-profits, restaurants, fitness and more. We've rounded the info up in this 2021 holiday preparedness guide.

eMarketer predicts that 2021 US holiday retail sales will rise “2.7% to $1.093 trillion, with brick-and-mortar increasing 0.9% to $885.99 billion and ecommerce climbing 11.3% to $206.88 billion. On top of that, a report from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University forecasts a 4.1% increase in total giving in 2021.


That’s a lot of activity to capture in a short period of time. No matter how early the holiday starts this year, marketers have a lot to gain (or lose) by being prepared. Marketers at small and local organizations are often a “team of one,” having to do more with less, and innovate to keep up with their savvy online audiences. 


Not the Same Old Season

Last year was the “unprecedented” holiday of the pandemic, and so a lot of marketers are looking ahead with fresh eyes, and a ripped up roadmap. Everything about the holidays was different last year, and this year will be different again. 

One thing that we learned in our survey is that volume and engagement on email during the pandemic surged to new heights. 

During the pandemic:

  • 32% experienced higher open rates and click-to-open rates
  • 25% experienced higher email subscribers and drove higher send volume
  • 23% experienced higher click-through rates

These increases happened when people were stuck at home and nervous about going to places in-person. While marketers hope that engagement stays this high, the truth is, how audiences act over the holidays is not entirely predictable.


What’s more, tactics that worked two years ago might not work this year, with millions more people using ecommerce and mobile apps. And messaging that resonated last year might be tone deaf to how different people are approaching this holiday season.


At the same time that audiences became more engaged (and volume increased,) marketers in our survey experienced some serious resource strain. In fact, 28% of our respondents said that “achieving more with less” was their biggest challenge during the pandemic.


‘Tis the Season For Innovation and Creativity

Without the old holiday roadmap to rely on, our survey found that more marketers are investing in new tactics, looking for innovation, and upping their design and messaging game. That’s great news, ensuring marketers are prepared for uncharted waters this holiday season.


“During the pandemic, we had an influx of guests whose first experience with our restaurant was via takeout only. Now, as more has opened up, we’ve been able to convert many of those customers into dine-in guests through our successful email campaigns, giving them the full experience as part of our family, which will continue to be a focus for us.” - DJ Duporte, Senior Marketing Manager at North Italia


“Last year a lot of our email campaigns and messaging were centered around ‘celebrating at home’ with take-out packages; however, this year many people are ready to dine in-person at restaurants again. We plan to do a hybrid strategy to make everyone feel comfortable.” - Momina Cammarata, Marketing Director at Caffe Aldo Lamberti


In fact, 37% said that “exploration of new and innovative methods to reach and build relationships with customers” was their biggest strategic change this coming holiday. After a year of short-term changes and reactive tactics, setting sights on new innovations will help marketers with automation and scale. Innovation will also help catch up to newly digital-savvy audiences and help cut through the clutter of higher email volume.


Marketers care equally about creating meaningful engagements as they do about creating personalized offers. And while non-profits are more likely to lean into meaningful messaging, it’s an important element of any campaign. And non-profits can take a page from small business owners and use personalization to increase performance (even if no promotion is involved!)

After a year of cautious, pandemic-oriented messaging marketers are also focused on testing new creative (42%), messaging (39%) and personalization (39%). 

Messaging fatigue is a real phenomenon, and the pandemic is no exception. People are ready to engage with new content. Only 9% of survey respondents said they are sticking with pandemic-focused messaging. Marketers noted that they plan to re-engage people this holiday season with rich creative and design (56%) as well as new promotions (44%).


“It’s important to not just be focused on sales messaging, but to provide value to your customer base and weave your products into brand storytelling campaigns. Using video in our emails has been successful, for example, to introduce our products and programs in a more thoughtful way and entertain our audience. It's not always about the hard sell.” - Nicole Cox, Director of Marketing and Communications at Fit4Mom


Through the pandemic, and now into the holidays, marketers with small teams have relied on email as a key communication channel, and that won’t change. In fact, 47% plan to invest even more in email to deliver effective omnichannel experiences this year.


...And a Happy New Year

In a time of strained resources and unforeseen challenges, marketers did more with less, creating emails for a highly engaged audience as they were stuck at home. That audience is now savvier online, and email is a valuable channel that continues to deliver now and into this coming holiday season.


“During the pandemic, we began offering virtual and on-demand fitness classes, which are at a lower price point than our in-person classes. We are now encouraging our franchise owners to invite these clients and leads to grand re-opening celebrations and provide special incentives to sign up during the grand reopening that will help them convert leads to more in-person classes this year. Email marketing is a large part of that strategy. ” - Nicole Cox, Director of Marketing and Communications at Fit4Mom


Use these best practices to ensure your holiday strategy is not only successful through 2021, but sets the path for future growth next year.

  • Test new designs and messages: Don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back from innovations in design. With testing as your friend, it’s easy to quickly determine which messaging and creative makes the biggest impact.
  • Segment your audience: Each organization has their own approach to segmenting audiences to create more targeted messaging. Highly engaged, loyal groups might get different offers and messaging than newbies. Or, people in different locations might want regional content. Think about how your audience might benefit from a segmentation strategy.
  • Personalize your content: The natural partner to testing and segmentation is personalization, the ability to deliver specialized content based on a variety of inputs. Create triggered emails that are personalized based on site activity, or personalized thank you messages for new customers or donors.

Innovation doesn’t have to be costly or time consuming. In fact, innovation is right at your fingertips, helping you do more with less this holiday season.

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