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Prepare for the Holiday Season by Experimenting & Testing Now

By Chad S. White

Given the ongoing health and economic situation, which is expected to last into the summer, the 2020 holiday season is going to be more vital than ever for B2C companies. Even during “normal” times, ensuring that you have a successful holiday season takes year-round preparation, which is why Oracle CX Marketing Consulting provides year-round advice through our new Holiday Marketing Quarterly.

Our second quarter checklist for holiday readiness covers six areas:

  • Holiday Messaging Competitive Intelligence

  • Subscriber Acquisition Source Optimization

  • Unsubscribe Process Optimization

  • Preference Center Refreshes

  • Improved Analytics & Reporting

  • Experimentation & Testing

  • Check out the full 13-page guide for details on each of those areas, but in this post we want to focus on that sixth action item of experimentation and testing. That’s because the holiday season is a dangerous time to try to innovate. More than any other time of the year, it’s the most expensive time to have a failure. On the other hand, the second and third quarters are a great time to experiment with different tactics and strategies in a much lower-stakes environment.

    For retailers and other B2C brands, selling seasons like Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, back to school, and Labor Day offer opportunities to test out new messaging, designs, tactics, and strategies, as well as try out new capabilities and functionality. If they work, you can use them during the holiday season. If they don’t, well, you avoided them not working out in a much more costly way during November and December.

    Here are several areas to consider exploring to set your company up for a more successful holiday season and to make the most of the coming rebound in economic activity:

    Add More AI

    Artificial intelligence and machine learning can help marketers identify trends and relationships in a sea of data that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to see. You can then put those insights to work to send more relevant emails.

    “AI is the buzzword in the industry—really, in the world—at the moment,” says Jarrod Browning, Project Manager in APAC for Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “Anything that can make data-driven decisions that the client can trust and not waste time on themselves is a big asset.”

    One of the AI-powered improvements that we’re finding great success with among our clients is send-time optimization. While picking an email send time based on aggregate subscriber response is good, picking send times based on individual subscriber responses is better. That’s what send time optimization enables, plus it’s easy to implement. Now it doesn’t work for all subscribers and isn’t appropriate for every campaign, but send-time optimization has a huge role to play in answering the age-old question When is the best time to send emails?

    Another AI-powered capability that we like is predictive activity modeling, which determines how likely an individual subscriber is to engage with a particular email campaign. Oracle CX Marketing Consulting’s Strategic Services team uses this modeling with many of its clients to maximize reach while keeping engagement high so as to avoid deliverability problems. As Gmail and other inbox providers continue to tighten their engagement-based filtering algorithms, the ability to direct your email volume toward that portion of your audience that’s more likely to respond is valuable, especially during the holiday season when promotional email volume spikes across the industry.

    AI-powered content recommendations and AI-powered copywriting tools are others to consider.

    Make Your Customer Experience More Seamless

    Consumers expect frictionless interactions with your brand across whatever series of channels they use—and they become quite irritated if they see that you’re not paying attention to what they’re doing and waste their time with irrelevant messaging.

    That makes it essential that you’re able to see customer activity across channels and respond across those channels to create a seamless and smooth omnichannel customer experience. That’s the ideal, but it is challenging. Thankfully, it has become considerably less challenging in recent years.

    “We’ve been talking about omnichannel orchestration for years in the marketing community. However, technology has now caught up to the concept,” says Kaiti (Livermore) Gary, Director of Strategic Services, Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “With easier and faster integrations between various parts of the marketing tech stack, it’s now easier than ever to execute on omnichannel strategies.”

    Even so, you may want to start small and try to better synchronize just two channels. For example, consider using a tool like Oracle Maxymiser to personalize your landing pages so someone coming from an email will have a tailored experience that continues the interaction they started in their inbox.

    Ramp Up Your A/B Testing

    Listening to your customers is vital, and A/B testing is just one more way that you can listen to what your customers are telling you that they prefer. Just make sure you avoid these A/B testing pitfalls so you don’t waste your time, missed out on golden opportunities, or—worst of all—confidently come to the wrong conclusions.

    Among the biggest missed opportunities that we see with email A/B testing is that triggered emails are chronically under-tested. This is unfortunate because automated emails typically produce the biggest returns. That means that the A/B testing opportunity for triggered emails is bigger, too. Plus, improvements in triggered campaigns deliver better subscriber experiences over a longer period of time because they’re ongoing campaigns.

    “Testing definitely isn’t just for one-time promo emails,” says Helen Lillard, Principal B2C Consultant, Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “Set up audience journey programs like welcomes, nurtures, and reengagements with testing so that you can test your content, offer, subject line, and other elements for weeks at a time and get really solid results.”

    Experiment with Competitive Differentiators

    Want to get an edge? Then you should explore tactics and technologies that have low adoption, but high impact. We surveyed our Oracle CX Marketing Consultants to determine exactly which trends fit that description. We call those low adoption–high impact trends Competitive Differentiators.

    One of these trends is dark mode-optimization. Instead of the usual dark text on a light background, dark mode features the reverse: light text and a dark background. It’s a major trend in user interface experiences across a wide range of apps, including email clients.

    “Dark mode for email is here to stay,” says John A. Lillard, Principal Consultant for Implementation Services, Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “Unfortunately, it’s not an easy fix. Marketers have some tough work to do on the creative side to make sure that colors change as intended and their emails stay legible.”

    There are no magic bullets, but we have pulled together all of our best tips for how to optimize your emails for dark mode. It’s likely that dark mode support and hacks will change over time, so this is definitely an area to keep an eye on.

    Another competitive differentiator, according to our consultants, is Email Annotations in Gmail. By adding additional coding to your emails, you may have different and more compelling envelope content displayed in the inbox. The operative word here is may. There are both opportunities and concerns with Email Annotations, so it’s not for everyone.

    Those are just two of the 14 Competitor Differentiators our consultants identified. Also check out the trends that we rated Unproven Opportunities and Proven Essentials.

    Whether you’re looking for incremental improvements or big wins, the warmer months of the year are the ideal time to try new things and take some risks. For more advice on what to do now to get your marketing program in great shape for the holiday season, download the 13-page second quarter edition of our Holiday Marketing Quarterly.

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    Need help taking advantage of email marketing trends or running more tests? Oracle CX Marketing Consulting has more than 500 of the leading marketing minds ready to help you to achieve more with the leading marketing cloud, including strategists, analysts, and designers who are experienced with the trends that are driving the biggest returns for brands.

    Learn more or reach out to us at CXMconsulting_ww@oracle.com.

    Find out more about digital marketing at: https://www.oracle.com/marketingcloud/.

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