January is traditionally a month of cleansing, re-evaluation, and pretending that the 15th leftover turkey, cranberry and stuffing sandwich is still as amazing as the first. It’s also when people take to their inboxes to delete unread emails, remove superfluous ones and unsubscribe from marketing emails. This is called the ‘Great Unsubscribe’.

But why? In the run-up to Black Friday and the festive season, companies embark on intense promotional campaigns to ensure bigger sales. This means a vast increase of marketing emails entering inboxes. Come January, and coupled with the seasonal increase in advertising elsewhere, customers hit marketing fatigue. This results in a desire to rein in who they hear from for the coming year. 

As email marketers, having people unsubscribe from your emails is part and parcel of the job. You can’t stop it completely. But losing engaged customers can result in a long-term loss of ROI. And since the end of the year is when people are most engaging with emails, how do you lessen this impact? How can you ensure that you are not the one they are unsubscribing from?

Establish a connection with your customers

This is probably the strongest play in your playbook here. But it’s also the one that requires the most thought and preparation. Customers are increasingly wanting to hear from companies that they feel share their values as a human being. Companies that take an empathetic and emotionally intelligent approach to their marketing tone, copy and presentation are much more likely to build a long-lasting and loyal relationship with their customers. This is mutually beneficial. Customers feel like the company ‘gets them’ and value that they are treated like human beings, and companies retain active customers over longer periods of time and through times where customer loyalty is tested – such as the Great Unsubscribe and economic downturns. 

So how do you go about this? For starters, it’s a long-term goal. Plan your email content and messaging ahead of time, so you’re set up for the rest of 2022. It takes time for your messaging and brand to build that relationship, but think about how you can be empathetic and focused to your audience. Especially within heavily promotional times like the festive season – use language and content that connects with your audience rather than solely focusing on the ‘buy buy buy’ approach. Customers can feel bombarded at this time, so being a brand that recognizes and holds back on this will stand out. 

Think about the following:

  • Invest in relevant personalization and content. This helps individualize each email, making it more likely that customers engage with it. A helpful way of gaining this information initially is creating and communicating, a preference center about topics/areas they can indicate interest in.
  • Look at segmentation to further focus your emails on what is relevant to each customer.
  • Use triggered emails after website/cart interactions but in a non-salesy way. E.g. “we saw you really liked this”, or “See what the community is saying about this”. This is more suggestive and invitational rather than overtly pushing another offer towards them.
  • If it’s too late to change your Christmas and Black Friday messaging, think about how to approach them in January. For the highly engaged, look at what you can offer them. It doesn’t have to be promotions – is there any content that will fit their current needs. And consider how you can re-engage those that have dropped away (nurture sequences, re-engagement offers, items of interest, etc).

Mix up what’s been in your emails

During Black Friday and the festive season, the vast majority of emails are geared towards promotions and offers. So come January, customers are more likely to want a break from these types of communications. 

That’s not to say that you can’t continue to send promotional emails, but not focusing solely on them can pay dividends. Mixing in emails that contain different types of content can break up the seemingly constant stream of offer-led emails. Think thought-provoking, light-hearted or even general interest content. For one, the recent festive season will most likely have taken a financial hit on customers, so asking them to buy even more in January may show a lack of empathy towards them. 

If those sorts of emails don’t fully suit your brand, they don’t have to be fully separate. Try mixing in those content types and more light-hearted messaging into your promotional emails to break them up. Also, the design of your emails can be played with too to help differentiate them from what came before. Play around with incorporating GIFs, emojis and high res/ clever images to liven up the email content. 

All of these changes in tone, content and design can alleviate the repetition and intensity of promotional email chains, and so help keep your subscribers engaged. No one likes a one-trick pony after all!

Change the frequency of your emails

Did you know that, according to our friends at Litmus, 54% of people unsubscribe from emails because they come too frequently? Well, imagine what the intense period from Black Friday to the end of December is contributing to this? 

Email fatigue is a real thing. If your brand is culpable of over-sending, you see unsubscribes from previously engaged customers. It’s usually wise to slow down on the email sends during January to prevent fatigue. 

Try a more ‘touch-base’ approach for the first 2 weeks. Stay connected and keep subscribers engaged, but pull back on the frequency, size and content of your emails. You can keep them within your reach by pointing them to other channels, like social media.

Top tip: If you have been particularly heavy on the email sends, it might be time for a ‘pause’, where you let your long-term subscribers know you’re giving them a short break (2 weeks) to prevent fatigue – you can still do campaigns for new subscribers!

Keep a close eye on your analytics!

This could be an obvious thing to suggest but hear me out! Analytics are important in measuring your email campaign’s performance – what has worked and what hasn’t. But you can also use them in the middle of an email campaign to get a steer on what is working and what isn’t – rather than waiting until the end. 

Keep an eye on the initial ‘reactions’ to your emails in such an intense period, such as clicks, interactions, conversions to webpages and even unsubscribes. This constant analysis can present you with the opportunity to continually assess the situation. You can then fix any issues and pivot to more beneficial tactics for retaining subscribers (as well as increasing ROI!) when possible. 

A successful email campaign is more likely to keep subscribers than lose them, and if your subscribers come into January with a good impression of your brand then the more likely they are to allow you into their inboxes!

Try to be as inclusive as possible

In January your subscribers will have inboxes crammed with brands offering promotions, content and tidings of goodwill centred around Christmas. But we should keep in mind that some people don’t celebrate the festivities due to a variety of reasons (religious, personal, etc). 

The sheer onslaught of festive marketing in Western countries in November and December can alienate those not wanting to participate. You want to avoid excluding anyone from your email marketing, especially if you are trying to emotionally connect with your customers. Think about your copy and your email designs – are they too bombastic and specific about Christmas? You don’t need to steer clear of festive-themed marketing (in fact doing so could risk a backlash and lack of interaction from those that do celebrate it!) but it’s about finding that balance. And consider other holidays throughout the year that not everyone will be celebrating too.

Another great strategy is to offer your subscribers the chance to opt-out of annual holiday (Christmas, Valentine’s Day etc.) marketing emails. That way you are much more likely to retain them as they get to skip an email campaign that they may not like, and they will appreciate your brand’s empathy and thoughtfulness towards their situation by giving them this choice.

Summary

It seems strange, given that Black Friday and the holiday season is all-consuming for email marketing teams, that we should also be looking at January. But the following steps can make a real difference in maintaining a substantial, healthy and engaged email list:

  • Mix up the content and designs of your emails in January. Go from heavy promotional emails to something lighter, and try including GIFs and emojis to freshen up designs.
  • Adapt the frequency of your emails to combat email fatigue. Consider decreasing the number of emails you send in the first 2 weeks of January, or even announce to subscribers that you’re ‘giving them a break’ from emails altogether for that time.
  • Constantly review the data connected to your email campaigns. You can then enact quick fixes, or immediately capitalize on successes much more easily. All of which will help keep your subscribers through heightened brand reputation.
  • Be inclusive with your emails. Make everyone feel that they matter to you, whether they celebrate the holiday season or not. This will keep them in your email list come January.

For 2022 and beyond, look to implement a tone and marketing strategy that establishes an empathetic connection with your customers. Being a brand that understands its customers means that they won’t want to remove you from their inboxes. It needs time to build up, so doing it throughout the year will pay dividends.

~Matt

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