Email: An early check in before the holiday madness begins

It isn’t too early to put key things in place so that when the holidays arrive, you’ll be ready. 

Remember the GEICO TV commercial where Caleb the Camel swaggers through an office shouting, “Guess what day it is?”  

Now picture me hanging over your cubicle and waving my hands to get your attention. 

“Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike! Guess what time of year it is!” 

“Time to think about the holidays?” you answer in a voice filled with dread. 

Yeah! Holidays!

There, I said it. I might be the first person to start talking about holiday 2022 email planning; and if I’m not, I will act as if I am. After all, we’re just a few days away from Q3 and its run-up to the holidays. For many brands, that means the runway to holiday campaigns is getting shorter. 

But first: Take stock

I won’t start this process by listing all the trends you need to follow, the shopping forecasts and how inflation and uncertainty and COVID and yada-yada-yada will help or hurt holiday sales. 

Instead, I want to check in with you to see how you’re doing and whether you took my advice back in January in “Marketers: What should you focus on in 2022?” I’m going to assume that you did what I told you to do and now you’re sitting there waiting for me to tell you what to do next.

No, I’m kidding. But stay with me here. Readers who did follow my advice would be in a great position today to develop a comprehensive and coordinated Holiday 2022 plan – or a plan for whatever busy time defines your business. 

If you missed it, skipped it or quit before you finished reading, go ahead and take a few minutes now to read or reread what I wrote. I’ll wait.

(How ’bout those [insert football/hockey/baseball/soccer team name here]?)

Hey, you’re back! Now let’s take stock of where we are.

Let’s start by being honest with each other. Email marketers are the classic “screaming down the hall” people. Anybody who has ever lived through a retail or e-commerce season on the email team knows the day will come when someone farther up the email food chain freaks out because sales numbers aren’t where they’re supposed to be and starts hollering to send more email.

We email people are the ones who will ride in and save the day. We probably won’t get the credit for it – no extra budget, no new butts in seats. We’re the unsung heroes.

But to win at the holidays, you need a plan and not just a rough outline you drew on a cocktail napkin at Happy Hour last week. Planning begins with an email audit, so you know where your program stands, and it needs an updated set of KPIs so you can measure whether your efforts are paying off.

I was on a call with two clients earlier today. One item on the agenda was for me to talk about the holidays. They said, “Really? We need to talk about this already?” and I said, “Yes, just follow me,” and we talked about their thoughts.

“So, how long do you think it will take you to do all these things?” I asked at one point, and they both started laughing. The answer was epic. “I guess we should start now because that’s a long list of stuff to do,” one replied.

That was exactly the right answer. We, as email marketers, get so caught up in the day-to-day grind that we lose sight of what’s just down the road and around the corner. So, suddenly, International Bagpipe Day is coming up* and somebody wants to know your plan, and you don’t have one.

It’s the same with holidays. We forget from year to year about this big looming holiday, and then we get all wrapped up in planning, do what everybody else wants us to do and cross our fingers and hope we make our numbers. Let’s keep that from happening this year. A mid-year check-up is your chance to stop and see where you are and what you need to do to get ready.

Tip 1: Audit your email program

I asked people to audit their programs and put the results in a PowerPoint deck. This formalizes and documents your planning process. Your audit will show you what you need to fix.

If you audited your email program earlier this year or brought in an agency to help you evaluate it, now is the time to review and update your findings. What do you need to add, delete or adjust? What can you cross off your list? What do you need to do to differentiate this year from last year?

Because that’s the key. This year should be different from last year.

If nothing has changed in your audit findings, you should start prioritizing the things to work on. This is your gentle reminder to get that stuff done. Don’t think, “I have nothing to work on.” That’s like tempting fate. 

Ask around. Ask your email peers and cross-functional team members. People will always have opinions about your email program. Rank their comments based on ROI, level of effort and the time you have to work on it during your day. You have things to plan out well in advance for holiday or end of the year, and now is the time to do it.

Tip 2: Send your deck to an agency

I’m still waiting for yours. 

You still have time to run your ideas past an agency team to get their thoughts and advice. I get these requests all the time. 

That independent third-party opinion is important. You don’t have to do a full-scale audit. But you can get an opinion from an agency that knows email.

This is a key point. Be sure whoever you work with knows email. Many agencies say they do email. But “doing” email is not what is required. Find an agency that understands email inside and out. Those people will help you prioritize, make sense of what’s important or point out what you overlooked. 

You still have time to do this and win your fourth quarter like a champ.

Tip 3. Review and update your KPIs

Make sure you’re tight on how your email program makes money, your acquisition targets, and how you measure success. You need to know these, but beyond that, you need to be able to explain and update your boss, sometimes on the spur of the moment.

A long time ago, when I was on the retail side, I was burning the job candle at both ends and three candles. I was so busy I didn’t know which end was up. Then one day, my boss stopped me to ask what our average open rate was, and I didn’t have a clue. I was so focused on my day-to-day duties, putting out fires, going to meetings and writing reports that I wasn’t up to date on my own KPIs. That was a total fail – and one I never repeated.

What are the KPIs you should have at your command immediately? These are the ones you know, review and understand, so when someone asks you, even if they stop you in the middle of the hall or drop by your cubicle or office, you can fire off an answer immediately.

You need that view in a dashboard or email. If you don’t have it, get it.

Knowing your KPIs has two other benefits: You’re helping your boss and others understand what’s important. The numbers also back you up when you want to show your success.

Why is that important? Because we email marketers don’t share our successes as often as we should. We’re either too humble or too pressed for time to toot our own horns.

But we need to do that because the only way to gain respect from others and to get our rightful share of the company budget and attention is to keep showing everyone how great we are. That starts with sharing KPIs for every program we manage.

Tip 4: Expand your knowledge base

This is bonus advice that wasn’t included in my January column. Consider it my mid-year checkup and adjustment.

So far in 2022, I have attended two in-person conferences, and I’m about to go on stage and deliver a keynote for a third one. That’s a refreshing turn of events. 

It reminded me again that one of the great benefits of attending these shows in person was hearing everyone’s personal stories. Not just what they said on stage or in breakout sessions but what they shared while we stood in the breakfast line, sat together at lunch or chatted over drinks and dinner. 

If education is not part of your regular schedule, make time for it.

I attend at least one webinar a week. Sometimes I’m speaking on it, and sometimes I’m in the audience. Sometimes it’s about email, and sometimes it’s another subject that affects my work in email. It doesn’t matter. If it’s a good session, I walk away with something I didn’t know before. 

What are you doing to learn? I talked about auditing your email program and looking deep inside your email. Still, you also have to reach out and dive into the enormous amount of learning available to you in webinars, conferences, local events and the like. That’s where you get the fodder for good ideas.

Wrapping up

Now that it’s June, we have more of 2022 behind us than before us. The fourth quarter will be here before you know it. Now is the time to put key things in place so that when holiday arrives, you’ll be ready. 

We need to keep our eyes on what’s coming up to get ahead of events and not just react to them. 

Be sure you are queued for what’s coming tomorrow because that will make managing tomorrow easier.

* Don’t panic! International Bagpipe Day is March 10, so you can get through the holidays before you start planning campaigns.

The post Email: An early check in before the holiday madness begins appeared first on MarTech.


About The Author

As the co-founder of, Ryan Phelan’s two decades of global marketing leadership has resulted in innovative strategies for high-growth SaaS and Fortune 250 companies. His experience and history in digital marketing have shaped his perspective on creating innovative orchestrations of data, technology and customer activation for Adestra, Acxiom, Responsys, Sears & Kmart, BlueHornet and infoUSA. Working with peers to advance digital marketing and mentoring young marketers and entrepreneurs are two of Ryan’s passions. Ryan is the Chairman Emeritus of the Email Experience Council Advisory Board and a member of numerous business community groups. He is also an in-demand keynote speaker and thought leader on digital marketing.