Let’s see… social media or email? It’s an easy choice for the holidays, folks.

It’s no secret that direct marketers like the newest shiny objects, but the focus on these new things sometimes drives me a little crazy.  Take social media, for example.  It’s not brand new, but it’s newer than email and it still gets a ton of coverage and attention in the marketing world.  But have you ever spoken to anyone who has actually made money using it?  Whenever I’ve asked someone who is heavy into Facebook what their ROI is on their efforts, I have invariably gotten a fuzzy non-answer.

I certainly understand that some larger companies can actually track sales or increases in brand awareness and attribute them to social media.  And Google Analytics has made progress in allowing all of us to better track social media efforts.  But I’ve found that most small-to-medium-sized companies have neither the resources nor the expertise to really be able to say how much money they’ve made with their Facebook and Twitter (and other) efforts.  In fact, social media is not really a marketing channel—it’s…well, a place for people to socialize!

So then the question becomes:

  • Why are marketers spending time on these things instead of focusing on a few things that matter more?

And the answer is:

  • I haven’t a clue, but let’s make sure everyone knows about some things that are more important!

Specifically, I believe that a better focus on making your email list more productive is far more profitable than fiddling around on Facebook.  Call me a curmudgeon, but I’ve watched this happen over and over.

The simple fact is that email is still, for most direct marketing companies, the most profitable channel—usually by a lot.  You should therefore, between now and January, optimize it in every respect.  And I’m willing to bet my last dollar that your sales results with email will far out-perform anything you’ll do with social media for the holidays.

Here are three simple tactics that will absolutely increase your holiday sales via your email channel, and none of them are complicated:

  1. Do A/B splits on your subject lines to increase your overall open rates.  I’ve used this for a client recently and have been able to go from a middling 13.8% rate to as much as 16.7%–which is a LOT more people with their list size.
  2. Test offers using small samples of your house file, then roll out the winner to the remainder of the file.  Most catalogers are quite familiar with this tactic, and guess what–it works with email too!
  3. Segment out the non-openers from a given mailing, wait a few days, and do a re-mail to them with a different subject line.   You’re using the same creative and you will get additional sales.  Your open rate will likely be lower on the second send, but I’ve seen an easy 20-25% increase in total overall sales from re-use of the same message.

While this might sound like (and in fact IS) direct marketing 101, in my experience the majority of companies are not using even these basic tactics.  If you are not using them, then why not?

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Bud Reed, Dean of E-Commerce

The Ecommerce Curmudgeon