What Can Snail Mail Remind Us About Email?

I must admit, when it comes to sending out Christmas cards, I am old-fashioned. While many of my friends and family have stopped sending out Christmas cards or have replaced them with either an email message or a social media post, I continue to snail mail my cards. This year, as I sat down with my stack of cards, envelopes, stamps, list, and pen in hand, I realized there are actually a lot of similarities to the best practices email marketers use when sending messages to their subscriber list. 

Make your list and check it twice
Similar to managing an email program, managing my Christmas card process is an investment of both my time and money. So every year I revisit my list to decide who I’ll be mailing. For example, I know my Great Aunt and Uncle are vacationing over the holidays and have suspended their mail, so instead of mailing them a card, I’ll call them. For some contacts, it’s a matter of deciding the best channel to reach them. For others, it may be time to remove them from my mailing list. Just as I set rules for my list, email marketers must decide not only who to continue sending emails to, but also consider if email is the preferred contact method for every subscriber on their list. 

Get creative
Every year there is one card I’m most anxious to receive. I wonder about it… wait for it… and tear it open when it arrives. It’s a card from some friends who create a theme for their card photo every year instead of sending a traditional family photo. There was an ugly holiday sweater photo, 80s Christmas photo, Christmas jammies photo, pets dressed up as the family photo… they really get it into it. Because their card is so different from all the other cards and fits the family’s personality, I really look forward to receiving it. Email marketers want their subscribers to feel the same way about the messages they receive: anticipating, opening, and engaging every time. Also, cards are frequently put on display, so just as you want your card to stand out and represent your family, email marketers want their email to reflect their brand and stand out from the rest of the messages competing for subscribers’ attention in the inbox. 

Make it personal
Some people on my list I speak with regularly, others I haven’t talked with in months. I know for the people I interact with frequently, just receiving a photo card with a short note is fine. But for those I haven’t been in recent contact with, I know I need to write a note to catch up and let them know I’ve been thinking of them and hope to connect again soon. It’s the same way with your subscriber list. Subscribers who are frequently engaging with your emails need a separate message and contact strategy than those with lapsed engagement. In either case, it is critical to recognize the value of every subscriber on your list and tailor each message to be personal and relevant so they want to continue to receive and engage with your messages. Leverage information you know about your subscribers (purchase history, information provided during sign-up, etc.) to personalize your messages. 

Keep it simple
I moved in the past year, so I wanted to make sure my contacts knew how to reach me. Instead of assuming everyone knows or relying on recipients to check my return address label, I enclosed a small “We’ve Moved!” card with a clever graphic and the new address to grab their attention. I also wanted to make it easy to transfer my updated information into their contacts so I used business card sized paper they would have in-hand even if they immediately threw the envelope away. Whether you’re collecting information from your subscribers or communicating important information to them, keep messaging as simple and straightforward as possible to increase the likelihood they will share and receive information. Walk them through action steps and ask for/share only information that is important to better communicate with the subscriber.

Keep it clean
Ever mailed a Christmas card only to have it returned to you? It’s not fun to send a Christmas card after Christmas because you had the wrong address the first time you sent it. It’s no longer relevant and will likely make a short trip to the garbage. So if I know someone has moved, I’ll reach out to them directly to request their new postal address, ask a trusted friend for it, or look up their address online. In order to reduce bounces, unknown users and spam traps, email marketers should take a similar approach to performing list hygiene before mailing their file. Messages should include an “update email address” link within message footers and email preference pages to get change of address information directly from subscribers. Marketers can also leverage other resources such as FreshAddress® or BrightVerify® for email change of address, list hygiene, and real-time email validation.  

Timing is everything
This year I sent out my Christmas cards earlier than usual in order to ensure anyone sending me a card would have my new address when they needed it. That meant I had to plan out every aspect of my cards in advance, including scheduling photos for the cards, creating COA cards, and reviewing my list. In the same way, email marketers need to be strategic to send out the right message to subscribers at the right time. Return Path’s Send Time Optimization tool helps you send the right message at the right time by leveraging subscriber data to pinpoint the best time to connect with each individual on your subscriber list. How important is it?  Email marketers using the Send Time Optimization tool see on average an increase of 25% for opens and clicks, which also yields more conversions.

Follow through
I love connecting with friends and family during the holidays. But if I don’t foster these relationships throughout the year, it’s easy to drift apart. Email marketers must also be intentional about building subscriber trust and loyalty throughout the year by creating a personalized subscriber experience regardless of where the subscriber is at in the lifecycle stage. It’s also important to set expectations and follow-through. For example, if I write someone a note saying I want to catch up soon, I make sure I reach out to them again after the holidays. Contact shouldn’t be one-sided either. It’s important to engage, ask questions, and understand what’s important to your subscriber so you can customize messages accordingly.Relationship building requires time and effort but the ROI is significant! 

It’s never too early to start planning your 2016 holiday strategy! Take a look at Return Path's 10 Email Tips to Keep Your Holidays Merry & Bright.


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