This is an example of a Segment in MailChimp

When You Should Use Lists, Groups, Fields, & Segments in MailChimp

A client recently asked me about customer segmentation and how that applies to your email list. Here’s her question:

“As you know, we recently moved to MailChimp. We want to use customer segments, but we’re not sure where to start. When we were with {last email marketing software}, we just had one list. Now, it looks like we have the option to create lists, groups, and segments. How do I segment my list? What is the difference between a list, and group, and segment? Is this something I have to worry about or will you be taking care of this for us?” — client

This is actually a couple different questions. Let’s break it down by first separating the “technical” definition of some terms that are more software-specific (groups, lists etc) and what you’re actually wanting to accomplish (customer segmenting).

#1 – Lists, Groups, Segments, and Custom Fields: The Difference

Since you probably want to know what the difference between a list, group, and segment is (just like my client), let’s define that first, from a MailChimp perspective. Your email marketing service of choice probably uses similar terms.

Here are the definitions:

  • List – A list of subscribers who have opted in to hear from you.
  • Groups – A category within your list that organizes your subscribers by their interests and preferences.
  • List Fields and *|MERGE|* tags –  Extra information about your subscribers is stored in list fields. Just like Groups, this data can be hidden or visible and can be used in your content via the *|MERGE|* tag. You can also add your own custom fields.
  • Segments – A specific set of your list subscribers with common qualities. Segments can be created to target subscribers by location, engagement, activity, and more – with a maximum of five filters selected.

Here’s what that all means in relation to how a company would actually use in practice. Let’s use Instacart as an example, for how they might use lists, groups, segments, and custom fields:

You have a MailChimp ACCOUNT: (Example account name: Instacart)

  • Within that account, you have LISTS. (Example list names: Instacart, Instacart Partners, Instacart Personal Shoppers)
    Lists in MailChimp

    • Within those lists, you have GROUPS (Example groups: Service Area or City: -Seattle, -Portland, -San Francisco etc. Type: Customer)
      Groups in MailChimp
    • Within those lists, you have LIST FIELDS and you can add custom fields (Example custom fields: Referral, Last order date, Last order store)
      Adding Custom Fields in MailChimp
    • Within those lists, you can also use SEGMENTS to search for subscribers (Example saved segment: Subscribers who received the last campaign, didn’t open it, are not customers, and referral type was…)
      Segment in MailChimp

#2 – How Should You “Segment” Your List?

Now to address the second question. As a quick refresher, all Lists within your MailChimp account are independent of each other with their own subscriber data, activity, custom fields, and other information. Other than creating a new Account, a List is the highest level “grouping” that you can create. While this might sound like a great place to divvy people up, here are the drawbacks of using multiple lists:

  • You cannot share data across Lists. For example, if someone unsubscribes, but you have multiple lists, you are probably going to annoy them.
  • You pay per email subscriber. For example, if you have the same email address on 2 LISTS you pay 2x.

MailChimp Groups vs Segments

Groups are a powerful tool that categorize subscribers by their interests or preferences within a single list. No managing multiple lists with overlapping subscribers at double the price. Groups can be used for any data – but is best for anything you might want to use to filter your list by.

Reason to use Groups and Custom Fields instead of multiple lists:

  • A GROUP is like a subcategory under a LIST.
  • You can share information – unsubscribe, custom fields, and other system info – across GROUPS and segments. For example, if you have the same email address in 2 GROUPS, you pay just 1x.
  • You can keep some information hidden, if you like.
  • You can customize email content based on these custom fields using “Merge” tags – from things like “Hi NAME, this month’s blah blah blah!” in the intro or “NAME” in the subject line, to displaying a promotion only to people who have not ordered in one month etc.

The Power of Segmenting by Using Custom Fields and MERGE tags

You can use any of the data from Groups, Subscriber Activity or Custom Fields to create targeted subscriber segments and send relevant campaign content. 
This is an example of a Segment in MailChimp
For example, you could create a segment to show “All subscribers who ordered before Sept 1”, who “have opened any of the last 5 campaigns”, and who are in the Group “Service Area: Portland”. This segment is going to show you shoppers in Portland, who are relatively engaged (they open your emails), but haven’t shopped in a month. What might you send to them? You could test a campaign with some kind of discount offer or sale or update them on the latest seasonal items you have available in that area.

Segments can be based on Group data, Subscriber data (automation activity, campaign activity, date added, email client, location, member rating etc), Merge fields (name, email address, any other custom merge tag you created), or Integrations.

In Practice

Many clients I work with will have 5-10 different lists in MailChimp and no groups, when I first check out their accounts. Most of the time, the bulk of these email lists will be consolidated down to one list and a couple groups if they need any frequent segmenting.

The beauty of having everyone in one list, is that in future campaigns you can reference any of this data, right in a campaign – that goes out to everyone by using MERGE tags in your content. There are a ton of cool things you can do with MERGE tags in a campaign, but we’ll save that for another time.

Your Next Steps:
✔ Consolidate your current lists down to the essentials.
✔ Use Groups to organize any high-level information.
✔ Create Custom Fields for any extra visible or hidden data that you want to have attached to your subscribers.
✔ Try using a piece of Custom Field data in a campaign
✔ Write down a few “Segment” searches you could create that apply to your business

Are there any other things you’d like to know about the strategy behind list segmenting? Let me know, and sign up to hear about the Rock-Solid Email Marketing Strategy book launch.
Create a Rock-Solid Email Marketing Strategy

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Email Marketing Checklist Cheat Sheet: Free Download

We don’t like checklists. They can be painstaking. They’re not much fun. But I don’t think the issue here is mere laziness. There’s something deeper, more visceral going on when people walk away not only from saving lives but from making money. It somehow feels beneath us to use a checklist, an embarrassment. It runs counter to deeply held beliefs about how the truly great among us — those we aspire to be — handle situations of high stakes and complexity. The truly great are daring. They improvise. They do not have protocols and checklists. Maybe our idea of heroism needs updating.” –The Checklist Manifesto

How many times have you gotten an email newsletter that had a glaring error in it? A typo in the subject line? Spelling errors in the first sentence? Broken links? Random images? Or receiving multiple, repeated emails or worse, from a “list” you didn’t subscribe to?

Welcome to the bad dreams keeping email marketers up at night. While not all mistakes can be avoided, we are mere humans after-all, most can be avoided if we follow a checklist approach to sending each newsletter.

The Checklist ManifestoIf you haven’t read The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande check it out. It’s a thorough history of checklists, what makes a good checklist, and how checklists save lives from a medical and aviation stand-point. Not all the examples filter through to marketing and business, but I still highly recommend it if you’re trying to wrap your mind around why, how, and when to use a checklist. Whether or not you take the book for a spin, here a few of my take-aways and a free downloadable checklist for applying the “checklist mentality” to email marketing.

The following checklist is geared towards Mailchimp users (my email marketing provider of choice. Not using Mailchimp? I can help migrate you there! DIY? Use this link and get $30 credit for a new paid account). Beneath each checklist item you’ll see what screen or step in the Mailchimp dashboard to find the task in. However, the checklist still applies to sending email newsletters in general, no matter which provider you use.

Free Email Marketing Checklist Download

This email marketing checklist gets the easy stuff out of the way. Run through the list for each email newsletter campaign, and you can stop asking yourself “did I remember everything?!” So whether you print it out and hang it on the wall or just give it a quick run-through before clicking that “Send” button, this checklist will help take the responsibility of not making silly mistakes off your shoulders, and free you up to do more important things!

Get the full version (free) as a pdf when you sign up for my newsletter:

 

Here is a preview of the 12 step checklist:

Email Checklist

And here’s one more great quote from The Checklist Manifesto. An alternate title really could have been “In Defense of Checklists”!

The fear people have about the idea of adherence to protocol is rigidity. They imagine mindless automatons, heads down in a checklist, incapable of looking out their windshield and coping with the real world in front of them. But what you find,when a checklist is well made, is exactly the opposite. The checklist gets the dumb stuff out of the way, the routines your brains shouldn’t have to occupy itself with (Are the elevator controls set? Did the patient get her antibiotics on time? Did the managers sell all their shares? Is everyone on the same page here? etc), and lets it rise above to focus on hard stuff (Where should we land?). –The Checklist Manifesto

Want to hear more about email marketing? Questions? Leave them in the comments!

Email marketing checklist
1. Business requirements
Newsletter recipient goal:   BUY    READ    SHARE    CONNECT    OTHER
Call to action ____________________
What is “success”? ____________________
How will I measure that success? ____________________

2. Is this a “Regular” or A/B Test campaign?
Replicate a previous Regular or A/B Test campaign (test different subject lines and content!) campaign.

3. Any list segmenting?
Send to entire list or a segment (a Group, Subscriber Activity like opened/didn’t open, etc.)

4. Change name of campaign & link tracking
Name of campaign is for internal use. Tracking>Google Analytics: Change to unique text so trackable to this campaign only (eg. 2013Nov)

5. Change subject line
Write out 3-5 subject line ideas, pick two for A/B test.

6. Any template changes needed?

7. Change snippet text in header
Keep short. This displays next to the subject line in most email and mobile clients.

8. Change body content & images
Content: Strong intro? Short sentences? Matches editorial calendar? Spell checked
Images: Awesome images? All images have links? All images have ALT text?
Style: Some formatting used? bold, underline, italics, bullet points etc.

9. Any conditional tags needed (if/else/interested etc)?
Any custom content that needs to be displayed to specific users (interested/if/else/end) or for the A/B test. Example: *|GROUP:A|* This shows only for group A recipients *|END:GROUP|*

10. Preview & Test email
Preview: For desktop and mobile. Preview header info and any live merge info.
Test: Send a test email – proof subject line, content, test all links, send a 2nd test to a friend.
Verify: Subject line matches content? Landing page matches content? Any time-sensitive info updated? Images ALT text (what displays when images are turned off) matches.

11. Plain-text version of email
Click “Copy Text from HTML Email” button.

12. Schedule email & Add marketing/stats
Run Inbox Inspection? Test with Deliver Doctor? (Optional) Make any needed changes.
Schedule campaign: Date/time based on previous learned data? TimeWarp send needed?
Marketing: Post social media reminder about newsletter (link to newsletter signup page).
Reporting: Add relevant data to your Marketing/Stats/KPI document.

Originally published November 2013, updated for 2015.

Customer path travel - large

Where is email marketing on your customer path to purchase?

One thing that can be challenging about marketing attribution is not know what is “normal” and what could be optimized. I’ve talked about the customer “journey/path” and marketing attribution a bit in the past. While no business is exactly the same, there’s always something to learn when you stack up your business next to others in the same industry or of the same size, etc.

Google’s Think program just came out with a new tool – The Customer Journey to Online Purchase. This tool shows on average, how and when marketing channels affect the purchase decisions for different size businesses across industries.

The main thing to use this tool for is to get an idea of how you can improve your business. If your business is new and growing and you don’t even have a customer journey yet, having a framework like this to look at will give you a place to start in where marketing channels usually fit in the purchase process.

The tool allows you to explore based on business size (small is defined as < 500 ecommerce transactions in 45 days; medium is 500-10,000; large is > 10,000). The data is organized into 19 industry categories, including: arts & entertainment, autos & vehicles, beauty & fitness, books & literature, business & industrial, computers & electronics, finance, food & drink, games, hobbies & leisure, home & garden, internet & telecom, jobs & education, law & government, people & society, pets & animals, shopping, sports, and travel. Country-wise, the tool includes: Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, UK, and USA.

Keep in mind that this tool is an experiment and useful, but maybe not the godsend of exact data and information for your business. For example, the industry categories are broad (shopping? business and industrial?). Size is also based on transactions – what if you have less than 500 transactions that are worth $2,000 each? And cross-device activity is not reported in Google’s Think reports. So take a look at the tool, and now we’ll go over two main ideas: first, how different marketing channels influence the purchase decision and then the channels position on the path to purchase.

How marketing channels influence the purchase decision: by size, industry, and country

Taking a look at the first part of the tool, select your business size, industry, and country. Here’s a look at small businesses in the travel industry in the USA:

customer journey purchase

More often an assist interaction at the beginning of the customer purchase journey will be organic search. This is where marketing channels like your blog – having quality and interesting content and being SEO-friendly is important to bringing potential customers in. Next is referrals, generic paid search, brand paid search. Maybe they’ll come back to you based on a retargeting campaign, or they come in via another website or blog, or you’re familiar enough that they’ll search for you by name. At this point, they’re hopefully interested enough in you and trust you that they want to hear more from you and they invite you into their inbox (how nice!). Then, it looks like your email newsletter is closer to the end of the journey and is more often one of the last interactions. So they’re getting your newsletter, they visit your site sometimes through the newsletter and sometimes just directly. One day, they purchase! Rinse. Repeat.

If you have a general idea of how your customer journey looks — you have a better understanding of how to communicate and what to say, when!

Now let’s explore marketing channels for large businesses, while keeping the industry as travel, and the country as US:

Customer path travel - large

This time, the journey begins with display clicks > social > generic paid search > ref/organic/email/brand paid search > direct. Things are looking a little different. Paid search tends to be a much bigger part of early acquisition. Social plays a bigger part in keeping new fans engaged while they become familiar, and then the usual suspects of referral, organic, email and more paid search come into play.

So take a few minutes and check out the tool for your business. Find the closest matching customer journey example and compare it to what you know about your business.

Takeaway Questions:

  1. How is the sample purchase path similar to yours?
  2. How is it different?
  3. How might your customer purchase path change as your company grows from a small to medium?
  4. Are there any marketing channels that you’re not currently using that might help grow your business?
  5. What channels are more about growing awareness versus closing sales?
  6. Given your second and third largest countries for your customer base, how do different countries compare using the tool, if you leave size and industry the same?

The attribution model comparison tool in Google Analytics can help us see whether our different marketing channels live closer to the beginning or end of the path.

Channel Position on the Path to Purchase

Your email campaign may have a different impact on your customers depending on when they interact with it. At the beginning of the purchase path, email helps customers gain awareness of your product or service. In the middle, it creates desire and boosts interest. And at the end, it helps to seal the deal.

Take a look at the second part of the Google Think tool. This time you can filter based on the channel to compare beginning, middle, and end positioning:

Channel position - email

Think about how your email campaigns differ based on where your customer is in their journey. If 40% of the people reading your email newsletter are at the beginning of the purchase path, what is your goal? Perhaps to educate, raise awareness of what you do/offer, build trust etc. If 46% of people reading are in the middle of their purchase path what is your goal? Perhaps to create interest, desire, educate, and continue building trust. If 14% of people reading are at the end, what is your goal? Probably to close the sale – while not annoying them.

Now, as you know an email campaign is not just a static bulk “blast” from me to 10,000 people. We now have the ability to communicate differently to those at the beginning, middle, and end of journey.

Takeaway Questions:

  1. What percentage of beginning, middle, end most closely resembles your business?
  2. This tool doesn’t address time to purchase. Some people will whip through your customer journey in 2 days, others will mosey along for 2 months. What does your time to purchase look like?
  3. How can being aware of where the customer is most typically at impact your day to day work and overall strategy in specific marketing channels? Maybe you could test out paid search or an educational drip campaign to new users etc.

Remember, Google’s Think data was taken from analyzing millions of consumers across industries and channels. It’s still nothing on the data you have about your particular business. If your business works differently, don’t think it needs to be like the average, but see if you can learn anything.

15 Things To Check – Your 2015 New Year’s Tune-up

Welcome 2015! The new year brings new beginnings, renewed aspirations and will power in our personal lives. It’s also a great time to take a step back on the business side. Here are 15 things to do for a fresh start this year. Some of these take longer than others, so give it a read, add a few things to your calendar, or just dig in where necessary…

1. Change your passwords & start using a password system like LastPass or 1Password

Lastpass
With the likes of Adobe, and countless other networks hacked each year, if you haven’t given your passwords a reset in a while, set a timer, and knock out the biggies like your Google Account, social networks, and banking sites. Whether you go with a password storage system like LastPass or 1Password, now is a great time to generate secure {aka crazy} passwords and not have to worry about it. Hint: if you remember all the passwords off the top of your head, they’re most likely not secure, and you’re probably using the same password for more than one thing.

With many of these accounts you can add double-authentication login (Google Account, Twitter, Mailchimp etc.)

2. Backup and update your website/blog

Wordpress update
Have a blog or website? When was the last time you backed up your files? It’s a boring one, but when you most need it, you’ll be incredible thankful. If you’re on WordPress, also make sure you’re on the latest update and all your plugins are up to date. You can also make this happen automatically on a recurring basis with several of WordPress plugins. All done? Feels good doesn’t it?

3. Stalk yourself

Go on now, Google, Bing and Yahoo search your name and your business name. Have a brick and mortar store? Check your company out on Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook Places and make sure your profile is “claimed”/secured and see if there’s any feedback you need to reply to. Need any reputation management? Remember, this is also a great time to add links back to your website and social presence if it’s not already done. Have just a website/blog, check out what people are pinning on Pinterest from your site by putting your url as the “source” like: http://www.pinterest.com/source/poweredbytofu.com/
Pinterest Search

4. Update your social profiles to be current and consistent

The new year is a great time to check out your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest etc profiles and make sure your bio and background are consistent (“oh, hello profile that I haven’t updated in 3 year”). Using a cute new headshot on Twitter? Make sure it’s everywhere else too!

5. Check your internal site search in Google Analytics

Site Search in AnalyticsDo you have a blog or website? If you’re on WordPress, you can see what people are searching for on your site by heading to the Behavior tab on the left. Behavior > Site Search > Overview. Make sure you set your date range (top right) to the last year so you’re getting a full picture. Anything people seem to be searching for a lot? From what pages? How can you help them find things or make it more clear so they don’t have to search for it? While you’re in this report screen, you can also set the date range to monthly and then click the “Email” button on the top left, and set up a “Search Term” report to automatically be emailed to you as a pdf on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis. Neat huh?

6. Take an end-of-year look at Google Analytics

Google Analytics Yearly
While you’re in Google Analytics, set your date range to the last year and check out some of your metrics. Tip: check the “compare to previous period” box to take a look at year over year growth and stats. Whether you compile a detailed report or just cruise around a for a bit, set a timer and see what you can learn about the last year. Any major shifts in Traffic Sources in 2014? or quarterly? Search vs social channels? Any partnerships that are really generating some good (or poor) traffic? What can you learn from that? Any big jumps or dumps this year? How about sales? Are there any goals that you should set up for the coming year?

7. Check in on your email list

Do you have an email newsletter? Take a look at your end of the year stats. How has your list grown this year? What about your open rates and click through rates? Any big wins? Any obvious improvements?

8. Pick a KPI or some metrics that you will track for 2015 or the next quarter

Metrics that aren’t actionable are just stats, not a KPI but a “vanity metric”. So track some metrics to know where you stand, but use the KPI as your focus. Note: you usually need “metrics/stats” to create a KPI. Example, if your KPI is sales conversion rate, you’re going to need your sales and some kind of traffic or lead traffic numbers to even get to that %. So pick some KPI, goals, and metrics that you’ll be tracking this year. Remember you can always change them to something else next month or quarter if you realize it’s not what you want to track. Some ideas: blog post frequency, a sales goal, email newsletter signup rate or number, number of leads closed, number of influencers connected with, online to offline meetings, etc. Read more about Where to Start with Choosing Metrics & KPIs that Matter.

9. Are there any conferences or local meetups you want to attend this year?

lanyrd - conference searchHow often have you heard about a conference only after it’s happened? Take a few minutes and make note of the dates, prices, and locations of a few conferences that are already on your radar and then ask a few peers for some recommendations. Lanyrd is a great site for finding conferences coming to your area, as well. Check out some local meetups too. Meetup.com is great for finding local groups of all kinds (from business to tech to blogging to design etc).

10. Automate something: business, personal, financial

IFTTT recipes
The new year is a great time to check in on your current processes and see if you need any updates. Whether you’re setting up something clever or pretty standard in IFTTT or Zapier, or even removing a process to streamline your time, try to think of something that you spend a lot of time repeating… checking the weather to see if it rains? Use IFTTT. Adding tasks with dates assigned to your calendar? Make it happen with Zapier. Have fun, go a little crazy. ;)

11. Set a date/calendar appointment with yourself to begin your taxes

Tax day surpriseOh taxes. Don’t stress yet, just set a calendar appointment with yourself to address it at some point before April 14.

I’ve told myself I’ll review tax stuff on Sunday, February 1. In the meantime, all emails that I get from banks etc notifying me that I have at tax statement ready to view, I’m labeling as “Taxes” in Gmail.

12. Do a budget review

Set aside a bit of time to review your monthly business (and/or personal) budget. Does anything need to change this year? Are there any services or software that you’re paying for, but not using? Or anything fancy and new that’s duplicating your efforts, that you should cancel? Example: a friend is using the $12.95 Quickbooks Online software for accounting, but barely uses the features, so he’ll be switching to a free Wave account. $12.95/mo isn’t a lot, but since it’s barely used, that’s $155.40 that could be spent on something else in 2015. (Are you a freelancer? Here are a few more of my favorite freelancing software freebies).

13. Recap 2014

If you haven’t already, think about the last year and write down three things that you accomplished that you’re proud of. More than three things, go crazy. Then.

14. Set 2015 goals

What is the ONE THING you’d like to be able to say next year at this time for 2015? Write it down. Make it happen. What’s the next thing you need to do to make it happen? Start small.

The first few weeks of the year is also a great time to archive old stats and reports and make room for the future. For example, this week, I moved my 2014 editorial calendar tab in my Google Spreadsheet all the way over to the right (my “archive” area), and added a new editorial calendar tab from my updated 2016 editorial calendar template.

15. Go treat yourself to a latte

This is what a latte heart looks like if you're left handed!
Come on, it’s a new year, give yourself a break. Get a latte and then finish up any of the above items you haven’t done. ;)

How are you starting anew this year? Anything to add to this list?

Originally published January 6, 2014. Updated for 2015.

9 Ways to Prep Your Business for the Holiday Season

With the holidays approaching, it’s not too late to get your business and marketing prepped for shopping season. Depending on your business, this is either the hectic and exciting busy season (retail/ecommerce) or if you are on the consulting side, it might be time to hunker down and plan for the coming year.

Whether you have a retail store or sell online, sell tangible goods or digital products, run a shop or run a 1-person consultancy — here are nine things to consider before the madness of the holidays sets in:

Holiday Marketing

#1. What did you learn from last year?

One of the most important ways to make sure you’re not forgetting anything this holiday season is by analyzing what happened last year. Here are a few places to start on researching last season:

  • Sales data – what were you biggest sellers from last season? (consistent with year round? specific gift items? etc.)
  • Campaigns – what marketing campaigns or offers had the biggest impact on revenue? (free shipping promo etc.)
  • Competition – do you remember any campaigns your competitors did last year that you wished you’d thought up? (what can you apply?)
  • Website traffic – what pages/categories etc. on your website saw the most traffic (or the biggest increase) last November/December? (blog posts, gift guide, specific items, category pages etc.)
  • Channels – what were your biggest marketing channels last season – from a volume or ROI perspective? (Google, Paid Search, newsletter, Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp reviews etc.)
  • Change / Trends – what are some of the biggest changes your business has experienced or trends that have impacted your business/industry in the last year? Want more? Check out Think With Google’s holiday trends article.

#2. Create your holiday offer(s)

According to the National Retail Federation, November and December can account for as much as 30% of a retailer’s annual sales. Customers are ready to buy and your competition is figuring out their best offers. Creating a holiday offer does not mean you have to jump straight to discounting. Whether you add an upgrade/gift, promo code, free shipping, bundle, partnership with another company etc. do what fits your company’s style – even if that means no discounts.

Local? Think how you can partner with other businesses or events happening in your ‘hood. Nothing really going on? Host your own event or shop open house. Or offer a gift certificate that can be purchased last-minute.

Consultant? Think how you can offer a service or productized service to past clients.

#3. Decide what channels are going to be your biggest focus

You can’t be everywhere and do everything. Choose which channels are going to be your highest priority and which fall more in the “when we have time” category. Email marketing is typically the #1 channel during the holidays. Maybe Facebook is where you’ll need to be vigilant for customer support and promoting your holiday offers, while Twitter might play second fiddle (or vice versa). Do a little internal research and make sure you and your team are aware of which channels are highest priority. Reminder: mobile, mobile, mobile – keep in mind your mobile traffic and shoppers in everything that you do- it’s often a completely different experience.

#4. Create a holiday promotion schedule

Shopping momentum typically builds through November, goes wild in December, tapers as the holidays come and then surges again with returns and customers buying what they really wanted post-holiday. Build a promotion schedule out – planning what offers and channels will be promoted when. Remember to build in production time for design and content that needs to be created – for example: gift guides or staff picks. This schedule can be weekly or daily – so long as you remember what you’re doing and when.

Last minute – Unless you have a retail shop or are local, after the holiday shipping deadlines pass, consider how you’ll still be able to make some holiday sales. Can you offer a gift card that can be purchased last-minute and redeemed later?

#5. Decorate

Whether you have a real space to decorate or just a virtual world, having a theme and design for your holiday communication is a great idea. Show customers that you’re feeling festive, but make sure it matches your company’s design aesthetic. Feeling unsure in this department? Go minimal and stick to one color. While Pinterest is full of design ideas, a quick tip is to go back to last year’s emails from brands you admire and see what you liked/disliked about their holiday “decor”.

#6. Communicate your holiday hours and/or shipping deadlines

In ecommerce especially, keeping customers happy and their expectations in check is a big priority. Holiday shipping and return deadlines need to be communicated often and clearly. What’s the last day customers can place an order with you that they will still receive it by Christmas Eve — via Ground, 2nd Day or Next Day etc. Depending on your business and shipping service, figure out the cutoff time and let your customers know — “order by 2pm on Dec 20” etc. Here’s an example schedule:

This year, Christmas falls on Thursday, December 25, so the last day UPS delivers packages is Wednesday, December 24:

-December 17 – Last day to order items using Standard Ground Shipping.
-December 19 – Last day to order items using 3 Day Shipping.
-December 22 – Last day to order items using Two-Day Shipping.
-December 23 – Last day to order items (by 2pm) using One Day Shipping

Local? Check that your hours are accurate on sites like Yelp and Foursquare so you don’t miss out on business.

Consultant? Get that Out of Office reply ready — make it interesting and fun!

#7. Don’t forget your email newsletter

As Christmas approaches, it’s safe to say that we’re inundated with holiday marketing from retailers reaching out trying to maximize sales. A few retailers I counted sent out EVERY day in December. That’s aggressive. Remember to keep in mind your current send frequency and your business goals before ramping up your frequency. If you typically send on a weekly basis, your customer can probably stand to hear from you a few times a week during the holidays. Just remember to keep in mind why you’re sending. Do you have something cool to share? Customers are prepared to hear more from retailers at Christmas, and are typically ready to spend – so give them your best offer and be useful.

Remember, you don’t need to have every email be about sales. In fact, they shouldn’t! Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. How can you make their holiday season easier or more fun? Are you in the food or lifestyle space? Give them ideas for hosting a fun party. In the family or children space? Share an advent calendar DIY for kids. In the office space? Share ideas of low-key office parties etc. Be a resource – not just a sales hound!

Consultant?  Send cards or a client gift. Feel like you’re already too late? Send a New Year’s card – also a great way to stand out from the onslaught of generic holiday cards most business get in mid December.

#8. Are you participating in any holiday Shopping Days?

There are a few big shopping days that kick off the consumer-driven holiday season. Whether you choose to ignore, participate, or even boycott, these “holidays” will probably impact your business anyway (great sales elsewhere might reduce your orders if you don’t participate), or even acknowledging / boycotting it might be a relationship strategy for your community. Either way here’s what’s happening:

  • Black Friday or Buy Nothing Day – Friday, November 28, 2014
  • Small Business Saturday (promoted by AMEX) – Saturday, November 29, 2014
  • Cyber Monday – Monday, December 1, 2014
  • Free Shipping Day (note: it’s just a site that uses affiliate links) – Thursday, December 18, 2014

#9. Think long game

Try to think long game strategy all season. This might be your most profitable time of year, so how can you translate this business into repeat customers down the road? From customer support to email newsletters. Be good!

Reviewing your shipping or checkout process is a good pre-holiday idea. Do you plan to include coupons for future use or hand out some kind of unexpected treat at the checkout of your store? Make sure you have this figured out and have communicated it to your staff.

Have a plan in how you’ll be communicating with these new customers and making them welcome in your community in the new year. Having an “Is this a gift?” checkbox and message option in your checkout is also a great way to identify people who might not fit into your regular community base (ie. a parent etc.), but could give a gift again in the future.

Do you have any holiday prep tips to share? Leave them in the comments!