Megan Hostetler is a product marketing manager focused on Retail and Consumer Goods. She's also a cohost on the Marketing Cloudcast, a podcast by Salesforce, where Trailblazers talk marketing. This article is part of our Moment Makers series, which takes a deep dive into how marketers use technology to build data-driven customer experiences that feel natural, relevant, and right on time. 

Earlier this month, millions of people breathed a sigh of relief upon learning the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will carry on as planned. Well, not exactly as planned. But even as the event shifts to a television-only experience in response to the pandemic, the 94-year tradition keeps its status as the unofficial kickoff to the holiday season.

Like the parade, the 2020 holiday shopping experience has also been reimagined. Holiday sales can account for up to 30% of a business’s annual bottom-line revenue, so poor turnout can make or break a retailer. But in addition to the normal pressures of the season, businesses are pivoting to meet the needs of the all-digital customer. Digital commerce grew 71% in Q2 2020. And we predict that up to 30% of global retail sales will be made through digital channels this holiday season.

In a digital world, email marketing is one of the best tools for reaching your target audience. These best practices from our Holiday Helpers webinar series will help you avoid deliverability pitfalls and connect with more customers this season.


Focus on engaged email subscribers to reach more inboxes and accurately gauge success

It probably doesn’t surprise you that Hickory Farms, America’s favorite food gift retailer and a Salesforce customer, generates the majority of its revenue in the last six weeks of the year. Email marketing drives a significant portion of that growth and plays a major role in reaching customers during the holidays. Between October and December, the company sends 30 to 100+ emails a month. 

Senior Email Marketing Manager Jen Partin’s team takes great lengths to ensure their emails make it to subscribers’ inboxes. 

Instead of sending messages to everyone in their database at once, Hickory Farms uses Einstein Engagement Scoring in Marketing Cloud to segment subscriber lists, then deliver to the most engaged users first. This tactic can validate an organization’s legitimacy with internet service providers and reduce what gets flagged as spam.

“Say you send a campaign at 7 a.m. to your most engaged users. Send to the rest of your audience at 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m. That will ensure that the people who are most engaged have already opened,” Partin said.

This approach to segmentation can also help you more accurately measure a campaign’s success. Partin advises focusing on your engaged subscribers’ behavior to see how subject lines, creative, and other email components perform for your target audience.

“If you break out your engaged users, you may see a 25% open rate and a 5% click rate. But for your unengaged users, it's only a 6% open rate or 1% click rate,” she said. “If you combine them all together, it looks like a 12-13% open rate and a 2-3% click rate, which isn't necessarily accurate.”

With email marketing tactics like these, Hickory Farms has enjoyed 15% growth in email subscribers year over year and a low unsubscribe rate.

Get more email marketing insights by watching Email Best Practices with Hickory Farms:


Pump up the (email) volume — slowly

Scaling email over the holidays is a tricky business. Mailbox providers and spam filters are suspicious of sudden volume increases and err on the side of caution to protect their subscribers. And in a year like this, when send volumes are way up and filters are working overtime, it’s especially important to be strategic with your sends.

The solution? Increase frequency gradually. 

“Remember the benchmark of never sending more than two times your historical weekly average,” said Salesforce Deliverability Consultant Ohara Reinders in her webinar Deliverability Tips to Ensure Holiday Readiness. “These sudden spikes will almost certainly cause your email to be delayed, deferred, or even worse, completely blocked.”

Pro tip: You can configure the Send Throttling feature in Marketing Cloud to spread out email sends over predefined hours or even days if you need to.

Interested in more resources to guide your email marketing efforts this holiday and beyond?

Marketing Cloud offers solutions for digital marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, customer journey mapping, marketing analytics, marketing automation, and B2B marketing to help you personalize customer communications across every digital touchpoint — from anywhere.