The (Online Marketing) Nightmare Before Christmas

John Hayes

John Hayes iContact

The following is a guest article from a colleague & friend John Hayes from who is the EMEA Business Development Executive for iContact

You may have seen us talking at the eSellerPro conference last week, soon you’ll hear us talking as we’ve got some topical debates planned.

More on that later, for now, email marketing is one of the most measurable & powerful forms of marketing there is. Look out for the Return on Investment stats in the article, 300% is a whopper and has John’s top tips for your Christmases marketing campaign.

Also note that the links to iContact are not affiliate links, I’ve personally agreed to it being published here, because I feel its that important that you participate. 

The (Online Marketing) Nightmare Before Christmas

As we edge towards the busy Christmas trading period, online marketers will be bombarded with advice on how to maximise results over the festive season. For many businesses, Christmas represents the greatest opportunity of the year to profit from their marketing activity. However, Christmas also represents a significant threat to online businesses, if they follow the wrong advice.

Perhaps the most common piece of misguided advice offered to small and medium-sized enterprises looking forward to a profitable Q4 is to drastically increase their online marketing spend. At first glance, this seems perfectly sensible. It follows the age old adage, “The more you tell, the more you sell”. But it also ignores the equally wise tenet, “Don’t be a busy fool”.

Let’s look at some of the risks involved with simply spending more.

You Cannot Afford It

Acquisition channels such as Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising are very expensive and highly unlikely to yield a quick return. To see any kind of profit you’ll need to know your numbers inside out, understand your customers’ lifetime value and have a complete appreciation of multi-touch attribution (i.e. how your campaigns are influenced by other marketing channels).

Big businesses spend a considerable amount of money trying to understand this. Whilst you will want to allocate some budget towards customer acquisition at this busy time, unless you have significant funds to invest in long-term forecasts and sophisticated analytics, this is not the approach you should follow if you want to see profits THIS Christmas.

You Haven’t Got the Resources

When you throw a considerable amount of money at a highly visible channel you should expect to get real busy, real quick. Have you got the warehouse space, stock and staff on hand to cope with a sudden upturn in business?

You should also remember that your competition is playing the same game, forcing marketing costs up and putting additional pressure on margins. If you are forced into this “race to the bottom” you’ll either be compelled to lower prices accordingly or risk being left holding stock. If this happens your additional investment into staffing and logistics will only add to your problems.

Your Reputation Cannot Stand the Risk

Any number of challenges can stand to ruin your reputation if you drop the ball at Christmas. If your prices are visibly higher than your competitors, you’ll be hard pushed to win business back from the discount traders. If you run out of stock you’ll be seen as unreliable, as well as wasting money driving traffic to web pages that will never convert. Increased spend will push your warehouse to the limit. Fail to deliver on time at Christmas and you’ll go down in history alongside the Grinch.

In the UK last year (due to adverse weather conditions) 17% of gifts bought online failed to arrive before Christmas. The public are an unforgiving bunch and are more likely to apportion blame at your doorstep than the weatherman’s if their gifts are delayed. In this case, you could find yourself actually paying to tarnish your own reputation?

Smart Marketers Wish for Many Happy Returns

Paying to acquire new customers is just the start of a relationship. This is why smart marketers surround themselves with friends at Christmas. They have worked hard to gain their trust and will have invested heavily (and not necessarily just in terms of cash) to keep them.

Smart marketers win and keep their friends by offering the following:

  • Amazing product knowledge and advice
  • Stellar customer service
  • Great deals (a mixture of price and service and not just the cheapest unit costs)
  • An open forum for conversation between the marketer and the customer

Sounds easy – right? Well, that’s because it is.

Most marketers will already be very familiar with two of the most common online tools required to maintain great customer relationships. It’s highly likely you are using them (to some degree) already.

Email Marketing + Social Media – The Gift Which Keeps On Giving

Email Marketing remains the most cost effective online marketing tool in terms of Return on Investment available to marketers today.  Unlike costly acquisition channels like PPC, Email Marketing is a retention tool and as you already know, it is much cheaper to retain an existing customer than win a new one.

So how effective is email marketing in terms of profit generation. Well that depends on a number of factors but a recent survey conducted by eConsultancy in the UK suggests that 63% of companies using Email Marketing saw a Return on Investment of greater than 300%.

Email’s strength lies in the fact it is invited and therefore welcomed by the recipient. The ease with which a subscriber can opt-in and out of receiving emails also ensures unwanted email does not tarnish your reputation. Carefully segmented lists mean that marketers can afford to get straight to the point and promote products and services with an extremely relevant message.

Having a well-segmented list should also mean you are sending out high-frequency campaigns whilst not clogging up subscribers’ in-boxes. Finally the in-box environment also ensures emails are kept and can be referenced multiple times rather than appearing and disappearing (as your budget dwindles) on the major PPC networks.

When looking at building profitable relationships THIS CHRISTMAS Email Marketing should be the number one weapon of choice in your online marketing arsenal. But the reach of Email Marketing doesn’t stop at your subscribers’ inbox. Thanks to social media, Email Marketing has become supercharged.

By incorporating simple social media tools into your email campaigns allows you to harness the power of your customers’ network of friends and followers on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Suddenly your campaigns, shared across multiple peer networks, become viral and the reach of email marketing campaigns increases drastically.

Could it get any better?

How about if I told you extending the reach of your email marketing with the power of Social Media is FREE.

Still not convinced? Ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Do I have customers that love my products and appreciate my service?
  2. Would I benefit from more customer referrals and repeat business?
  3. Am I spending too much money on acquiring new customers and too little time with my existing customers?
  4. Do I want to see a return on my investment This Christmas?

If you’ve answered “Yes” to all of the above questions, don’t waste anymore more time. You can start your 30 day Free Trial of iContact’s email and social media marketing software here

The 12 Email Marketing Tips for a Better Christmas

Tip #1 – Be relevant
When putting together the content, never leave yourself outside of the customer’s shoes. From top to bottom, each and every word needs to relate to the customer, or else you’ve lost them.

Tip #2 – Avoid set schedules
You don’t have to stick to sending a newsletter at the same time every month. If you have nothing to say, don’t say it. Missing a “scheduled” email newsletter is better than filling it with useless content with no value for customers.

Tip #3 – Less is more
Select just one offer per email and segment your list accordingly. If you have a range of complementary products, choose a hero product to focus on and add simple links to promote the additional items. Think of your email like a menu in a restaurant – too many dishes to choose from and nothing looks appetizing.

Tip #4 – More is more
Now that you’ve made your campaigns more relevant, it’s time to increase the frequency of your emails. Keep your emails relevant and interesting and your subscribers will welcome the increased touch points.

Tip #5 – Headline News
Your subject line should scream benefits. Think of it in the same way a newspaper editor writes a headline. It should tell the full story and entice the subscriber to read more. Give your subject line as much thought as your body text. Your subject line is your first line of defense between your subscribers and the delete button.

Tip #6 – Automate
Set up auto-responders to automatically deliver a predefined series of messages. These could include welcome messages to new subscribers, online courses or carefully crafted sales messages delivered over a specific period of time.

Tip #7 – Keep it real
Make good use of real text (not graphics) at the top of your email. A graphic-heavy email will appear blank until the subscriber has selected to download the graphics. Real text in the message will remain visible even in HTML emails and entice subscribers to open the complete email.

Tip #8 – Get social
Use your email campaigns to encourage subscribers to engage with your social media activity on Facebook or Twitter. Social media will not replace your email activity but will allow you to build your brand across your subscribers’ social networks.

Tip #9 – Test
Whenever possible, test your subject lines and creatives and then optimize accordingly. Split testing does not have to be complicated. Hit 20% of your list with two different emails and monitor the response. Hit the remaining 80% with the most successful email.

Tip #10 – Cleanse
Take the time to cut the deadwood from your list. Remove bounced email addresses and any names that have not opened any of your mails over a significant period of time. Remember, you are paying to target a list of people who want to receive your emails. Old, dead and unwanted emails are expensive and can damage your reputation.

Tip #11 – Understand what success looks like
A 20% open rate is good, 35% is ideal. Shoot for the latter with a compelling headline that sticks with the customer. That’s your most precious real estate. You have five words, max.

Tip #12 – Register for a free 30 day trail of iContact’s email marketing software here
You’ll have access to all our email and social tools as well as video tutorials and best practice guides. You’ll also have full access to our UK support team and a range of easy to use, customisable email templates to get you started. Could you not wish for a better Christmas present?

About iContact Free Edition

The following is a press release from iContact regarding their newly release free edition of their product, allowing users to manage up to 500 subscribers and to send upto 2000 emails free each month. Also for comlpeteness, I’ve included the video too, which I thought was rather cool:

New Product Brings Email Marketing & Social Marketing to Individuals, Small Businesses & Non-Profits for Free

iContact-Free-EditionRALEIGH, N.C., April 13, 2011 iContact Corp., a leading email marketing and social marketing company, today announced it is launching iContact Free Edition. This no-cost version of its flagship email marketing and social marketing tool makes it easy for individuals, community organizations and small businesses without a large budget to easily stay in touch with their subscribers and fans via email, Facebook and Twitter.

iContact Free Edition enables anyone to easily manage a contact database, select a professionally designed template, send out an email and social network message, and track the opens, clicks and social views.

“Today, we are announcing a major new product launch for iContact designed to make email marketing and social marketing available to everyone in both their professional and personal lives,” said Ryan Allis, CEO, iContact. “We want to provide easy access to free email marketing and social marketing tools backed by world-class customer service.” Here is more about iContact Free Edition in the words of our co-founders:

About iContact Free Edition

iContact’s proven email marketing solution empowers businesses to engage, educate and retain customers, targeted prospects and website visitors. Now individuals or small organizations with subscriber lists of 500 or less can have email marketing, social marketing, event marketing and surveying for free.

iContact Free Edition includes:

  • Email creation, sending and tracking capabilities for up to 500 subscribers and 24 designer templates for effective, eye-catching messages quickly and easily –
  • Social Media Tools Integration with Facebook and Twitter allows users to create and share links to their email communications from within the application. iContact will automatically post a web version of the email message and report related views and clicks on the user’s tracking dashboard –
  • Compatibility with iPhone and Android mobile apps allows users to manage contacts, access and send messages, and view detailed tracking reports, all in real time – and
  • Built-in survey tool enables users to easily create questions and choose a response type, such as text box, radio button, drop-down menu or selector –

According to a recently released 2011 Outlook report from Borrell Associates (ClickZ, March 11, 2011), the SMB market accounted for more than 70 percent of all online advertising expenditures including email, search and run-of-site display last year. While individual SMBs on average spent less than $12,000 on all advertising in 2010 – about $2,300 of which went online – they represented 95 percent of U.S. business locations.

About iContact

iContact is a purpose-driven company based in Raleigh, NC, working to make email marketing and social marketing easy so that small and midsized companies and causes can grow and succeed. Founded in 2003, iContact has more than 300 employees and more than 700,000 users of its leading email marketing software. iContact also provides the event marketing platform Ettend. As a B Corporation, iContact utilizes the 4-1s Corporate Social Responsibility Model, donating 1% of payroll, 1% of employee time to community volunteering, 1% of equity, and 1% of product to its local and global community as part of its social mission. iContact works hard to maintain a fun, creative, energetic, challenging and community-oriented company culture.

For media inquiries, contact Leigh Anne Varney, Varney Business Communication, 415.387.7250, [email protected].

Visit us on online at, Twitter @iContactiContact LinkedIn Group and our Facebook Fan Page.

People don’t want Email they Want ME-Mail – Seth Godin

Seth Godin a complete genius in my eyes. I’m current reading his book called ‘Tribes, We need you to lead us‘ and it is, he is, amazing, correction, the correct word is ‘remarkable’.

I’m going to keep this article short, but don’t think you’re going to be lucky today, I’m leaving you with three videos from, grab yourself a cuppa and watch these. They’ll be the most well spent 20 minutes of your entire week. Well, besides calling me on (0)7527 680 153 to help grow your business.

There are too many brilliant quotes to list them all here, but look out for this quote:

People don’t want Email, they want ME-MAIL. Me Me Me Me Me Me Me Me Me-Mail

Think about it, I want, as you want, to read email that is about you. Me Mail. Oh and the purple cow. Oh and the Lava lamp. What am I talking about? Watch the videos.

Seth Godin on the tribes we lead

Seth Godin: This is broken

Seth Godin at Gel 2006 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.

Seth Godin on standing out

Would you go?

Well would you, would you go and see a massive lava lamp? Pretty remarkable eh?

Email Marketing, Why & How you Can Set up Your List In Minutes with MailChimp

Don’t have a email marketing list yet? Need a easy to use sign up box to integrate into your shopping cart or your website? Need a solution that is completely ‘Matt Proof’? Simples, MailChimp.

There are several basic options you have when it comes to gaining subscribers, while not exhaustive, these are some common ones to get you thinking:

  • Sign up from your website
  • Sign up as part of the checkout process
  • Adding signup info to outgoing emails (eg eBay & website despatch emails)
  • Information provided in documentation (invoices or flyers)
  • Sign up as part of your companies blog (not got a blog yet? I have a 101 session on this coming shortly)
  • Buying an a ‘list’ of subscribers (not recommended due to cost)

And all bar the last one, can be done using MailChimp, for free. Did I mention FREE? Sign up here, its one of the most painless email marketing forms I’ve ever filled out.

Why Email Marketing?

Wow, this is a stellar one and I could talk all-day, but I will keep it to one line, brace yourselves, its a big one:

They have Opted-In. They have chosen to hear from you, specifically.

Your Options

Mr Mail ChimpThere are other companies out there. I thought Constant Contact was good, they have a decent library of templates but hits the sweet spot here is that MailChimp allow you to make as many sub mailing lists as you want. Meaning you can have a mailing list for different parts of your business and market them differently (eg blog and checkout subscribers).

The other company worth mentioning is AWebber, but and its a big ‘but’, you have to pay a subscription for even a tiny list. Maybe when you have thousands of subscribers, AWebber should be considered, but I’m assuming you’re just starting out and have a grand total of 1 (thats you).

By the way, here are two big-hitter names to drop, Magento & Mozilla; They both use MailChimp.

Registering & Making Your First MailChimp List

As part of the registration process (takes a few minutes, its super easy), you create your first ‘list’, a big tip when doing this is to use this text as a base of your ‘Permissons Reminder’, just swap the domain bit for yours:

You are receiving this email because you opted in at our website http://websitename.ext/ , you may opt out at any time.

Then once done, along the top hit ‘Lists’ and then the sub link ‘For Your Wesbite’ and if you did make more than one list, select the list you want to embed from the drop down box as show below:

MailChimp Code for Your Website

MailChimp Code for Your Website

Now that you have the right list selected hit the link called ‘Signup Form Embed Code’, this gives you a simple sign up box where you can alter the boxes attributes to your own needs.

Copy the code at the bottom and paste into place on your website where you want a sign up box to be added. Simples? Yep.

For advanced users, you can take the form elements and alter at will; Also I suggest you drop the jQuery includes and put them in the header if you ‘really‘ need them.


This is exactly why I am suggesting you use MailChimp, until you get 1,000 subscribers (and yes you will get this and more given enough time), its free.

AWebber is paid for from the start, Constant-Contact gives 90 days, but that still does not match ‘free’. You can of course move to another provider when you topple the 1K mark, but hey, we have only 1 so far (you).

Got WordPress or Another Web Software App, Like Magento?

Even simpler, create your list in MailChimp and then use their ‘plugins’ to integrate directly into your systems back end. I’ve used this on both Magento and WordPress and its soooo easy, set the API key and its pretty much done.

Mail Marketing for Monkeys

MailChimp knows how to cater for email marketing beginners, that’s why they have a fantastic video guide section and weekly 101 sessions. Here is an example:

See I said it was easy.

If you don’t have a mail list started yet, you now have no excuses to set one up, register for free here and get started today.

Need Help?

Still unsure? Already started by getting nowhere? Not sent your first email marketing campaign? That’s what I’m here for, I can help you. We can break your email marketing virginity together and then turn you into a ’email-marketing-campaigns-freak’.

Pre-Season Email Marketing 10 Point Checklist

SnowmenI’d have loved to have claimed this as my own, but thats rather naughty. Check this very useful guide out from Silverpop here.

The key point here is really do not wait to very last moment to turn on your email marketing campaign on, start it immediately!

The 10 points in their checklist are:

  1. Make subscribing as appealing and easy as riding a sled down a hill.
  2. Manage expectations with a holidaythemed welcome program that’s warmer
    than a cup of mulled wine.
  3. Make informed frequency/cadence decisions that won’t freeze out overwhelmed shoppers.
  4. Get customer data together, check integrations and apply list hygiene—in other words, make your list and check it twice
  5. Test message templates and optimise so they’re prettier than a Christmas card.
  6. Create cart-abandonment and browse campaigns that provide quick reminders to distracted shoppers.
  7. Give recipients the gift of choice—offer an unsubscribe preference centre.
  8. Fine-tune your social-sharing initiatives— ‘tis the season to spread holiday cheer, after all.
  9. Optimise transactional emails to offer value beyond generic bah-humbug receipts.
  10. Create a post-purchase email strategy that keeps the holiday spirit going strong through 2011.

So when was the last time you contacted your customers and marketed your USP’s to them?

Don’t even know where to start? No time to even make a start? Know full well its on the to-do listing and it just never gets done?

Easy, contact me at the top of this page, we’ll have a chat and I’ll point you in the right direction (or push, or just plain do it for you) .