Thursday, December 19, 2019

Holiday Marketing Quarterly: Doing an Email Marketing Holiday Post-Mortem

The holiday season doesn’t have an off-season, which is why Oracle CX Marketing Consulting provides year-round advice through our new Holiday Marketing Quarterly. Our first quarter checklist for holiday readiness covers six areas:

  1. Holiday Post-Mortems

  2. Seasonal Buyer Reactivations

  3. Email Deliverability Recoveries

  4. Automated Email Optimization & Growth

  5. Creative Refreshes

  6. Upgrades & Expansions of Your Tech Stack

Check out the full 14-page guide for details on each of those areas, but in this post we wanted to focus on that critical first step of doing a holiday post-mortem on your email marketing performance.

With the New Year shining brightly and full of promise ahead of us, most B2C marketers would love nothing more than to put the holiday season behind them and look ahead to Valentine’s Day and the spring season. We urge you to resist the temptation. Ensure that you learn the lessons of your Christmas Past, so your Christmas Future is even better. 

Here are several areas to explore as part of your holiday post-mortem, which you can not only review when you kick off the next holiday season campaign planning cycle, but will give you insights and action items that you can use right now:

Analyze the performance of your holiday email campaigns.
Ask yourself: How did my brand perform overall during the holiday season? How did my email channel perform compared to other marketing channels? How did my email channel perform versus the previous holiday season? How did my email channel perform versus our forecast? How did my email marketing strategy affect the health of my email program?

In particular, that last item can have immediate ramifications on your email program, including how narrowly you target your upcoming campaigns, how you treat your inactive subscribers, where you focus your subscriber acquisition efforts, and more.

“Assessing the incremental unsubscribes, hard bounces, and complaints driven by the typically much higher holiday email cadence can help you better assess how to approach frequency post-holiday,” says Peter Briggs, Director of Strategic Services, Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “It can also help you better calculate the return on investment of your increased email frequency. In some instances, the boost in visits driven by sending more email may not be worth the loss of long-term revenue from subscribers who unsubscribed because of the additional emails.”

Identify your successful campaigns. 

Take note of your promotions that outperformed, and then try to determine why they did. Was it the offer, design, subject line, theme, timing, segmentation, personalization, or something else? Look for ways to repurpose those emails or reuse the winning elements of those emails in future campaigns.

Sometimes marketers think that everything they create needs to be completely new, but I’ve seen retailers reuse the exact same email creative a year or two after sending it the first time. I’ve also seen brands use the same concept over and over, making slight improvements each time. An email campaign doesn’t have to be original. It has to perform. If you have a winning email design or tactic, get more mileage out of it.

Identify your unsuccessful campaigns.

This is the more uncomfortable flip side of our last tip, but knowing what not to do is just as helpful as knowing what to do again. For your campaigns that underperformed, can you identify the elements that contributed to that? If so, make a note to avoid them in the future. Was there a fatal flaw that could be fixed to make this campaign a success in the future? Are there any good ideas that can be salvaged from these subpar campaigns?

Map the performance of your email campaigns by day. 

While Cyber Monday and Black Friday are likely to be your No. 1 and 2, the rest of your top performing days may be a bit of a surprise. 

“I see a lot of brands focused on the performance of the key holiday shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but they can lose sight of the fact that there are often other shopping days during the holidays that all play a key role in reaching goals,” says Chris Wilson, Strategic Director of Strategic Services, Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “For example, the days surrounding Black Friday and Cyber Monday are often impactful shopping days as well and should be given adequate attention when planning.”

Also—and this is critical—your most impactful days are subject to change from year to year because of the shifting timing of Christmas, the shifting number of weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and other changes. For instance, last year Thanksgiving fell late on the calendar, reducing the number of days between Thanksgiving and Christmas to just 26. That led many B2C brands to push holiday and “Black Friday” promotions well before the actual Black Friday. And with Christmas Day falling on a Wednesday, it allowed order-by deadlines to drift a little later than in recent years because of the availability of delivery on that Monday before Christmas.

If you’re able, take a look back at several years of sales and email performance data to note how performance changes with the calendar from year to year, then use this to help plan your campaigns for the upcoming holiday season.  

Document any workflow issues that impacted email production. 

Now let’s look beyond performance to the people, tools, and processes that make your email marketing program work. Were you unable to create all of the emails that you’d planned to because of inadequate resources? Did you have to simplify any of your emails, abandoning plans to include personalization, A/B tests, or interactivity, for example? 

If so, consider investing in better workflow tools such as modular email build systems, investing in better training so your designers and coders are more efficient, and investing in agency services that can help you scale during peak seasons like the holidays.

“Every holiday season, email marketers have grand plans to create something really special,” says Lizette Resendez, Associate Creative Director and Copy Director, Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “But if you don’t invest in the processes, training, and resources you need to bring it to life beforehand—like months beforehand—it won’t happen, and you’ll have to wait a whole other year for your chance to shine.”

Document any quality control and PR issues. 

Beyond workflow efficiencies, let’s talk about QA and errors. Did any of your emails get sent with significant errors in them that impacted performance or hurt your brand image? Did you have to send any apology emails for email marketing mistakes? Did you have any non-email issues that led to corrections or apologies? 

We recommend keeping a year-round log of errors, including when they occurred, the cause of the error, any remediation that happened, and any negative effects from them. This not only allows you and your team to learn from your mistakes, it gives you evidence to argue for process changes and the adoption of new tools to address the weaknesses that are leading to problems.

Explore each of those topics in your holiday post-mortem and you’ll be off to a good start in getting yourself ready for the 2020 holiday season. But to get off to a great start, be sure to look at all the issues covered in the 14-page first quarter edition of our Holiday Marketing Quarterly.


Need help with your email marketing program? Oracle CX Marketing Consulting has more than 500 of the leading marketing minds ready to help you to achieve more with the leading marketing cloud, including teams that specialize in email creative, deliverability, strategy, automation, implementation, and a wide range of other services.

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