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We’re deep into the holiday/Christmas email rush, and I’m still sorting through my inbox, looking for that one email whose creativity makes me say “Wow!”

Are email marketers really that uninspired this season? Or is it me?

Like many Americans, I came into this holiday feeling exhausted over the thousands of emails that invaded my inbox from the presidential campaigns. Then with barely a pause, the Black Friday and holiday emails started pouring in.

Normally this is an exciting time of year for me, seeing what my fellow marketers are up to, but this year all I see is one “blah” message after another. I’m not seeing the kind of close targeting that I’ve seen in non-election years. Am I still in shell shock from the election email overload, or are marketers confused about where to go this season?

Take Black Friday. I saw the same subject lines over and over, even from brands I like, whether because I’m a regular shopper or because they’re known for their creativity. “Black Friday Starts Now” Really, guys? I had no idea!

Election exhaustion a factor

The American people, if they were involved in the election, were pounded on in their inboxes by emails from the campaigns and anyone else who got hold of their email addresses. Talk about blasting!

I normally hate that word, especially in conjunction with email marketing, but that’s exactly what happened in our inboxes this year. Did it make us exhausted, jaded and angry?

Here’s what email marketers should do if they aren’t seeing the results they expected: You have to dig deep into what you’re going to put into the inbox. Understand that you’re selling to an exhausted consumer base.

What are you doing to set yourself apart from your competitors besides turning up the volume? Volume doesn’t set you apart.

Think strategically. Think targeting. Leave the emojis behind. There’s only so many times that Santa, bells and Christmas trees in your subject lines can make your emails stand out.

My favorite email (so far)

The subject line that really stood out for me on Cyber Monday wasn’t another variation on “Cyber Monday starts now!” or “20% off and free shipping.”

This one said, “Last Call.” It came from Alpha Omega, my favorite winery. I know the winemaker, and I know the wines, so I opened it eagerly.


Instead of offering me a discounted price, the winery used scarcity (offering the last wines from a specific vintage) and exclusivity (the chance to buy at the “futures” price instead of the “release” price) to pique my interest and move me to buy.

This marketer used segmentation based on behavior to create a relevant message and wrapped it up in a compelling subject line. So, yeah, I opened it.

Still time to pivot

I realize that your marketing machinery has been set in motion, but it’s not too late to make changes if you aren’t seeing the results you expected when you created your marketing plans in April, May or June.

Those ideas might have been great and valid based on what you learned from your holiday 2015 results. But this is the outlier season.

Maybe we didn’t expect the election to get this bruising or to leave large sections of American voters feeling bitter and angry. Take that into account, and get more creative in the waning weeks of this shopping season to reach customers who might still be feeling bruised and battered.

Become even more descriptive about the products you have on offer. Tell me why I should buy it instead of just how to get it cheaper.

Sharpen up subject lines

Maybe you can’t change the message content or offers at this late date, but you should be able to refocus your subject lines before you or your system sends the emails.

An emoji in the subject line isn’t novel anymore. Nor is 20 percent off. Claiming “Last day for free shipping!” isn’t going to do it if we shoppers know it’s really not the last day. We’re betting you’ll offer it again closer to Christmas if you need to move more product.

Gimmicks to get us to open your emails might work once, but segmenting based on behavior drives relevancy and action.

Subject lines for holiday emails shouldn’t sound as if you use Mad Libs to write them. There’s too much at stake.