Direct marketing channels like email, in-app notifications, and SMS messages will undoubtedly be important elements of any holiday season strategy. But if you’re only using these communication paths to push out one-size-fits-all sales and generic promotions, you’re failing to tap into direct marketing’s true potential.

Because this year, your holiday retail marketing campaigns should also give you the gift of first-party data feedback you can use to make future initiatives even more jolly and engaging. And the industry’s smartest marketers are preparing a variety of low-effort, high-impact tactics and the lessons learned from an unprecedented holiday season last year to make 2021’s results even better.

Another year, another unprecedented holiday marketing season

Much like last year, there’s no magical 2021 playbook that leads to surefire success.

Between Apple iOS 15 privacy updates, ongoing pandemic safety precautions, and retail’s mass migration to ecommerce and online shopping, you’ll need to be as agile as ever when it comes to planning, implementing, and executing your seasonal marketing strategies if you hope to deliver on this year’s customer-centric growth drivers:

If you’re stuck out in the cold trying to plan your next holiday marketing campaign, our brand-new 2021 holiday marketing success guide is designed to help you evolve your tactics, elevate your customer experience, and crush 2020’s results with as little extra work as possible.

holiday marketing

Consider this playbook—and all of the ways to take advantage of Apple’s data privacy changes, five 2021 holiday focus areas, and five digital marketing must-haves included within—our special gift to you. Now, get out there and start spreading the holiday cheer like never before!

It’s one of the oldest maxims in the advertising business: People buy from other people, not from brands. 

But in the digital world, there’s no truth-telling best friend standing by with candid advice. So, who can your customers trust to give them the real scoop on whether or not a product lives up to your marketing hype?

The answer is easy: Other like-minded shoppers.

That’s why bringing User-Generated Content (UGC) like customer testimonials, images, and comments into your email content can more than double your conversion rate. People look to others like themselves to see what to buy, what to like and don’t like about a product, how to use it, and more. 

Adding UGC into your email messages has other benefits, too. It adds a human element to any marketing message, instantly building the opportunity for organic brand affinity. Because, let’s face it, social proof—the psychological phenomenon in which people look for guidance from the opinions or actions of others—and word-of-mouth advertising are two of the most powerful, well-known conversion motivators for a reason.

3 ways you can use UGC to increase email conversions

For major brands with high name recognition, a stable full of social media influencers, and a team that can keep tabs on consumer sentiment, finding and incorporating consumer-created content into an email sounds like pretty easy work.. 

But what about the majority of companies that lack a portfolio of glowing reviews or a major following and social media footprint?

With some strategic thinking and the right amount of automated technology in the mix, you can effortlessly pull UGC from review sites and social media platforms into your email experience. Giving even the most overworked one-person marketing teams out there the opportunity to satisfy shoppers and accelerate their path to conversion in three ways:

1. Customer testimonials, reviews, and recommendations

Honest, transparent communications like these should be at the heart of any customer-created content strategy. Because real-time testimonials, product reviews, and recommendations sourced from people actually buying from you aren’t just one of the most effective tools for increasing email conversions—they’re a great way to gain control over the market-driven narrative surrounding your brand too.

It’s no secret that most people like to feel heard and respected. In today’s ecommerce-driven business environment, millions of buyers enjoy rating and reviewing their purchases to help others out. So, appeal to this philanthropic instinct and elevate your customer experience!

Incorporating UGC into your email marketing efforts is as easy as making a simple request, whether that’s asking online shoppers for a 5-star rating at checkout or following up with a personalized email after the sale seeking a review of the product benefits most likely to convince like-minded, on-the-fence buyers to try it out for themselves.

UGC

To get started, add an automated review request to your post-purchase email flow. Set it up to trigger after customers have had a few days to receive their purchases and try them out. And don’t be afraid to follow up with a second request if testing shows people need a little extra prodding before they’re ready to give you an honest review.

That way, live content from customers’ social media profiles or ratings featured on a third-party review site can be pulled directly into your emails via data feed. Giving you the ability to create up-to-the-minute promotions and messages with highly persuasive, relevant pitches that feel less like sales-speak and more like a conversation between long-time friends.

If you really want to make the most of your UGC investment, you can review answers and customer responses manually to find the perfect content for your emails and product pages. Done well, customer-created content can even help you choose specific people for more in-depth interviews to uncover further trends and external thoughts about a specific product or marketing initiative.

2. Use UGC on social media to your advantage

By sourcing customer-created content from your loyal followers’ social media posts, you effectively expand your brand’s reach to create a community of like-minded, highly engaged customers. Compared to any one-size-fits all approach or generic sales promotion, adding user-generated social media engagement into your emails gives every recipient an experience that’s refreshing, reliable, and real—not one that was brainstormed in a boardroom or a marketing meeting somewhere.

And now more than ever, authenticity and honesty are values that matter to every brand and buyer. In fact, TurnTo Networks found that 90% of today’s consumers find this type of UGC helpful for making purchase decisions.

UGC

So, implement personalization technology that automatically sweeps any social media content your brand is tagged or featured in, meets your specific ratings criteria, and dynamically populates it into specific content modules within your email template to add the voice of the customer into your marketing strategy via social proof.

Once you’ve laid the foundation and started your brand conversation on social media channels, you can even run special promotions and exclusive discounts on these platforms to meet new audiences where they prefer to share their favorite products among friends, family members, and trusted influencers they follow. Making it more likely your brand receives the benefits word-of-mouth marketing brings.

3. Don’t be shy—share your favorite customers’ success

Believe it or not, customer-created content isn’t limited to consumer-facing brands—it has a place in your B2B email sends, too.  After all, many business buyers aren’t looking for a product. They’re searching for a solution to their most important problem. And a timely case study or impressive results achieved by a similar company can definitely be a compelling piece of content that convinces corporate customers you’re the perfect fit for them as well.

Too many email case studies or customer success stories, however, fall into the list of features trap where most messaging space is devoted to the mechanics and tech specs of your specific products instead of the customer benefits achieved by implementing them. Marketers want immediate, easy results—so use these unique perspectives to promote the destination, not the long, overly complex, and (frankly) boring journey it took to get there.

In other words, these emails shouldn’t be about you. Frame your customer-created examples in the context of the recipient’s mindset to answer the one question customers really want to know: “Can we use this product to experience similar results too?”

UGC

TL;DR: Authenticity matters, and customer-created content delivers

UGC is like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval: An unbiased third-party source of information and support that shoppers prioritize when deciding whether to buy or pass by your store. So, take a step back, relax, and let your most loyal shoppers and brand evangelists do the talking for a change.

A lot of marketers would categorize email as the cozy sweater to social media’s black dress. While not as sexy as some newer channels, for years, email has taken the top spot in marketing ROI, and in a 2019 Econsultancy survey, respondents still picked email as the most effective marketing channel, with social media ranking only fifth.

But, why compare email and social media when they actually work better combined? Social media content, in particular, is a great resource for spicing up email, especially now, when marketers are looking for fresh content to use in their online communications. With a treasure trove of fan photos, reviews, and video clips, social media can help subscribers get inspired, connect to other fans, and engage in new channels.

Authentic Social Content When Marketers Need it Most

In the early days of the pandemic, many advertisers quickly put together serious (often too serious) campaigns pledging their solidarity with their customers. Memes were shared widely that mashed up these stock-photo-heavy commercials featuring empty beaches, empty streets, nurses, doctors and family embracing. These relatively generic messages didn’t resonate nearly as well as ads that were pulled together from real user content on social media. Oreo in particular was smart about encouraging people to post their videos, which they quickly turned into a commercial.

It doesn’t need to be a prime time commercial to highlight social media content, brands can use social content in good email campaigns to resonate with customers just as effectively. Social content breaks through the stagnant feelings people have of the generic imagery they’ve been seeing lately. And with so many companies limited from shooting new content by social distancing, it can be the catalyst to variety and creativity.

‘Wichcraft, the high-end sandwich chain, features social posts of customers eating their food outside in their “simplest of pleasures” email campaign that encourages some fresh air time at lunch. BistroMD pulls in their real-time Instagram social feed featuring healthy meals customers receive as part of their plan, as well as success stories and a variety of nutrition topics.

New Ideas For Old Fans

It might feel safe to simply reuse old images or pull from a stock photo library, but it’s actually a bigger risk than incorporating UGC. The IAB notes that numerous studies indicate that authenticity is key for people to trust brands and that UGC is among the top-rated content online. Right now, many consumers are changing their shopping habits, and loyalty is at risk. Jumping ahead of the pack and embracing a chance to connect authentically with UGC is a good way to keep old customers engaged and to inspire new customers to keep coming back.

Don’t leave all the best images on Pinterest – pull them into an email template for immediate engagement. Create an evergreen element to your newsletter that highlights recent five-star reviews, or images from Instagram with more than 100 likes.

Furniture retailers Made.com created a campaign in April called “Stay Grounded,” which included an Instagram-based hub of photos from customers’ own homes. The imagery is the perfect mix of inspiration and authenticity and fits nicely into a newsletter campaign that encourages subscribers to vote on their favorite images. TrustedHousesitters features real-time Instagram photos in their conversion emails to engage with potential members, particularly Housesitters. Potential customers are typically drawn to the inspirational pictures of pets and homes within email campaigns, alongside educational messaging about house sitting and TrustedHousesitters as a whole.

More Feel-Good Engagement

Part of the value of authentic content is that it can lift people’s spirits during a stressful time. From weight loss clinics featuring real-life success stories to a roundup of funny pet videos, authentic content can make people feel good when marketers are unsure what exactly they can say directly without sounding out of touch.

Some brands are creating their own events to get their customers engaged. Taubman Centers brings fun to the inbox with Spotify playlists. GrubHub is offering discounts to people that sign up for virtual concerts on their own YouTube channel, promoting the event in email newsletters. The best clips can be used in email as playback to get people to check out what they might have missed.

With a record number of people online, doing a record number of things online, UGC and social media in general, has become an even bigger source of information, communication and entertainment for people. Brands should make sure to spread the love. There’s no reason for social media to be separated from the traditional creative-driven channels like brand advertising and email. The two, when put together well, can enhance authenticity and drive customer loyalty.

This article originally appeared on Advertising Week 360.

Email is the workhorse for many marketing teams. According to a 2019 Econsultancy survey, email is the most effective marketing channel, while social media came in fifth. With sticky subscribers and reliable revenue, email does have a more established value than social media, but social can’t be topped for its engagement factor. Rather than determining a winner between these two channels, these differences offer the perfect case for combining them.

At a time when marketers have limited resources to create new content, social posts and user-generated content can be a welcome addition to email marketing campaigns and newsletters. Email and social media can also be used to cross-promote, creating two sticky channels that drive home important messages. What’s more, while everyone is at home and online more than usual, marketers can get creative with new forms of social engagement over email, too.

Combining email and social media creates real connections

Newsletter publishers should take a page from the digital publisher’s playbook, embedding real social media posts into their content to create more engagement. More than one-third of all article pages online now contain social embeds. From popular memes to heartwarming posts, social content adds immediate interest in an article without a lot of heavy lifting. The same is true for email newsletters, where social content can spice up a tired template.

Marketers can start by simply searching Pinterest and Instagram for well-shot images to highlight from customers and fans. ‘Wichcraft, the NYC sandwich chain, shares social posts of customers enjoying their food in their “simplest of pleasures” email campaign, which encourages some fresh air time at lunch. BistroMD uses a real-time Instagram social feed that features healthy meals customers receive as part of their plan. These examples serve as stand-ins for professionally shot content and also add a level of authenticity that’s hard to copy with slick marketing imagery.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau notes that numerous studies indicate authenticity is key for people to trust brands, and UGC is among the top-rated content online. The UGC posted on a marketer’s social channels offers a particularly important element as customers are finding their way through the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of people are transacting online more than before, and they’re shifting their habits and brand loyalty. It’s better to be a brand that online customers can relate to than to be generic and forgettable.

The furniture retailer Made.com created a campaign in April called “Stay Grounded,” which included a collection of photos from customers’ own homes on Instagram. The photos offer the perfect mix of inspiration and authenticity. Made.com promoted it in a newsletter campaign that encourages subscribers to vote on their favorite images. The online pet- and house-sitting site TrustedHousesitters features Instagram pictures in its conversion emails to engage with potential members, particularly Housesitters. Potential customers love the inspirational pictures of pets and homes in their email campaigns, which they pair with educational messaging about house sitting and info about how TrustedHousesitters works.

Cross promotion drives engagement on both channels

Now is the time to sign people up for, well, everything. Customers are open to new online experiences in 2020, and it’s important that marketers give that to them. Many email templates fail to offer the very basics in cross promotion. 

The email footer is the easiest place to start. For example, West Elm has a nicely designed email footer with links and icons for each social channel where fans can follow, like, and share. Even better is when brands build social calls to action within the email itself or when special social instructions add more engagement. For example, L.L.Bean doesn’t ask people just to sign up for its social channels but also to add the simple but effective suggestion to “Share Your Adventures” with #BeanOutsider.

It’s also important to add email newsletter sign-up links to relevant social media posts. Marketers can repost elements of their newsletter to promote it on Instagram, for example, with a link or call-out to get more content by signing up for email. 

Social and email can also be used together to promote online events or to drive engagement in brand-new ways. Since the start of the pandemic, many marketers have had to get creative to add ways to engage with customers virtually, and email and social media can help. For example, Taubman Centers adds some extra fun to subscribers’ inboxes with Spotify playlists. GrubHub offers discounts to people that sign up for virtual concerts on their own YouTube channel with promotions in their newsletters. 

This unusual time will not last forever, but people’s habits will be changed forever. Now is the time to make an extra effort to capture new subscribers and create new ways to engage. Marketers also have a unique opportunity to forge new relationships online, when people are craving authenticity and something new. The unique value of email and social media marketing combine to help marketers make these important connections.

This article originally appeared in Street Fight.

Content really is king today. For proof, consider that marketing teams and companies that embrace the right content marketing approach tend to succeed on many levels.

First, these companies distinguish themselves as true thought leaders and stand apart with their ability to provide the very latest news and information. At the same time, they do a great job of giving their audience a steady flow of helpful content that informs, educates, and guides them toward the right decision.

(Sidebar: It is important to note that successful content marketing strategies are not overly promotional or salesy. The same can be said for the best email marketing campaigns, which is a topic we recently covered in a blog article that showed how helping customers and prospects can improve your bottom line.)

But let’s face it. Asking busy marketing teams to constantly churn out high-quality, creative, and relevant content just isn’t realistic. Many companies don’t have full-time content professionals yet, which probably means that their employees have other responsibilities beside content creation. Expecting busy marketers to write a good blog or two “whenever they have downtime,” only leads to decreases in content frequency and quality.

Curating content can help

Fortunately, there is good news. Content curation—the process of finding great content and delivering it in a way that is meaningful and adds value—overcomes these challenges. Using curated content from third-party sources also helps minimize the amount of self-promotion (“me-speak”) brands tend to do, helping to draw consumers in. More, it also enables marketing teams to efficiently maintain their cadence of fresh new content, leading to increased engagement and loyalty.

Yet many companies may believe that curating content presents the same challenge as creating content: namely, that the process will still take too long, especially if employees must now scour the web each day/week in search of new ideas.

Better use of social content

Many leading content curation tools and platforms address this concern by simplifying the process of discovering user-generated content at scale. Marketing teams can search for content or influencers based on hashtags, engagement rates, and other variables. Then, they can creatively publish this content to their own channels, including their website and social media sites.

For example, a retail brand might search for a hashtag related to its clothing to find great photos of influencers wearing its latest fashions and other user-generated content. This content can then be used to create galleries of product imagery, complete with product information and cross-selling offers or promotions.

Curated content in email marketing

Curated content marketing can be delivered in email, too, a strategic approach that is recommended by Forrester Research. In its research report, Empowered Customers Inspire Email Innovation: Your Best Subscribers Will Help You Do More with Email, Forrester advocates co-creating content with your best customers to help you innovate. Examples include instructional videos, input on new store locations, user-submitted photos, game-playing stories, and more.

Liveclicker now offers powerful integrations with leading content curation platforms, Olapic and Curalate within our RealTime Email platform. Liveclicker customers can combine real-time email personalization technology with these integrated solutions to develop and deploy extremely innovative emails that feature user-generated social content.

Not only does this become a unique way to engage consumers and promote products, but using curated social content is enabling today’s innovators to increase brand awareness, email performance, conversions, and sales.

Stay tuned for more information on our social content curation integrations, or as always, visit our website or contact us for more specific details.