The winter holidays bring tremendous opportunities, along with a set of challenges that are greater this year than ever. The traditional Thanksgiving-Christmas Day shopping season is six days shorter.  Customer expectations keep rising. Competition is heating up, as is the pressure  to hit ROI and sales goals.

How can you capitalize on the opportunities and stay ahead of the challenges? An email marketing strategy tune-up that uses four engagement-building tactics.

Make your emails more action-worthy

You don’t have to overhaul your email program to create standout email messages. Instead, build on what you already have with an email engagement strategy.

Use your data in creative new ways to make your messages more relevant and valuable to your customers. That gets your emails noticed, opened and acted on!

1. Target and engage inactive customers in your loyalty program.

These aren’t your garden-variety inactive customers. They cared enough about your brand to join your loyalty program, but they haven’t purchased lately or opened or clicked on your emails. They need more than a garden-variety “We missed you” email message.

The typical inactive-engagement strategy usually segments out non-responders, sends an incentive to lure them back, and lops off anybody who doesn’t act. Your VIPs deserve better because you have more data on them, like behavior, preferences, purchases and demographics.

Use that data to spotlight loyalty members who haven’t purchased or redeemed rewards during a logical time cycle based on your customers’ typical buying habits. Personalize the email with points earned, points needed to move up to a higher membership level or rewards waiting to be redeemed.

Sears sends this notification to shoppers in its Freecash Rewards program. It covers all the bases needed to prompt lapsing customers to return and shop again – how much customers have to spend, the different reward tiers and how to use the reward.

2. Add package-tracking data to promotional emails.

Customers value shipping notifications because they want to know where their packages are and when to expect delivery. But most brands send only one notification email, and that message usually diverts customers to a third-party shipping site to find the information.

Real-time tracking information in a promotional email keeps customers up to date and in your email (and gives them a reason to come back to it time and again!). Add a special marketing message that moves them back to your site. The more personalized the offer, the better!

3. Use email to help customers succeed.

How will you hit your sales goal for the year? Not just by pounding your customers with the same offers everyone else is sending. (And what are they sending? Lots of 20% and 50% discounts during the holidays, according to email database MailCharts.)

Put the customers at the center of your emails instead, and give them information that will help them shop successfully.

“Customer Experience Email Marketing helps you navigate the delicate balancing act between customer and company goals,” email expert Kath Pay says in Customer Experience Email Marketing: Getting Ahead of the Consumer, a research paper produced with Liveclicker.

“You achieve your goals by helping your customers to achieve theirs. The result is a mutually beneficial relationship with the potential to endure into loyalty.”

What do your customers want to know?

Put all that information into a special holiday planning guide, and send it just before your first major email campaign launches. Then, repeat it one topic at a time – return/exchange policies in one message, shipping deadlines in another – in your promotional emails.

This email from Online Shoes appeals to last-minute shoppers with shipping deadlines and shop-by-category links that let shoppers zero in on what they want. The countdown timer prompts customers to act, and the 25% discount sweetens the deal.

4. Nail down the basics – and don’t forget to say “Thanks for a great year!”

If you’re like most retail marketers, your email program is about to head into the most stressful time of the year. These four steps will help you shore up your foundations:

Some brands send their holiday greetings without an offer or any other path to purchase. Others include subtle ways to convert.

The email below, from American Eagle, combines several tactics: a prominent holiday greeting, links to popular spots on the website and an invitation to join the loyalty program below the greeting.

You also could include a link to your preference center, invite subscribers to create or update a profile and emphasize the benefit as AE does with its loyalty program invite:

Want more ideas to build engagement that drives sales during the holidays? Download our newest guide: 9 Solutions (With Real-Life Examples!) to Retailers’ Biggest Holiday Email Headaches (there’s a UK version too!).

It’s the nightmare of any email marketer.

You set up your campaign, just like you have hundreds of times before. You run it through QA. Finally you schedule deployment and your email is sent to hundreds, perhaps thousands, even millions of people.

And that’s when the complaints start coming in: customer service calls, angry emails, confused Tweets. Something’s wrong with the email. A link doesn’t work. The subject line was accidentally worded in an offensive manner. It breaks on a certain email client.

When it comes to managing an email program, there’s a lot that can go wrong. And once you’ve sent out a faulty email campaign, there’s no taking it back.

Now what?

If the mistake was egregious enough or noticed by a large number of people, one strategy you can take to make amends and control damage to your brand is to send up a follow-up correction email.

But what should a correction look like, and what’s the best way to send that update or apology?

That depends entirely on your relationship with subscribers and the nature of the correction you need to make. But there are some near-universal best practices to account for when considering how to send a correction email:

1: Don’t Sugar-Coat It

If you’re going to send a correction email, go all-out.

There’s no need to make excuses or make up a story to shift the blame. Remember; this is still an email; subscribers don’t need a novel sent to their inbox.

Simply explain the error, own up to it, and make any necessary amends.Take responsibility in a humble, apologetic manner and with a tone appropriate to the severity of the mistake. A simple typo or mislabeled CTA could be approached with lighthearted humor, while sending offensive content or severely inconveniencing users should be paired with more serious, apologetic language.

Here’s a great example Herschend Family Entertainment shared with us when one of their properties accidentally sent out the incorrect link for a sale:

It’s short and sweet, with just enough self-deprecating humor to cut the edge off. The brand went to great lengths to remedy the situation, providing a ridiculous amount of the corrected link and extending the offer to make up for any lost time and opportunity. And they fully own up to the mistake, without trying to change the subject.

“I loved the way this was written as it was calling attention to ourselves for making a mistake and putting less focus on the promotion itself,” said Matt Berry, Digital Marketing Manager for Herschend Family Entertainment. The message barely mentioned the sale, yet drove engagement and resulted in sales – possibly higher than the original email may have achieved on its own.”

Learn more about this oops email (and some of Matt’s biggest email success stories, in our recent interview.

2: Incorporate Dynamic Real-Time Elements

There’s no shortage of advanced email elements that make the question of how to send a correction email a little simpler. A few ideas/use cases:

  1. Embed an apology video and put a human face and voice to your correction
  2. Add a live feed of a social account that’s giving live updates on resolving the issue
  3. Offer subscribers a personalized coupon or special offer in email to make up for mistake
  4. Include a poll asking for feedback on how to make amends and avoid future issues
  5. Use dynamic images that reflexively adapt to the subscriber to give them a highly-personalized, one-to-one correction email experience
3. Don’t Abuse the “Oops”

Once you send a correction email, you might notice remarkably high open and engagement rates. That’s great—but it creates a dangerous temptation.

“Oops emails” regularly outperform regular marketing emails on most typical KPIs.

Like trainwrecks, people love to watch disasters unfold…especially when there’s a company taking all the blame. And there’s something disruptively and refreshingly relatable about making a mistake and apologizing. After all, who hasn’t sent out an email with a typo, or accidentally CC’d the entire office in a routine work reply?

Those sky-high metrics beg an insidious question: If apology emails perform so well, should email marketers consider making mistakes on purpose?

It’s a natural response for any results-driven marketer. But you should resist the temptation to make email errors and mistakes a regular part of your email strategy.

If you’ve been doing a good job of building subscriber relationships and creating a great customer experience, then your audience probably has a reserve of goodwill banked up for your brand. They’ll tolerate and overlook the occasional mistake if you’re humble and take steps to make amends.

But taking advantage of that goodwill can quickly backfire.

What started as a single innocent mix-up quickly becomes a pattern of negligence that’s disrespectful to your subscribers. That leads to increased unsubscribe and spam rates, not to mention a damaged brand reputation.

More Info on How to Send a Correction Email

Need some more advice or inspiration for crafting for your own correction campaign? Start with these resources: