Making Sure Your ESP is Holiday Ready

Every good marketer knows that designing a successful holiday email program requires months of planning. Without the proper technology and infrastructure, though, a holiday email program won’t be successful no matter how well you plan everything else. With a little prep (and some conversations with your email service provider throughout the year), you can maximize your holiday success. Here are a few questions to ask yourself and your ESP to ensure you have a smooth season:

How do I access my data (and can I access it in real time)?

How your holiday programs are structured is dependent upon what’s technically possible with your email service provider. Do you have centralized internal databases you can access quickly so you’re able to utilize all available data points (such as inventory, pricing, and timed sales)? If not, you’ll probably have to simplify your programs because syncing information back and forth may take too long during the holiday rush. Work with your provider to understand what to expect, and share your holiday plans with them so you’re aware of any potential roadblocks. This also gives them a chance to offer some workaround solutions to any issues.

“Real-time” email marketing matters all year long, but is especially critical during the holiday shopping season when sales, special offers, and inventories change quickly. You don’t want to send a campaign to someone with a deal on a product that they just purchased at full price, or alert a prospect to a great deal that’s no longer available because the product has sold out. To avoid misses like this, it’s critical to distinguish between “real-time” and “near real-time” marketing. What many marketers consider “real time” is in reality only “near real time.” Often, the only barrier preventing near real time from being true real time is the ability for a marketer to send updated data to an ESP and keep it in sync. As soon as you replicate any data and send it to an ESP, it’s out of date.

What happens if my email services go down?

You might not think about your ESP’s service-level agreement until you experience a significant amount of downtime during the peak of the holiday shopping season. Then, SLAs matter. Your ESP may guarantee that their services are available 99% of the time, for example. That sounds great until you realize that translates to about 3.5 days of downtime per year. That interruption can happen anytime, but Murphy’s Law suggests it’s likely to happen during the busy shopping season. That’s especially true since massive amounts of emails are taxing ESPs’ platforms and infrastructure during Q4.

You should really look for over 99.9% of uptime including maintenance, which translates to less than an hour of downtime per year. Also, make sure you understand the terms completely. Does your provider consider maintenance windows as downtime? What happens if there’s a serious data center issue such as a complete loss of power or extensive fire? Does your ESP have infrastructure across multiple data centers so the email keeps flowing? Don’t wait until you’re in the thick of the holiday season to find out what your service-level agreement is; start reviewing now to ensure you have adequate time to make changes if needed.

Can my ESP handle my holiday volume?

This is another reason why you need to communicate your plans with your provider. Most businesses send large amounts of email throughout the holidays, which could tax ESPs even if they think they’re prepared. Thinking about doing timed sales? Make sure your provider can send your emails promptly. You don’t want to alert your recipients of the sale after it’s already over.

Will someone from my ESP be available to help during the busy rush?

What’s the plan if something goes wrong during the big Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend? Will someone be available to answer the phone and assist with an issue, or will you be stuck relying on standard support tickets? Nothing is more frustrating than realizing your agreement with your provider doesn’t include critical access when things go wrong.

What’s my backup plan?

Make sure to have a fall-back option ready in case something goes wrong. Data not syncing as quickly as you need it to for some of your dynamic content? Have a back-up, more generic email ready to go in its place. Emails getting delayed because your ESP is overloaded? What other channels are you able to utilize instead? What’s the plan when email comes back online? When it does come back, should you send the emails that were delayed or send something else entirely?

What do I need to make next year better?

Marketers typically come out of the holiday season with a list of things to address for the following year. The holidays move quickly, so make sure to keep track of everything that happens (or doesn’t happen) this season. That way, you know what you need to focus on next year, whether that’s new technology, new processes, earlier planning, etc.

Don’t assume your provider will just be able to handle anything you throw at them. It’s important to communicate with them and, if necessary, find a new partner if you weren’t able to accomplish everything you wanted to.