At the 2019 Salesforce Holiday Readiness event in New York City, Wunderkind sat down with seasoned digital marketer Kate Marinaro, Director of Integrated Marketing at One Kings Lane. We chatted about how she is getting ready for the holiday season, and how other retailers can prepare based on historical data and past learnings.
- Learn from previous holiday seasons: analyze and act on the trends and the data for optimal results.
- AOV may drop, but that’s OK — it’s more about continuity throughout other times of the year.
- While you’re conducting your planning, make sure you have the content to support seasonal revenue drivers.
Q: How is One Kings Lane tackling holiday readiness from a planning & strategy perspective?
Like most retailers, we conduct a hindsight analysis of the prior year’s holiday season and identify opportunities as well as areas of improvement. Ahead of this season we were looking at a variety of channels and media like email, content, photography and paid strategy. When it came to email, we identified campaigns across the board that worked well and areas where we needed improvement. For content, we evaluated engagement levels. Assessing those pieces together, we’re more equipped for success in the upcoming holiday season.
We do pivot quickly — we can afford to make decisions at a faster pace than larger organizations. We try and have all of our strategy set at least a month in advance of the holiday season. But often things change even within the month.
In terms of testing, we have things set by mid-October, so we can be fully baked in time for the season’s start. That week before Thanksgiving is when things get exponentially more crazy, and you need to have everything ready before then.
Q: What were other learnings from previous years that are informing how you’re planning out this year?
Our most significant learning has been understanding which categories worked and which ones didn’t. And while I work for One Kings Lane now, I’ve worked for other big box retailers (such as Macys.com) who are more established and see fewer surprises every holiday season. For us, we can see drastically different engagement levels year over year.
Q4 is usually where we see a massive shift. The core of our business serves consumers who are looking to furnish their home. But when Q4 hits, we see a massive swing; we notice a much lower demand for furniture and a much higher demand for tabletop decor and ornaments. That changes how we think about which campaigns will be most effective.
You can try to sell larger furniture like sofas all you want, but most shoppers are still coming to purchase smaller decor items. Knowing this helps us think about what to show and when to show it, overall giving them a better experience and helping us drive more conversions.
Q: What would you recommend to other organizations who are facing this type of shift in demand during the holiday season?
Last year, we found we didn’t have enough campaigns, content and photography to support the demand for products like ornaments and tabletop decorations. We found ourselves reusing material. This year, we’re preparing to send out more segments to support the demand, which also means more dedicated email sends to support those areas. Planning content development is a really important part of that.
There are anomalies, too: types of photography that ended up working, specific looks that resonated, different styles, whether it’s a print type, animals, etc. Actually, we don’t have a pet business, but we’ve found that people really like seeing pictures of dogs. These things pop up, and you have to follow the data, even if you weren’t expecting it to show you something interesting.
Q: Wow! Dogs? Does that require original content?
Yes. Dogs work a lot better for us in the holiday season, even more so than in the summer. I think it’s a heartwarming thing (why people like dogs over roosters for example), but if it didn’t work, and we started to see decline, we’d definitely pivot.
Regarding content: budget and bandwidth/resources are always going to be a challenge, simply because we can’t create as much we would want for dynamic targeting or mobile-specific formats. We do licensed imagery as well in the event that we don’t have content at hand, so if there was something we didn’t have available to us, we have the option to go that route.
Q: The worst kept secret in digital is how effective email marketing is during the holidays. Every year, it seems that competition in the inbox gets more and more fierce. How does your strategy adapt to maximize email revenue?
Interestingly, and perhaps unlike many other brands, OKL doesn’t change our maximum email frequency during the holidays. So, even our most engaged segment will max out at 2 emails a day.
That said, we do want to work more with dynamic content. This means being less zeroed in on segments and more focused on making the email experience unique to each customer. We’ve found that our specific business has so much cross-shopping between product segments, so personas just aren’t that successful. This is what led us toward our focus on one-to-one personalization and our move away from pure batch-and-blast emails. One-size just doesn’t fit all when it comes to email marketing.
One of the great things about Wunderkind triggered emails is that we can create dynamic send times. For emails outside of the triggered program, we have one or two sends per day. And really, you’re just making a bet based on historical data. But with dynamic triggered emails, we’re able to individualize our communications based on shopper behavior, making our emails more relevant, personal and timely. That’s a much better customer experience and a huge opportunity for the holiday season.
For someone who has been working in digital marketing for many years, these evolutions to email marketing are very exciting and signal a huge change to the future of the field.
Q: You mentioned the need to increase the frequency and cadence of your email strategy during the holiday season, which is common among retailers battling for consumer attention. How do you make sure you account for the customer experience while employing a more aggressive strategy?
Automation is key during the holidays. It’s critical for ensuring that your brand can increase email frequency while keeping things relevant to the shopper. Of course, we still send emails that promote our core message. It’s worth it to strike that balance and figure out what’s working. I think for us, and probably every brand, we want to make sure we’re getting the right message across with the key editorial, whether it’s a theme or inspiration, while also giving our shoppers the best experience possible.
Wunderkind really support us with this. And there’s always major excitement on our team to look at performance, especially during the holiday season, and those dynamic, intent-based emails really see such incredible open, click and conversion rates.
Q: How are you thinking about automation and personalization going forward at OKL, even outside of the holidays?
Generally in the retail and ecommerce industry, things are shifting in terms of what’s done from a segmentation and personalization standpoint. Looking back even just a few years, you’ll see that segmentation used to be so much more black and white: “beauty customer,” “home customer,” “men’s customer.” Now, it’s becoming much more individual, shifting from “segmentation” and even “personalization” to “individualization.” Moving forward, we’ll really be looking at how to create dynamic content and dynamic sending that is as unique and varied as our customers themselves.
Q: Looking outside the holidays, you mentioned this shift from personas to individualization. As someone who oversees multiple channels beyond just email, what’s next for One Kings Lane?
First we need to perfect that shift. We need more content to fully be able to send more dynamic content with email more frequently. But we will definitely expand beyond email as well. We’re looking into products like push notifications and SMS. We’re constantly thinking about diversification and expansion into other channels.
To learn more about One Kings Lane and holiday campaigns, visit http://onekingslane.com/holiday.