5 minute read

4 Crucial Email Tactics for Your Black Friday Master Plan

The following post was written by Carl Sednaoui, Director of Marketing for MailCharts. If you'd like to learn more about MailCharts—and how it takes the hassle out of email marketing planning and research—visit the website or drop a note. Take it away, Carl!

It's out there, waiting for you, just over the email horizon. We're talking about Black Friday, the email behemoth that looms larger than Back to School, Columbus Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving on the email calendar.

Black Friday might be your biggest challenge of the year as a marketer, and we're not just talking about getting sales. It comes in the middle of what has become a five-day shopping extravaganza, beginning on Thanksgiving and stretching through Cyber Monday, with shoulder shopping days on Thanksgiving Eve and Giving Tuesday.

But, it's a tremendous opportunity, too—not just for sales but for building up your email database with new customers.

Why marketers have to step it up before & during Black Friday 

What Black Friday means for your business.

Black Friday is the centerpiece of the most concentrated promotional week of the entire marketing calendar, but activity begins to grow several weeks out. These stats give you a snapshot of what’s going on:

  • Click-throughs and ad engagement rates jumped in the weeks leading up to Black Friday 2017. Clicks grew 154%, and online ad engagement was up 111%. (Rakuten Marketing)
  • U.S. shoppers spent $7.9 billion on Black Friday 2017, up 18% over 2016. (Adobe Analytics)
  • Online Black Friday shopping hit $5.03 billion. (Practical Ecommerce)
  • Smartphones and tablets accounted for 40% of all online shopping, up 11% from 2016. (Adobe)
  • Sales were up 23% over 2016 for the three-day period stretching from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through Black Friday. (Rakuten Marketing)
  • 57% of shoppers told Rakuten they planned to shop on Black Friday, the highest of the five-day shopping weekend beginning with Thanksgiving and ending on Cyber Monday.

The inbox gets even more competitive. 

Black Friday email volume starts earlier and lasts longer. The charts below show how crowded your customers' inboxes will be in the days leading up to Black Friday, on the day itself, and afterward. 

Here are the percentages of emails mentioning Black Friday before, during, and after the day:


Similarly, here is the daily volume of emails, showing the dramatic spike and sustained volume in the days before, on, and after Black Friday.


A 2018 Return Path study found that email volumes were 78% higher than average daily volume on Thanksgiving 2017 and peaked at 122% higher on the Sunday following Black Friday.

Let’s shift our attention to some different tactics you can use to stand out in this very-critical-yet-so-crowded holiday.

4 Black Friday tactics to capture attention & build engagement

Your key to Black Friday success will be capturing and maintaining your customers' attention with valuable messages that do more than just blast out a promotion. The below tactics can help you carry out a strategy of long-term customer engagement that will carry you through the holiday season and even long after it.

1. Attract more attention in the inbox.

Remember that email volumes shoot up beginning days before Black Friday and continue rising for several days. These three elements will give you the strong inbox presence you need to be seen:

  • Immediately identifiable sender name: Also called the "from" name. It should be your brand, publication, or the name of your email program. Unless it’s something you’ve tested before, don’t use a person’s name unless he/she is part of your brand. Also, don’t use an email address as your sender name—this may come across as spammy.
  • Persuasive subject line: Avoid the obvious ("Black Friday starts now!") or clichés. Write for time-pressed customers who are thinking "Why should I bother opening this email?" Keep mobile email clients in mind and put your key info in the first 20-30 characters.
  • Informative preheader: Many email clients pull this first line of text into the inbox next to the subject line. Replace your default "view in browser" text with a unique preheader that extends or amplifies your subject line, such as a secondary offer.

Here's a winning combination:


And here's an inbox full of attention-getting subject lines and preheaders. (Courtesy of MailCharts.)


2. Persuade customers to look for your emails.

In the first tactic, we told you how to stand out in the inbox. Your next step is to give your customers a reason to look for your emails instead of your competition’s.

Don’t wait until the wee hours of Black Friday to let customers know what to expect. Build anticipation by offering sneak peeks, VIP discounts, limited-time offers, and daily deals, all aimed at attracting customers’ distracted attention and training them to keep an eye out for the reveal or the next deal.

Bonus: Use the engagement data these emails generate (opens, clicks, read rates, etc.) to further tailor and personalize your follow-up messages. Reward your most active customers with VIP access or special offers.

3. Focus on middle-funnel shoppers with abandonment emails.

Black Friday is a staging area for many holiday shoppers. They browse many sites and use carts like "hold" racks to store things they want to review later. That will generate dozens of cart-abandonment emails, too. Will yours stand out enough to make them come back to you? 

Abandonment emails that reflect the heightened stress of the holiday shopping season can encourage more shoppers to complete their transactions:  

  • Switch your standard reminder-email template to an attractive seasonal one that reflects your holiday themes, colors, and creative content.
  • Add as much product data as possible (image, description, price, promotions used, etc).
  • Add a shipping calendar with delivery estimates.
  • Let shoppers know when their discounts or promotions will expire.
  • Add a banner with your current offer.
  • Send a last-ditch email just before the cart is scheduled to expire.

Also, consider sending reminders for process abandonment (e.g. when they begin but don't complete account creation, gift lists, etc) to bring customers back into your orbit.

4. Personalize messages with customer data.

Study after study confirms that personalized emails do better than batch-and-blast. Personalized subject lines get attention, and attention translates either to an actual open or a brand ping reminding customers that you're in their universe.

Personalized content tells your customers that they are more than a bunch of email addresses to you, and that you care enough to send information that is timely, relevant, and valuable based on their location, behavior, preferences, and other key data.

And, lucky for you, SmarterHQ owns this wheelhouse! Instead of blanketing your customers with one-size-fits-all holiday messaging on Black Friday and beyond, turn them into 1:1 messages with data-driven content that reflects their browse and purchase history, preference data, longevity, loyalty program membership, and other data.

Also, use real-time data to help customers shop more successfully, keeping them posted on expiring offers, location-specific promotions, and the like.

Looking for creative examples and easy-to-adopt ideas from top brands? Read the next post in this two-part Black Friday Success series by our friends at MailCharts.