To Survive the Converging Election and Holiday Seasons, Start Planning Now

Welcome to the Wild West of email marketing

Saddle up, email marketers. The next few months are going to be the toughest season we’ve had in a while. Midterm elections and the holidays are converging this year, which is bad news for consumers’ inboxes and marketing campaigns alike.

With an influx of political emails and the chaos of the holidays, it’s going to become more difficult than ever to stand out in a crowded inbox through the end of 2022. You may be thinking, “Kate, hasn’t this happened before? Election season and the holidays coincide every two years. Why is this such a big deal?”

The answer lies in a recent pilot program from Google. In August, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) approved a request from the tech giant that would allow political senders to bypass spam filters on their way to Gmail inboxes. Here’s how the program would work:

  1. A candidate, party or political action committee (PAC) applies for the pilot program.
  2. If their emails don’t contain content prohibited by Gmail’s terms of service, like phishing, malware or illegal content, and comply with program requirements, they’re accepted into the program.
  3. Once accepted, emails from that political sender will no longer be affected by forms of spam detection to which they’d otherwise be subject.

In short, our inboxes are about to get pretty darn full.

What does this mean for inboxes?

Despite receiving approval from the FEC, as of this writing, Google hasn’t announced whether it’s moving forward with the pilot program or not. Regardless of Google’s decision, email marketers should be conscious of the potential changes to consumer inboxes this season.

Global email volume has skyrocketed and is expected to be up 30% year over year this holiday season.Validity

If Google moves forward with this pilot program, the burden of marking political emails as spam or opting out of subscriptions will fall directly on individual recipients. Users will have to provide feedback upon receiving their first or subsequent email from political senders, and pilot participants will in turn receive information about the rate at which their emails are actually delivered into Gmail users’ inboxes, rather than the spam folder.

So what does all this mean? In addition to being bombarded with marketing emails ahead of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the broader holiday season, Gmail users could see a lot more emails from political senders in coming months. What’s more, users will likely spend more time than usual opting out of emails and manually sending messages to spam, resulting in heightened inbox fatigue. 

A harried holiday season

Back in 2020, when the world went digital, retailers pivoted to online sales and marketing strategies. This led to a 60% increase in email activity between March and April 2020 alone. There was a surprising dip in open rates during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday craze due to increased sending.

Since then, global email volume has been on a steady incline—even climbing nearly 19% from July to August 2022—without the added madness of an election season. Holiday email surges are thus getting higher and higher every year, but be wary here: Buyers will be more selective with their purchases due to economic uncertainty and the impact of inflation.

Email marketers will have to go above and beyond their usual efforts to cut through the noise, catch the attention of their recipients and hit their aggressive goals. Many marketers will have to increase the volume of emails they send to get the same dollars in revenue they would’ve achieved in the past.

What does this mean for marketers? 

One way marketers can boost the chances of their emails getting noticed is by sending messages during off-peak hours. Have you noticed that your inbox gets flooded with newsletters and ads around 8, 9 and 10 a.m.?

If you’re part of the crowd blasting out emails at the hour :15, :30 or :45 mark, your recipients are most likely just clicking through their hourly barrage of emails without actually reading them. Try offsetting your bulk sends by a few minutes so your campaigns end up at the top of the inbox rather than buried in the clutter.

Another way to improve your reputation is through the use of authenticated messages. Google announced its support for Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI) last summer. BIMI is an industry standard email specification that enables the use of brand-controlled logos within supporting email clients.

Because other mailbox providers have been slow on the BIMI uptake (Apple just announced its support in September), it hasn’t been adopted widely by email marketers just yet. That means if your message ends up in the inbox with a verified logo prominently displayed, it’s guaranteed to stand out and catch your recipient’s eye.

It seems that email marketing is always an uphill battle. There are constantly new regulations to navigate, more messages to compete with and spam traps to avoid. As our inboxes get more and more crowded with each passing day, it’s critical that email marketers get creative and strategic so we can tackle the upcoming political and holiday seasons.

All roads here point to personalization. By reaching customers on the platforms they want, with the messages they want, when they want, senders can break away from the pack (and the PAC) to expertly navigate the Wild West of email marketing.