By Max Clarke

ExactTarget discuss effective means of communicating with customers over the Festive Period.

Big in-store displays, advertising, Facebook groups and Twitter announcements; we’ve seen all of these in the last few weeks during the build up to Christmas. But which is the most successful for clearing shelves and getting your products under customers’ Christmas trees? Whilst social media has its benefits in delivering one-to-one communication, and being of-the-moment, are marketers missing a trick by shifting their focus too far away from email?

In a survey commissioned earlier this year by ExactTarget of over 1,500 consumers, more than 93% of online consumers were found to be email subscribers, and have provided their email address to at least one company or brand. And more than half of consumers make purchases as a direct result of email. But why does email work when it comes to your marketing communications?

Consumers are familiar with email technology, they are comfortable using it, and know exactly what to expect from it. They’ve grown accustomed to using email as a way of engaging with brands, making it top-of-mind when it comes to interacting with a company. Many, however, argue that email is being replaced by social media. Yes, Facebook and Twitter give customers a way to interact with a brand or company — for good or bad — but due to the personal nature of social networks, email is still the avenue customers are currently more likely go down in order to make an actual purchase.

Whilst consumers turn to social media in search of deals and discounts, authenticity of social media accounts can be an issue. Perhaps this is why people are twice as likely to subscribe to a company’s email in their search for ongoing deals (56%) as they are to search for deals on Facebook (28%). This may in part be due to the more targeted and relevant nature of email campaigns, which can be based on previous user behaviour.

Social media, by its very nature, is ad hoc; followers and fans can come and go easily without leaving a footprint unless considerable time is taken to ensure they are kept engaged. A dialogue has to be established to understand a customer’s preference, something which is not practical when building new customer relationships in the run up to the festive season. Consumers want a quick and easy Christmas shopping experience, which can be achieved at their desks over their lunch breaks, not a time consuming trawl of social networking sites for offers which may not even be relevant to them.

Whilst efforts to ensure relevant offers can be issued in the form of a Tweet continue and will succeed eventually, Twitter hasn’t quite hit the nail on the head with the failure of its @Earlybird profile, a deals channel that has since been pulled. Promoted Tweets on the other hand have worked well for brands but come at a premium and are primarily focussed on awareness rather than driving direct sales. That’s not to say social media isn’t an effective marketing channel. What it provides is a new approach to customer service and immediate interaction with consumers; something which can be used to compliment a Christmas email marketing campaign.

It is important to think about what you hope to achieve with your marketing activity this Christmas. Your end goal? To boost sales and ensure your products are being unwrapped on Christmas morning. You must consider the shopping habits of consumers over the Christmas period, and why they should buy from you. Many choose to shy away from the hectic bustle of the high-street in freezing weather conditions, perhaps more so now with the recent bout of UK snow, instead relying on the internet to make those all important purchases.

Social media is an immediate real-time medium, but people aren’t necessarily looking for conversation, and engagement when they are Christmas shopping, a task which is often squeezed into lunchtime, and of course there are plenty of organisations which actually ban employee access to social networking sites whilst at work.

Bearing this in mind, let’s not forget another key reason why email is the best method for promoting Christmas gifts; privacy! Email is a safe and secure way for handling private matters, perfect for keeping Christmas presents under wraps so friends and family can’t spoil the surprise.

For those who have less conviction in their gift of choice, email is also a brilliant way to store documentation of purchases for future reference, just in case that gift wasn’t quite right and needs to be exchanged.

Whilst there are various benefits to using social media over the Christmas season, boosting sales is not necessarily one of them. Email has the ability to provide relevant, timely and personalised communication making it simple for consumers to complete their Christmas shopping at their own pace. So, when thinking about how to boost your marketing efforts this December, remember it’s email all the way.