12 Top Holiday Email Marketing Tips

October 26, 2012
By Michael Neubarth

The holiday season provides an opportunity for email marketers to add new twists to their campaigns and to offer special deals and content. For particular sectors like retail, holidays are critical, with a large portion of yearly sales (25% to 40%) occurring during the holiday season.

Faced with escalating campaign complexity (more channels, devices, and technologies) and fierce competition for users’ attention, email marketers need to be on top of their game to win business. Following are 12 tips to help boost the success of holiday email marketing campaigns.

1) Clean Up Your List. List quality is fundamental to all email campaigns and can make or break a holiday campaign. This is why Carolyn Nye’s number-one holiday tip is to “clean your database.” Nye advises marketers to “Verify older email addresses, process change of email addresses, and eliminate subscribers who haven't opened, clicked, or purchased from you in a reasonable time.”

Likewise, Elite Email advises that, in preparation for a holiday campaign, “the quality of your mailing list is of paramount importance,” adding that, even if you're using the best email marketing software, “if your contacts are not good, then you can't reap the really great results.” 

2) Analyze Last Year’s Campaigns. Review and take note of what worked best last yearincluding messaging, creative concepts, and special offers—to see what produced the best click, open, and conversion rates. As Ross Kramer notes, “Knowing what worked for you last year will help you build a successful strategy this year.” Also pay attention to what worked least, so you can avoid repeating those missteps. 

3) Use Intelligence. In email marketing, as elsewhere, knowledge is power. As Yesmail relates, collecting a variety of intelligence—including web analytics, transactional data, preference center information, and data collected by email service providers—enables marketers to learn a lot about their customers’ preferred purchase method, highest-converting offers, purchase history, and device usage. This data can be used to segment and personalize emails to boost success rates. Use competitive intelligence to understand competitors’ campaigns and send times, to counter their offerings and special deals, and to incorporate successful approaches into your campaigns.

4) Tune Your Email Timing. Yesmail’s survey showed that the email send times marketers choose often do not correspond to the best windows of opportunity. The results showed, for example, that only 5% of email campaigns were deployed during the 6 pm—10 pm peak shopping time when users’ buying decisions could be influenced. Similarly, WhatCounts.com found that marketers missed an opportunity to reach prospects in mid-November, “a critical period of time when consumers were searching for gift ideas, but email wasn’t being sent to them with gift ideas and offers.”

In analyzing sending volumes by days of the week, WhatCounts.com found that the highest volume was sent midweek, with Thursday being the highest volume day. Thus, WhatCounts advises sending holiday email on weekends, when the there is less competition for the inbox.

5) Offer Deals. Surveys show, and experts agree, that prospects respond best to bargains (discounts, reduced prices, exclusive offers, etc.) and that the expectation of getting a bargain is heightened during the holiday season. Yesmail’s survey data showed that discounts, price reductions, and free shipping were the most effective incentives and were a substantial driver of purchase decisions. Julianne Manoogian reported that free shipping was “far and away the most popular offer in the inbox” during last year’s holiday season, and is expected by many shoppers.

6) Serve the Mobile Channel. Users increasingly are accessing their email on mobile devices, which requires unique design and messaging approaches. As Yesmail reports, 50% of users read email on smartphones, and the websites they visit must render well on mobile devices. The effort to reach mobile users is worth it. Yesmail’s findings showed that 75% of those surveyed own a smartphone and a large percentage shop online, mostly to conduct shopping research. Of these, 80% said email influenced their purchases online and 71% said email influenced their in-store purchases. With those kind of numbers, it's imperative that you get started with mobile marketing, if you aren't already.

7) Combine Email + Social. Studies show that email and social media work better together than separately, and that multichannel campaigns achieve the highest results. Yesmail, for example, reports that integrating one or two emails with a Twitter campaign can boost Twitter campaign engagement 25% to 50%, and that adding one or two emails can boost a Facebook campaign by 50% to 100%. In integrating email and social media, take care to ensure consistent messaging across channels.

8) Use Dynamic Content. Engagement can be increased by adding dynamic content, such as counters that display the days remaining to reach a holiday and the time left to respond to offers. Marketers can offer creative dynamic content in the form of interactive holiday recipe guides, gift suggestions, personalized recommendations, as well as videos that inform or entertain. As Bluemarketspace.com relates, dynamic content can range “from personalization fields in emails to entire images or offers on a webpage that shift based on who is looking at them.” 

9) Re-jigger Your Triggers. While triggered emails yield higher success rates, triggers and messaging may need to be adjusted for the holidays. As Jaime Brugueras relates, “Your normal triggered emails might give customers discounts, messages or offers that don’t make sense for the holiday season—normal triggered email deals might be giving away too much!” Likewise, Julianne Manoogian advises rethinking the audience rules, content, and timing of triggered messages. “Shopping habits are drastically different during the holidays, says Manoogian, “so why shouldn’t your triggered messages vary as well?"

10)  Segment Your List. Profiling and segmenting your prospects according to their demographics (gender, age, location, occupation, etc.), as well as their tastes, preferences, and purchase history, allows you to send the most relevant offers and to personalize communications to achieve higher success rates. As Mitch Lapides suggests, by using postal addresses to segment your list, you can inform subscribers about special events or sales at stores located closest in their vicinity. You can obtain the needed demographic data, postal addresses, missing email addresses, and other needed data through the appropriate appending services. 

11)  Maximize Deliverability. As we have reported, ISPs have tightened their standards for labeling and intercepting emails as spam. This is why, as Julianne Manoogian notes, following deliverability best practices is even more critical during the busy holiday season.Increased email volume from retailers leaves ISPs with an overload of messages to accept,” explains Manoogian, “putting your messages at risk of being throttled or never even landing in the inbox.”  

12) Create a Holiday Aura. Imbuing your holiday emails with a festive look and feel may seem like an obvious approach, but as Robert Burko of Elite Email notes, he has seen “countless email marketers send an important holiday campaign and not change the look of their mailing even slightly from what they send throughout the year.”