How to perfect your email marketing strategy this holiday season

Email Marketing

The holiday season remains the hottest battle of the year between brands for shoppers’ dollars. This coming season is already heating up, with the National Retail Federation (NRF) forecasting 3.8-4.2% growth. While every marketer with a stake in the game meticulously plans this season, are they wasting their efforts at one of the most critical points in the year?

Based on my own employer’s holiday report, more brands sent holiday-themed campaigns in Q4 2018 than in the year prior, but the performance metrics were lackluster. Average open rates for holiday-themed emails were 10.5%, whereas average click rates were 1% – both falling short of non-themed emails from the same period (12.6% average open rate and 1.1% click rate).

So what does this mean? That the holiday strategies and content from 2018 aren’t cutting it. It’s time to rethink your holiday strategy before it’s too late. Here are a few data-backed ways to refresh your messaging for each holiday this year.

Nail your brand’s core beliefs and values during key holidays

Thanksgiving: For some brands, there’s a direct logical tie-in to Thanksgiving promotions. For example, brands whose products or services cater to Thanksgiving shoppers – home goods, grocery stores, food prep, delivery services, etc. – can take advantage of this holiday by sending Thanksgiving-themed messages. If your brand is focused on offers this holiday, promoting a “% off” discount yielded the best results for brands last year, generating more than double the conversion rate of BAU (business as usual) messages.

Now, if you’re able to sell it to your CMO or are the CMO, I prefer not taking the sales-driven approach for this holiday (at least until after dinner, aka pre-Black Friday purchasing). Instead, marketers who promote and drive goodwill get rewarded. Marketers should consider this holiday an opportunity to highlight their philanthropy and humanize their brand. Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, not necessarily consumerism — so use this as a way to connect with your shoppers on a more emotional level while helping better the world. For example, since 2015 REI pre-empted Black Friday over the Thanksgiving holiday by encouraging its customers to #OptOutside instead of participating in the shopping rush.

Black Friday: As tempting as it is to focus only on your in-store Black Friday deals during Cyber week, marketers should consider that this holiday is moving online. Shoppers are excited for the deals on this commerce holiday – with conversion jumping 37.5% YoY – and brands need to ensure their digital channels are not missing out on the online expansion.

For many brands, promoting Black Friday deals earlier led to higher engagement with email marketing efforts. Last year, emails sent before Nov. 19 earned higher click rates and open rates than later emails, suggesting value in hyping the event earlier and getting customers thinking about their purchases long before the big day.

Cyber Monday: We all think consumers know free shipping is table stakes. But when subscribers are sorting through hundreds of Cyber Monday emails, ensuring free shipping is prominent is almost a sure-fire way to capture their attention. With more brands flooding this event every year, a simple basic like this could win this day for your brand. Last year, attention was harder to get as brands saw open rates drop more than 10%. But the brands that managed to grab that attention saw a significant reward, with conversion jumping ~57% YOY.

Christmas: Christmas emails often focus on building relationships with consumers over a holiday that focuses on togetherness – a strategy that continues to resonate. Christmas is ideal for marketers to focus on the human side of their brand by sharing stories from employees or customers or showcasing the charity work they do, and also by helping subscribers prep for the holidays through useful travel, gifting and decorating tips.

Differentiate your brand by telling your story

Your email marketing strategy can’t ignore any of the holidays mentioned above without wasting critical opportunities. Ensuring your brand stands out and is not just focused on sales will not only win this holiday season, but it will drive future success come 2020. Don’t forget to use this time to drive home the story of your brand by celebrating yourself and your relationship with your customers.

  • Make a New Year’s resolution. Focus on new releases, philanthropy or areas of improvement for your brand and share with your customers. That looks different for different brands. One idea: If you had any late deliveries throughout the year, admit it and layout a plan to eliminate or reduce late deliveries as your brand’s new resolution. This lets customers know you’re genuinely making an effort to improve their experience in the new year while showing a transparent human side.
  • Thank your customers. What’s a better way to celebrate your customers than a simple note saying thank you? Thank your customers and show them appreciation for their engagement with your brand. Highlight positive social posts about your brand while saying thank you. If you’re able, consider throwing in a gift card for those customers you highlight as an added gesture of thanks.
  • Tell your customer story. Highlight your customers’ journey with your brand. For instance, send a “year in review” email to remind your customers of the experiences they had throughout the year. For example, Lyft not only celebrates a year in review of its own accomplishments and goals, but also sends personalized emails to customers with details about the rides they took over the years. This works in every industry, so stop making excuses and get this on your calendar already!

Remember: When building out a holiday marketing strategy, first consider whether or not you’re listening to your customers and providing them with the content they need during the holiday shopping season. Authentic and relevant messages personalized to holiday shoppers will help foster customer loyalty and retention. Brands that fail to deliver on consumer needs risk falling behind and getting lost in a sea of promotions throughout the holiday season.

More about retail for the winter holidays


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Len Shneyder is a 15-year email and digital messaging veteran and the VP of industry relations at Twilio SendGrid. Len serves as an evangelist and proponent of best practices and drives thought leadership and data-driven insights on industry trends. Len represents Twilio SendGrid on the board of M3AAWG (Messaging, Malware, Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group) as vice chair in addition to co-chairing the Program Committee. He’s also part of the MAC (Member Advisory Committee) of the Email Experience Council where he serves as the organization’s vice chair. The EEC is owned by the Direct Marketing Association of America, a nearly 100-year-old organization where he also sits on the Ethics Committee. In addition, Len has worked closely with the Email Sender and Provider Coalition on issues surrounding data privacy and email deliverability.

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