The Complete Guide to Holiday Email Marketing


The holiday countdown is officially on and it’s important to get a head start on your holiday marketing efforts starting now. To help with all your email planning efforts, we’ve created this holiday email marketing guide. In it, you’ll find a pre-holiday checklist, a monthly schedule to keep you on track, and a list of emails that can be effective during the holiday season.

Pre-Holiday Checklist
With just a bit of prep, the messages you send to your subscribers this season can be even more effective at getting people to visit your location, make purchases or attend your holiday events. Here’s a quick checklist to help you think through what you want your holiday emails to accomplish:

1. Write Down Your Goals
What do you want to accomplish this holiday season? Are you looking to promote a new product? Do you want to see sales increase by a certain percent? Whatever you’re looking to get out of this holiday season, write it down. It doesn’t have to be a dissertation, just jot down a two-line goal so you have some direction to guide your efforts.

2. Evaluate Past Results
Before you start brainstorming new ideas (we’ll get to that in a moment), write down a quick list of marketing efforts that you’ve tried in the past. Take a few minutes to dissect this list. Which efforts were successful? Which campaigns lacked results? Now ask yourself why each of these campaigns fared the way they did.

For example, let’s say you ran a 20 percent off pre-Thanksgiving sale that you promoted via email and social media for two weeks leading up to the big one-day event. From this campaign, you probably learned that capturing shoppers early works for your company and that two weeks of pre-promotion was key.

Take the information you’ve learned and write down what was most successful so you can focus your efforts.

3. Brainstorm New Ideas
Start brainstorming some new holiday ideas – now. A lot of small businesses have a limited marketing staff (if at all), but every employee, whether they have marketing experience or not, can contribute. Host an all-company meeting about an hour before you open, bring in some coffee and donuts and ask everyone to come in with two marketing ideas for your business. Toss around the ideas and see which ones people are excited about. Make a list of possible ideas.

Here are a few fresh ideas:

  • Consider a ‘Thanks for Being a Customer’ sale right before Thanksgiving. You can connect the sale to the upcoming holiday while making your customers feel appreciated. Offer a discount or free shipping as a way to say thanks.
  • Take part in Small Business Saturday. American Express sponsors this “holiday” that always lands on the Saturday following Black Friday. Go to the American Express website, sign up for the event and get some promotional materials. Create an event around the day. Send an email to your customers letting them know you’ll have discounts, giveaways and goodies to snack on while they shop.
  • Host a ‘Try Our Product Day.’ Whether you just rolled out a new product or want to entice your customers to buy a popular item from your business, invite people to take the product for a test drive. Consider hosting this day in early December and invite people via email and social media.

4. Know the Holiday Calendar

The holiday season isn’t just post-Thanksgiving. You can and should start your marketing efforts well before that. In fact, you can use any of the holidays below to reach out via email.

  • Canadian Thanksgiving, October 13
  • Veterans Day, November 11
  • Thanksgiving (U.S.), November 27
  • Black Friday, November 28
  • Small Business, Saturday, November 29
  • Cyber Monday, December 1
  • Free Shipping Day, December 15
  • Hanukkah, December 16-24
  • Christmas, December 25
  • Boxing Day, December 26
  • New Year’s Eve, December 31

You don’t have to run a sale or send an email that focuses on each holiday, but it does give you a reason to reach out to your customers.

5. Write Down a Plan
You’ve got all sorts of ideas flying around, now you need to figure out which ones you’ll take action on. Make sure you have the time and resources to take on each task. You don’t want to overextend yourself, or the campaign will be lackluster. Your plan should include names, deadlines, materials needed, a point person, social media reminders and send dates. Here’s an example.

We’re Thankful You’re a Customer Sale

  • Date of sale: November 24
  • Point Person: Joan Smith
  • Emails needed: 3; One to introduce the event on November 13, one that showcases discounted products on November 20, and one that mentions the sale and takes customers to the landing page on the day of the sale, November 24
  • Email sent to: Segmented list of loyal customers
  • Materials needed: New product pictures taken
  • Description of event: A sale that coincides with Thanksgiving and offers a 20 percent discount to customers and thanks them for being loyal
  • Social media notes: Posts start on November 13 and run through November 24

Each promotion or email that you intend to send during the holiday should have a similar outline. You can also take the important dates from each campaign and mark them on a company calendar so everyone is aware of the due dates.

6. Segment Your Email List
Now is a good time to take a look at your email list and segment it into special categories. For example, for the promotion above, you may only want to send the email to a segment of repeat customers.

You may want to create a special holiday email to reactivate dormant names on your list (also knows as a win-back).

Wondering which groups to segment your list into? Here are a few suggestions. Segment your list by:

  • Interests
  • Gender
  • Buying frequency
  • Geography
  • Past purchases

7. Test Your Emails
One of the great advantages of planning ahead is that you have time to test and tweak your emails for optimum success. How do you test your emails? There are dozens of tests that you can try, but here are three of the most effective tests you can run to improve your holiday marketing.

  • Test the offer
    You might think that your promotion is the best deal in town, but your customers might not agree. Test your deal before you send it out to your entire list.
    Take a small portion of your list and split it in half. Send each group a variation of the deal. Maybe one group gets a free shipping deal and the other gets 30 percent off. See which deal is more effective and send the winning deal out to the rest of your list.
  • Test the subject line
    Using the same premise as the test above, you can test your subject line. A subject line can determine whether or not an email gets opened, so you need to make each one count. You need a subject line that explains what’s in the email, and yet creative enough to grab your reader’s attention.
    Split a small portion of your list in two. Each group gets the same email with the same offer, just varying subject lines. Whichever email gets higher open rates is the winner. Use that subject line to email the rest of your list.
  • Test the format of the email
    You can also test the format of your email. You can change the length of the email or the images that you use. Again, split the list as we’ve discussed, testing it on a small audience. Just make sure you only change one element or you won’t be able to see which one tested better.
    This kind of testing is called A/B split testing and it’s an effective tool in email marketing.

Holiday Marketing Schedule
Once you’ve figured out what you want to do you can set up an easy-to-follow schedule:

  • October: the create and test month.
    Use the first few weeks of October to create your plan and begin to execute on it. With a plan in place, you can segment your list and figure out who will receive your emails. However, before you start testing, you need to create the emails. Just because you plan to send an email out on November 10, doesn’t mean you create and send it on that day. You’ll want to work ahead so you can stay on schedule and set your campaigns up for success.
  • November: the social media month.
    Once November arrives, the season kicks into high gear. Hopefully, you’ll have the majority of your emails created, tested and ready to go. There will still be a few that you’ll need to work on, but hopefully you’ll be in a good position to focus some time and energy on social holiday posts. Promote each sale or event on relevant social media networks for your business.
  • December: the tracking month.
    As the sales roll in, you’ll want to keep track of each marketing tactic and see how well each one does. Make a few notes as the month unfolds so you can reference what worked and what didn’t for next year’s planning session.

You’ll also want to double-check your emails. If they were created back in October, it’s a good idea to go back and give them one final read before you send each one out.

6 Effective Holiday Emails to Send 
If you’re in need of a little holiday inspiration, we’ve outlined six emails that are popular and effective to send this time of year.

1. Sale email
One of the most popular holiday emails to send is one promoting a sale. You can create a promotion around one of the holidays that we listed earlier like a Black Friday sale or come up with your own creative sale name like ‘Procrastinators Sale’ or ‘Skip the Crowds Sale.’

Here are a few examples. The Black Friday sale is clear and concise with easy-to-spot calls to action. The other example is a simple holiday sale, offering 25 percent off. Notice that the deal is the main focus of the email.

The Complete Guide to Holiday Email Marketing

The Complete Guide to Holiday Email Marketing

2. Holiday gift guide email
Everyone is looking for a little gift-giving help around the holidays, so give people what they need with a holiday gift guide email (these are also very popular on social sites like Pinterest). Think of it as a mini digital flyer and highlight some of your best products. Group products into various categories such as, “Gifts under $ 25,” “Gifts for Her or Him,” “Gifts for Tech Lovers.” Get creative with how you group products together.

You can send several gift guides out throughout the season. Vary the title, showcase your products, and make sure the checkout process is a breeze on your site. Here are a few examples:

The Complete Guide to Holiday Email Marketing

The Complete Guide to Holiday Email Marketing

3. Holiday e-card
Consider creating an e-card and sending it to your customers, clients or donors. It’s a nice gesture that lets people on the other end know that you care. It helps build brand awareness and generates a sense of good will toward your business or nonprofit.

It can be something as simple as this:

The Complete Guide to Holiday Email Marketing

If you want something a bit more lively, check out a few easy-to-use animation sites like JibJab or Blue Mountain. Or get creative and shoot a video yourself like this media company did.

4. Email invites to a holiday event
You can host a small holiday event to attract holiday shoppers. Whether you create an event around Small Business Saturday, as we mentioned about above, or host a charity event, you can invite people via email. You can even add a charitable twist to your efforts by hosting a coat drive, or something similar in your location. As people drop off items, they can also browse for gifts. Here’s a clothing drive example from a well-known retailer:

The Complete Guide to Holiday Email Marketing

5. Last minute shopper email
Every holiday season there’s a group of people who wait until the last possible minute to buy a gift. It happens. The good news is there’s an opportunity here. Create an email that helps last-minute shoppers get the gift they need. Offer free expedited shipping, like the example below, or let customers pay for the item online and pick it up at your location at their convenience.

The Complete Guide to Holiday Email Marketing

6. Thank you email 
After someone makes a purchase, confirm their order and consider suggesting a few other products that complement the purchase.

“Transaction receipts have some of the highest open rates of all email marketing messages,” says Wojciech Gryc, CEO of Canopy Labs, which specializes in personalizing the customer experience.

“Instead of just confirming that an order has been placed, use this opportunity to up-sell or cross-sell other products,” he says. “Offer accessories and products that customers might also be interested in buying.”

For example, in the email below, the customer bought a camera and the follow up email suggests related items for it.

The Complete Guide to Holiday Email Marketing

With this guide, your holiday email marketing plans should be in tip-top shape to help your business thrive all through the holiday season.

Get your holiday email marketing started now with VerticalResponse

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