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Six tips and six sources of inspiration for your Christmas email marketing

Author's avatar By Mark Brownlow 15 Nov, 2011
Essential Essential topic

Design and campaign ideas for the holiday season

Any self-respecting article on holiday email marketing needs an obligatory comment about the number of shopping days left. Or some reference to sleighs and deliverability.


It's tough thinking of new things to say about Christmas email campaigns.

It's also tough coming up with ideas to help your Christmas emails stand out from everyone else's. Sprinkling a few stars and stockings around your weekly promotion may not be enough.

Fortunately, help is at hand...here, for example, are six sets of sources to provide design and campaign inspiration for the coming weeks.

Christmas email design galleries, subject line help, campaign inspiration

1. CampaignMonitor runs an annual Christmas email design competition. See the winning designs for 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005.

2. Beautiful Email Newsletters feature ten Christmas campaign designs, while the Email Institute's Email Gallery has another 26. Also check the 50 examples in the AWeber Christmas lookbook.

3. The Retail Email Blog has screenshots and campaign analysis for Christmas emails, as well as reviews of stand-out holiday subject lines from 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006. It's also home to the 51-page Retail Email Guide to the Holiday Season.

4. VerticalResponse has a holiday subject line tool and their choice of top subjects.

5. There are several public (mostly for-fee) databases of current and past subject lines and/or email campaigns. See for example, subjectlin.es, eDataSource, Emailium, Email Society, Emailtastic, Email Archive, and Newsletter Monitor.

6. I maintain an annual collection of links to posts and articles covering holiday email marketing planning, strategy and tactics. This is the 2011 edition. A special shout out for this article by Andrew Kordek, which has several innovative ideas for retailers wondering what to do differently this Christmas.

Six practical tips for Christmas campaigns

It's getting a little late for planning major holiday campaigns, especially if there are a lot of people and organizations in the email production chain. But it's not too late to squeeze a little more out of the coming weeks. Here are six tips I picked up recently:

1. Exploit seasonal interest to grow your list

The joy of Christmas for marketers is the heightened interest in retail offers and seasonal content. But the right marketing response to this interest should not be limited to what messages you send and when. Exploit that interest for list growth, too.

Ensure all points of contact with prospects and customers (like web pages and points of sale) include an opportunity to sign-up to your email list. Revise sign-up copy temporarily to highlight the special value of seasonal deals and content. If more transactional emails (like order confirmations) are going out the door, ensure these include a plug for your list.

As Loren McDonald writes, the ideal time to build up your list is:

"...during the holiday shopping season, when hordes of motivated and interested shoppers are coming to your website.

2. Reassess what you know about subject lines

The volume of commercial messaging increases during the Christmas period, while the focus narrows. A lot of retail emails and advertising cover similar ground: deals, discounts, gifts and giving.

The character of the typical inbox changes accordingly, meaning results and insights from subject line tests earlier in the year may no longer apply.

Does the ability of keywords like "20% off" to grab attention decline during Q4 when there's rather more of them about? Or does it increase as people search for the best deals on gifts?

Is free delivery worth highlighting? Or is it becoming an expectation, rather than a preference among shoppers?

Keep retesting your assumptions to discover the keywords that drive interest and attention during the holiday season.

As Linda Bustos notes, the best subject line:

"...depends on the industry, the business itself, the product types, even the time of the season."

3. There's more than one way to deliver value

Given ongoing economic difficulties, it's no surprise to learn that most consumers cite money-saving opportunities as a prime reason to sign up for emails and a top preference for email content.

Deals and discounts may be the foundation of many December email campaigns. But it's hard to stand out with that approach alone.

Fortunately, there are other ways to deliver value via Christmas email.

The holiday season is a stressful one for consumers, too: consider content that makes their lives easier...content you can often tie into promotions anyway. For example:

  • Provide clear information on shipping/posting times and deadlines, office and store opening hours, return policies and support times through and immediately after the holiday season
  • Offer suggestions for last-minute purchases, particularly digital products and services like gift vouchers, ebooks, online memberships and online subscriptions
  • Create gift guides and recommendations. Draw in customer reviews, ratings and bestseller lists to provide "social proof" for the undecided

Martin Lieberman says:

"Shopping tips, gift-giving advice, and entertaining content can help you stand out from the multitude of 20% off and free shipping offers"

4. It's the time of year you get to play with frequency

Marketers are understandably wary of increasing frequency. Nobody wants to turn off subscribers or attract the "spammer" label because you sent too many messages.

But perceptions of frequency and what is "too much" are closely tied to value. The more value you offer, the more email you can send without incurring negative reactions.

Since the value of Christmas emails is...well...higher around Christmas, then it's reasonable to consider sending more of them. As most retailers, for example, do.

Some factors to consider if you do lift frequency:

  • don't ignore the point about value. Christmas shopping needs won't necessarily compensate for sending irrelevant or repetitive offers and content
  • consider alerting subscribers to coming changes in frequency, so they're not taken by surprise (unless you have good reason to believe the surprise element will work in your favor!)
  • OR...consider allowing subscribers to opt-in to additional emails over the Christmas period, like a "12 Days of Xmas Deal-a-Day" promotion
  • OR...consider allowing subscribers to opt-out of more frequent emails
  • watch the numbers closely: be ready to adjust if unsubscribes, spam complaints and delivery rates become unacceptable
  • consider reminding subscribers on your unsubscribe page that frequency will return to normal after Christmas...or give them the option on that page to return to normal frequencies immediately
  • can you define segments that will likely respond positively to more emails: gift buyers from last year? Your best customers this year?

AlchemyWorx write:

"...peoples' expectations and tolerance levels change during the festive season. Consumers shop and buy more during this period, so it stands to reason that they want to hear about more offers and opportunities"

5. Put meaning into your seasons greetings

The jury is out on the value of generic "seasons greetings" emails to customers and partners. Invest in creative design or creative writing, some humor, a story, a link to a video or some other rich content to move from "generic" to "unique" and from "bland" to "engaging".

Amy Olivieri reminds us:

"A great way to connect with your customers, clients, and members is to send a fun holiday message that shows a lighter and more personable side of your business or organization"

And...if you only have a few to send, why not use a handwritten note instead?

6. Take notes for next year

Finally, as Chad White explains:

"...the most important step in planning your holiday email campaigns is reviewing what happened last year."

Your Christmas planning in 2012 will be considerably easier if you find the time to document processes, successes, failures and insights while the 2011 season is still fresh in your mind.

Happy holiday emailing!

Author's avatar

By Mark Brownlow

Mark Brownlow is a former email copywriter and publisher of the retired Email Marketing Reports site. He now works as a lecturer and writer. Connect with him via Lost Opinions.

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