10 Tips for Holiday Email Marketing All Through the Season

Written by: Chris Donald
Chris is Managing Partner at InboxArmy and has more than 25 years of experience in email marketing



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The all-important holiday marketing season is just about to kick off. Are you ready?

Whether your holiday goals and plans are locked down or still a work in progress, check out our list of 10-holiday marketing tips to help you have a more successful season.

Holiday spending predicted to rise in 2019

First up are numbers from holiday/Christmas 2018 and 2019 projections.

Was 2018 a great year for retail, or did it disappoint?

It depends on whom you ask. Although analysts agreed that holiday spending went up in 2018, the percentage increases and dollar values varied widely, thanks to differences in spending categories and time periods.

  • The National Retail Federation, which tracks spending on major holidays and selling seasons, said spending increased 2.9% to a total $707.5 billion.
  • eMarketer reported that 2018 holiday spending grew 5.4%, hitting $998 billion but falling short of its $1 trillion projection. Physical stores still claimed the largest share of spending – $874.4  billion – but e-commerce grew faster (16.7%).
  • Mastercard said spending hit a six-year high 5.1% on sales of $850 billion from Nov. 1 through Dec. 24. Ecommerce recorded a robust 19.1% increase over 2017.

What’s the 2019 outlook?

  • In February 2019, eMarketer predicted holiday sales would grow 3.7% to $1.035 trillion and blamed economic uncertainties for the slower rate of growth.
  • Deloitte pegged holiday spending growth at 5.5% overall and up to 20% specifically for e-commerce, with sales reaching $144 billion.

10 tips for holiday email marketing

You’re probably chasing an ambitious goal to hit this holiday marketing season. These tips can help you close the gap.

You aren’t off the hook If the weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year aren’t your big money-making season. You still face an uphill battle for inbox attention in the holiday season. Keep reading to find out how to make sure your emails don’t get overlooked in the frenzy.

As you scan the list below, don’t feel as if you must do all of these things to be successful. One or two of these tips might be all you need to help you meet your holiday marketing goals.

Make sure you get mobile right

This goes beyond making sure your emails look and function right on small screens. That’s table stakes these days! The entire shopping experience is moving online, and your emails are the gateway to a good experience.

Optimize not just for the email experience but for web browsing and buying, too. Your emails can highlight alternative payment services such as PayPal or Venmo, Apple Pay/Google Pay or Afterpay.  Consider adding click-to-call to put browsers immediately in touch with your customer support team.

Sync your landing pages with your email messages, search ads, and social media

Customers hate it when they click through from your email but get dropped on a product or category page or – worst of all – your homepage. This can happen if you don’t coordinate work between the email and web teams. At the most basic level, check all links to be sure they go to the landing page tied to your email offer.

While you’re at it, check that your email offers are included – where appropriate – in search ads and social media content to give your offers the widest possible reach.

One last step: Make sure each landing page, especially those linked to search and social media, includes an email opt-in invitation. A lot of non-subscribers and other first-time visitors will find those pages through search and social in the coming months. They might not be ready to buy on their first visit but could be intrigued enough to want to sign up for emails.

Rethink your segmentation plan

Changing how you segment your customer or subscriber database can help you uncover some lucrative groups that your current segmentation model overlooks. Here are two to experiment with now before your holiday traffic ramps up:

  • New non-purchasers:

When you send the same message to everybody every time, you’re overlooking the people who have yet to buy and not rewarding your best customers. Target your newbies (new subscribers, account-holders and the like) with special content to persuade them to make that all-important first purchase.

This contact point is most relevant in your welcome or onboarding program when interest is highest. Include some educational information about your products and an incentive to send them right back to your website to buy.

  • VIPs:

At the other end of the scale are your very best buyers. They’re the ones who buy most often, buy at full price, buy your premium products or rack up the biggest order values. What are you doing to make them feel valued?

Use a Recency-Frequency-Monetary (RFM) model to identify the people at the top of your customer pyramid. Offer some hefty benefits to fend off the competition.

Review your automation and personalization programs

Welcome Friend

A new report by The Relevancy Group found advanced personalization can drive 17% higher revenue and $20 (or more) of additional revenue on every $1 you invest in it. Is that enough incentive to check out what your email platforms offer for automation and personalization?

Now isn’t the time to try launching an all-new abandoned-cart or repurchase program. Instead,  audit the programs you offer now to be sure they work as expected and to find places where you can boost them up to perform better.

Adding just one more email to an abandoned-cart series could help you persuade more people to convert. This has become a crisis point for many retailers because a new study shows abandonment rates now hover around 84%, up from 75% to 77% in recent years.

(Tip: We work with dozens of email marketing and automation platforms, so we probably know what automations and integrations your platform offers. Let us help you track them down!)

Make promotional emails stand out

Even with all the focus on personalization, segmentation, and targeting, we know you’re probably going to rely on promotional emails to get your messages out and bring customers back to your website to buy. There’s plenty you can do to make these messages look special!

  • Optimize your inbox view

    It should show your brand name or name of your email program in the sender name, a quickly understood subject line and preview text that ties in with your subject line. This will help inbox scanners see right away why you’re there. This is essential when other senders start ramping up frequency as the holidays get closer.

  • Add visuals to your subject lines

    Emoji – colorful little icons – have been around long enough to show that they don’t hurt deliverability and can increase engagement. An experiment in the next few weeks to see what effect they have on your opens.

  • Create a theme for your holiday marketing program

Many brands invest heavily in themed templates, logos, artwork and body content. That’s fine, but if you don’t have the time or budget, come up with a snappy strapline or general theme and convey it in your subject lines, message content and calls to action. Carry it through in your social media and web content, too.

Create a discount/incentive strategy

This will help you avoid panic marketing – the frenzy that erupts when someone finds out how far the team is from making a goal and wants to jack up the frequency and discounting. That can blow up your careful planning, cut into your profit margin and burn out your customers.

Take a few moments now to sketch out a plan for discount offers and incentives. This way, you’ll be ready to suggest a rational move like this:

The closer you get to Christmas, the more important expedited shipping becomes. Instead of tossing another 20% discount email into the rushing flood of similar offers, shift to lower qualifications for faster shipping.

Test a repeat-purchase plan

Yes, it’s important to persuade both new and longtime customers to buy this holiday season. But don’t stop there! Create a plan to bring your new customers back again to buy from you after the holidays.

Ideally, they’d come back to buy at full price. But if your goal is to snag a second purchase, try dangling a juicy offer that they could qualify for with a pre-holiday purchase but would be effective after the holiday. If this pans out, you can expand it by aligning incentive sizes with order values or other variables.

Set up a frequency and cadence plan

Just as you should have a discount/incentive plan, you can map out your frequency (how often you send) and cadence (your sending pattern). This helps you manage last-minute panic and “send another email” requests. It also shows you how to pivot should you need to increase frequency unexpectedly.

Plotting out everything  – your frequency and cadence, campaigns, discount/incentive plans and more – puts you in control and assures your team and boss that you’re on top of the situation.

Test everything

Yes, everything. Your templates. Your automations and integrations. Images. Body copy. Calls to action. Subject lines. Offers. Sending times and days. Triggers. If it’s a part of your email program, you can test it.

Testing can be a hard sell because someone’s going to worry that you’re losing sales by not mailing to a holdout group. Sure, you could lose a couple of sales in the short term. But you’ll lose a lot more if you go too far down the wrong path.

Don’t know how to set up or run a test? You have plenty of help, starting with your ESP or email agency, and the email community at large, which offers you advice like this to help you run better tests.

Track everything, and write it all down

Tracking and analyzing results is essential during this high-stress time of year. Watch open and click rates to detect up or down trends in engagement. Measure conversions and order values. Are people buying less from your emails than you expected? The closer you watch what’s happening, the faster you can change course as needed.

The second part of this is to write everything down. Write down your campaign plans, your testing strategy, and findings, your workflow, and calendar, your results for each campaign. Plot trends. It might feel like a chore when you’re in the thick of things in December, but you’ll be grateful for it when planning rolls around again six months later.

We can help!

InboxArmy can help you close the gaps in your holiday campaign strategy and seek out opportunities to get the most from your email marketing program. We’re just a phone call away!

About Author

Chris sent his first email campaign in 1995. He’s worked directly with Fortune 500 companies, retail giants, nonprofits, SMBs and government agencies in all facets of their email marketing and marketing automation programs. He’s also a BIG baseball fan, loves a good steak, and is mildly obsessed with zombie movies. For more information follow him on linkedin

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