Introduction

Christmas season is a time of the year when companies scale up the volume of their newsletters and maximize sales. Only in 2012, online retailers increased number of sent emails by 19% in comparison to 2011.

In practice, this means that each company sent an average of 210 promotional emails during the holiday season! Making your newsletters stand out in the holiday inbox clutter might be quite a challenge, especially knowing that your competitors are probably already thinking about their special offers for Cyber Monday, Thanksgiving or Free Shipping Day.

In this Christmas guide we uncover the most effective strategies that you can put to use in your email program. How to increase email volume without losing subscribers? What’s the best inspiration for Christmas newsletters design? Should you stop your promotional emails on December 25th, or continue into January?

GetResponse 2013 Christmas Guide will provide you with practical answers to all these questions.

Christmas Email Marketing Recipes 2013

What’s the most important factor in an effective Christmas campaigns (other than a compelling offer that’s of value to your customers)?

It is timing.

If you get the timing right, your holiday season sales can easily outperform what you’ve already earned in the year.

But if you miscalculate, your competitors won’t hesitate to claim your customers and their long-accumulated holiday savings.

Businesses spend months preparing for this special time of the year, to be ready to act when the time is right. All departments work together to grab as much of the Christmas revenue pie as possible.

Is it worth all the hassle? Given the current spending forecasts and ever-increasing drive to consume more, it’s safe to say the game is worth it.

How to get the timing right? Let’s look at the elements to adjust during pre-holiday preparation.

Pre-Holiday Preparation Time

Objectives and strategies

Before you prepare and roll out your Christmas campaign, start by planning what you want to achieve and how to achieve if. First, figure out where you are now, where you want to be, how to get there, and when you’ll know you’ve reached your goals.

Your objectives for the Christmas campaign could be:

  • Increase your reach by 20%
  • Increase sales by 30%
  • Attract 10% more Facebook fans
  • Increase Christmas revenues 10% over last year

Next, choose the best strategy to meet your goals:

  • Conduct an audit of past and current email marketing practices
  • Analyze strengths and weaknesses
  • Explore opportunities and threats
  • Examine competitor activities
  • Specify your target audience
  • Plan types and timing of messages (followups, autoresponders, transactional emails, notifications, newsletters)
  • Define budget and time of delivery

Key dates

Identify relevant holidays to focus on and create a timetable of activities. Although this handbook focuses mainly on the Christmas holiday season of November and December, you should analyze your website traffic to find other seasonal peaks. There may be special holidays that are relevant to your industry that you haven’t yet identified and covered in your marketing campaign.

These could include Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day or even Talk Like a Pirate Day! It doesn’t matter whether it’s an official holiday. As long as it generates traffic and attracts sales, include it in your marketing campaign plan.

The major holidays in 2013 to focus on are:

10/14/2013Thanksgiving (Canada)
10/31/2013Halloween
11/03/2013Daylight Saving Time Ends
11/11/2013Veterans Day
11/27/2013 - 12/05/2013Hanukkah
11/28/2013Thanksgiving (USA)
11/29/2013Black Friday
12/02/2013Cyber Monday
12/09/2013Green Monday
12/21/2013First Day of Winter
12/25/2013Christmas Day
12/26/2013Boxing Day
12/31/2013New Year's Eve
01/01/2014New Year's Day

Internal and external audit

Another important element in preparing Christmas holiday campaigns is to examine your current and past email marketing practices

Take a look at old reports to identify the strong and weak elements of previous campaigns. Think through the objectives you had in mind and identify gaps between the intended and the delivered results. Make note of good actions and tactics, as well as those that need improvement.

Take a look at the activities of your competitors too. Your objectives aren’t realistic unless you account for what’s happening in your industry and take steps to make the most out of your situation. Take note of what the key players in your market did in the past and assess the viability of those strategies in current market conditions.

Create benchmarks for best practices, such as optimal deployment times, compelling subject lines that increase open rates, and effective content that leads to amazing conversions. Make a list so you can keep them in mind when forming and assessing your holiday campaigns strategy.

List shape-up

Ideally, you should be carrying out list hygiene management on a regular basis. If you’ve neglected this, the pre-holiday season is a great time to get back on track. The processes below will help you maximize the performance and effectiveness of your holiday campaigns.

It’s important to re-engage inactive subscribers and remove those that no longer support your business. The holiday season is a time to distribute promotional offers more frequently, so you need to cull the bad apples that are likely to mark your emails as spam or cause hard-bounces. On the bright side, you’ll warm-up your audience and build desire and expectation among those who are likely to order from you before Christmas.

To re-engage your subscribers, consider sending a series of win-back emails with provocative subject lines (“Is this the end?” or “We’ll miss you!”), discount codes, or surveys asking your customers whether they are still interested in your offer or their preferences have changed. If you provide value and your offer is still relevant, your re-engagement campaign should increase your reach during this important season.

Everyone hates to see customers unsubscribe. But in reality, the quality of the database is far more important than its size. Try to reengage them for a few weeks. If you get no response, consider moving them to a segment that’s not at the center of your holiday campaigns.

You can still send them non-personalized promotional emails, but that shouldn’t be your biggest concern during the season, especially since it may affect the deliverability of crucial emailings.

Through these processes, you focus only on customers that may respond to your messages and generate sales. The better you understand and satisfy their needs, the greater the effectiveness of your email campaigns. As a side note, list hygiene management should also improve your email deliverability.

Update the customer profiles so you can tailor your offers to specific customer needs. If you’ve collected survey data and monitored subscriber behavior from clicks and opens, this is the time to update your segmentation strategy based on these insights. Focus your future emailings on offers your customers are interested in. Recommend complementing products or services based on the past behavior and reviews of customers with similar profiles.

Consider asking your customers to update their profile and preferences before you launch your new campaigns. This reassures your customers that you care about them, account for their individual needs, and only target them with relevant offers that provide value. This has a positive effect on campaign success and reduces complaints and unsubscribe caused by irrelevant offers that can irritate them.

In addition to managing your existing database, it’s always important to increase your reach and attract new potential customers. So analyze your existing customer acquisition channels, sign-up forms, and landing pages, then optimize them for seasonal campaigns. Refresh the calls to action (CTA) or place sign-up forms in a lightbox. The additional subscribers you capture before the holidays may make the extra investment worthwhile!

Since the world is going mobile, make sure your existing acquisition channels account for this phenomenon. Customers now search and shop while on the go. They access your website and emails on small touch-screens, navigating with often-clumsy fingers. Use this to your advantage so you can communicate with your audience effectively. Surely you don’t want to irritate them and lose their interest and potential sales opportunity.

To learn how to design emails for mobile devices, download our free Responsive Email Guide.

If you’re more aggressive, you can acquire new subscribers using methods such as discount codes, vouchers, or through contests organized in social media channels. And reach out to your existing customers to offer something of value for referring their friends. Subscribers tend to be most active during the first weeks after sign-up, so this holiday season your sales may skyrocket!

Finally, consider partnering with other organizations to increase the reach of your campaigns. Search for brands that offer products or services that you believe complement yours and would be a good fit for your customers. Then ask them to promote your brand to their audience. Done right, you should quickly see new customers searching your site and signing up to your newsletter.

To learn more, download our free guide: 21 Ways To Build Your List.

Review transactional and automated messages

Take a look at standardized emails, such as subscription confirmations, product purchase summaries, or cart abandonment alerts. See if they could use a fresh design, fresh copy and whether they display well on mobile devices.

Are they in line with your other communications? Do they reinforce your value to customers? Make sure the from-addresses, footers and hyperlinks in automated emails are up-to-date and match your non-triggered emails. If there’s a time you don’t want to risk confusing your customers, surely the holiday season is it!

Learn how to set up Automated Messages and Autoresponders with GetResponse!

Review the body of your emails

Having analyzed automated messages, take a look at promotional emails that persuade subscribers to make a holiday purchase. Compare planned emails to those you and your competitors have sent in the past to see if you can generate more sales by improving these elements:

  • From and Reply-To Address
  • Pre-header
  • Copy and Fonts
  • CTAs (Button and Text)
  • Images
  • Alt Text
  • Footer
  • Responsive Email Design
  • Unsubscribe Link and Page
  • Landing Pages

Plan a backup strategy

There’s a saying: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. This is especially true in email marketing. Part of preparing a successful strategy and carrying out an effective campaign is preparing a contingency plan. If your industry changes radically overnight or a major product become obsolete, be ready to roll out Plan B and generate sales to cover the costs of the pre-holiday season.

Test

Before rolling out major campaigns or adjusting existing automated messages, always test them. Make sure there’s no gap between your intentions and how your target audience will interpret your emails. In particular, keep in mind that many emails will be read on mobile devices rather than desktop computers.

At this point, you’ve analyzed the elements of your email marketing campaigns, identified relevant holidays to focus on, set objectives, and chosen appropriate strategies to meet your goals. If you’re confident that your communication plan will deliver the expected results, it’s time to roll out the holiday promotional campaigns.

Exactly when should you roll out your Christmas campaigns? Keep reading!

Christmas Arrives Early!

October

The law of supply and demand clearly states: where there’s demand, there will be a supply. For holiday shopping, this means many businesses start promoting seasonal offers early as head-starters begin to search shopping aisles. To avoid in-store traffic jams or problems with gift deliveries, many consumers begin their Christmas shopping in late October before the shopping madness of late November begins.

While warming up and re-engaging your customers in October, add a little holiday mood to your offers. It’s not uncommon to notice companies selling Christmas decor and providing gift ideas in July. Although they call it Christmas in July, true holiday shopping begins in November.

November

Once Halloween is over, most businesses start to promote Christmas catalogues, gift ideas, best-selling products, holiday outfits, free shipping, gift cards, holiday apps, and support for a favorite charity.

Regardless of your promotional angle, make sure your customers are warmed-up and prepared to receive an increased quantity of promotional emails.

Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday are the first major holidays most marketers focus on. It’s widely regarded as the beginning of the holiday shopping season, so take the opportunity to build expectation and desire in your customers. If you decide to participate in these events, keep your communication consistent, focus on providing value to customers, and reinforce the benefits.

December

After Thanksgiving weekend comes Cyber Monday. The term originated in 2005 to persuade customers to shop online. If you aren’t sending promotional emails on this day, your competitors probably are. Prepare an offer focused on this day of the year, so competitors don’t get ahead of you.

Once Cyber Monday is over, the countdown to Christmas begins — the most important part of the holiday season and the time for your offer to really shine. In your Christmas promotion, consider including a one-day offer, a series of emails with different discounts, sweepstakes, or messages focusing on shipping deadlines and time running out. Think through how each idea goes with your strategy and choose appropriately to meet your objectives.

January

Just because Christmas is over, that doesn’t necessarily mean the holiday shopping spirit is over. Gift-giving time may be over, but it’s not uncommon to see people looking for presents for themselves, despite being filled with Christmas goodies. So sell your inventory and clear those shelves while consumers are still in a spending mood.

Inspiration for Your Christmas Campaigns

Now that you’ve completed your checklist and timeline for this year’s holiday campaigns, here are our top-5 inspirational ideas for promotional content. This year we’re delivering more than just the standard ideas, so pay attention and make this year’s holiday campaigns special.

Ask about preferences

Don’t we as customers want to get offers related to our interests? Make sure your content, offers, bundles and special deals are tailored perfectly for your subscribers’ needs.

Just send a newsletter or autoresponder sequence that will return information about what your subscribers are looking for as a gift this year.

Remember: autoresponders and click-thru data are your best friends!
Remember: autoresponders and click-thru data are your best friends!

The 12 Days of Christmas

Adapt the old English Christmas carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas" for a holiday campaign that delivers a series of gifts of increasing value or a series of offers that build cumulatively — just like the song.

Thanks to GetResponse Autoresponders 2.0 you can easily set up such a campaign by creating each message in advance and scheduling it for automatic on-day delivery.

Here’s what the content might be:
Here’s what the content might be
  • Promo alerts for related products and delivery updates
  • Offers related to customer wish list
  • Cuisine inspirations
  • Contests such as The Hunt for an Extra Gift

Blackout cyber hunt

Let your subscribers help you decide which products would be most popular for Black Friday and Cyber Monday special deals.

Set up a three-day autoresponder cycle with categories or product offers that your subscribers can vote for. Analyze click rates and prepare perfectly tailored special deals that will be sold-out in seconds.

Holiday charity efforts

There are places all around the world where holiday gifts are scarce. Show your human face and offer to share part of the income with charitable organizations to make an unforgettable impression in poor parts of the world. Inform subscribers about this in a separate newsletter or in a banner inside your holiday promotion emails.

Post - Christmas Deals

Offer your subscribers related products, upgrades, additional deals, or add-ons for the products they bought during holiday campaigns.

Gift cards are popular nowadays, so make sure recipients know how to use them. In your post-holiday email, use a CTA, banner or image to deliver the details to your subscribers. You never know — a subscriber may have received a gift card that can be redeemed for your products or services.

This way you can sell out your remaining holiday bundles and make customers happy with low prices and information about how to claim what they are eligible for.

Post - Christmas Deals

Whether you offer groceries, electronics, or interactive services, make the most out of your holiday campaigns this year. Here’s our main recommendation for all of you marketers out there: ask and give.

Play with your offers and holiday bundles, and let the customer decide what they would like to get as a "2013 Special".
Along with the above inspiration, here’s our wish for you: may this year’s holiday campaign be fun and rewarding.

...Oh yes and don’t forget about mobile optimization. Even Santa has a smartphone now - doesn’t he?

Look Book

Snowflakes, red backgrounds, red buttons, or Santa Claus — what’s your recipe for Christmas newsletters? Below are 10 examples of stand-out newsletters that raise the bar for holiday email offers.

Christmas is the time of the year when customers experience an email flood.

Picture 1 - Sky’s HD Christmas newsletter
Picture 1 - Sky’s HD Christmas newsletter
Picture 2 - Starbuck's Christmas gifts newsletter
Picture 2 - Starbuck's Christmas gifts newsletter
Picture 3 -Christmas apparel deals
Picture 3 -Christmas apparel deals
Picture 4 - Mattel's Cyber Monday Deals
Picture 4 - Mattel's Cyber Monday Deals
Picture 5 - Target's Black Friday newsletter
Picture 5 - Target's Black Friday newsletter
Picture 6 - Lillian Vernon’s Christmas Newsletter
Picture 6 - Lillian Vernon’s Christmas Newsletter
Picture 7 - Barnes & Noble’s Christmas deals
Picture 7 - Barnes & Noble’s Christmas deals
Picture 8 - JCP Christmas wishes
Picture 8 - JCP Christmas wishes
Picture 9 - Backcountry’s Christmas deals
Picture 9 - Backcountry’s Christmas deals
Picture 10 - NBC family Christmas wishes
Picture 10 - NBC family Christmas wishes

Conclusion

In this Christmas Guide we aimed at introducing some inspiration for this year’s Christmas shopping campaigns.

Go with classic snowflakes, deliver offers in high definition like Sky, count down the deals like Starbucks, turn off the lights like Target in their Black Friday newsletter, speak to the whole nation like JCP, show a party-Santa like Back Country, or send holiday wishes from your entire team like NBC.

You name it.

Be creative this year. Make sure your newsletters stand out. Deliver deals and wishes that are perfectly tailored to subscriber expectations. We wish you great return on investment, increased sales and Merry Christmas!

Authors

Mac Ossowski - GetResponse Email Marketing
Mac Ossowski
Director of Education
maciej.ossowski@getresponse.com
Mac Ossowski - GetResponse Email Marketing
Michael Leszczynski
Education Expert
michael.leszczynski@getresponse.com