Guide to Holiday Email Marketing

Bonus Content

Everything you need to know to maximize your email marketing this holiday — all in one place!

Part 1: Start planning

The holidays are nothing if not hectic. To save you time and stress this holiday season, our comprehensive how-to guide for holiday email marketing is designed to make your planning as easy as possible. Don’t let the holidays pass you by without a smart email marketing plan in place.

After all, email delivers a huge range of benefits not found in other forms of marketing. In fact, it is so cost-effective that every dollar spent offers a return of $43 (or 4,300 percent), according to the Direct Marketing Institute.

Follow this guide for the holidays, and rest easy knowing you’ve checked one more thing off your holiday to-do list.

Now is the time to start

Your holiday email marketing festivities don’t have to wait until the end of the year. You can — and should — start planning your campaigns now.

Getting a head start on developing a seasonal email strategy is especially important for businesses that depend on holiday revenue. But early investing of thought, energy and time into assembling a substantial campaign can pay off for any brand.

To get started on your holiday emailing strategy, follow these handy tips.

1. Set your goals

If your products and services are commonly given as gifts, your plan is likely to be much more promotional and comprehensive than other businesses’. A written mission statement clarifying your overall campaign goal is advisable. Naturally, your overarching goal is to make money, but breaking that down into specific sub-goals might mean driving more traffic to your store, encouraging more visitors to your website and increasing attendance at your special events.

2. Revisit previous holiday campaigns

Which strategies worked well, and what could have been improved? Take a look at what you’ve previously done with a clear eye. Consider hard data as well as subjective evaluation. Cherry-pick the best elements, and discard the ones that didn’t perform.

3. Review customer data and segment your customer base

Determine whether you have enough information about your customers to create an informed campaign. If you haven’t already segmented your contact list, now is the time to do so.

List segmentation can be accomplished easily via tools and metrics available within your VerticalResponse or Deluxe Email Marketing account.

The potential segmentation categories are endless, but here are some popular methods for bucketing your customer base:

  • By the kinds of products they’ve purchased or perused
  • By previous emails they’ve opened
  • By age, gender, geography or other demographics
  • By their stage in the sales funnel (awareness, evaluation or purchase)

4. Schedule a brainstorming session with your staff

Engage your staff to help you come up with new and creative ideas for reaching your audiences. They may have insights into customers you may not have considered. Don’t hesitate to be a little more adventurous than in past years: Just because you haven’t seen something done doesn’t mean it can’t be effective. Customers appreciate uniqueness and creativity.

5. Evaluate your resources

Determine whether you have enough hands on deck to handle the nuts and bolts of creating and sending your emails. Fortunately, tools such as Email Automation, available with VerticalResponse and Deluxe Email Marketing, can save you a lot of time. When you use Email Automation, you can write and schedule your emails up front, so they automatically go out at the prearranged time.

6. Test emails before you send

Be sure your emails render properly in multiple browsers via different email clients. VerticalResponse and Deluxe Email Marketing both feature Inbox Preview, which shows you how your emails will display on dozens of different browsers and email clients.

Keep in mind that being mobile-friendly is a must, especially when it comes to Cyber Monday sales. More than two-thirds of all emails are viewed via mobile devices, and that percentage continues to rise. Make sure your messages will scale and download quickly on every kind of device. (All of VerticalResponse’s and Deluxe Email Marketing’s email templates are mobileresponsive.) Take care to ensure your call to action is clear and direct, and that your links are easy to spot and click, no matter the screen size.

7. Review your email list

How old is it? Should some emails be removed due to bouncebacks? Avoiding spam folders is a science unto itself, involving a slew of promotion-heavy words to avoid, an appropriate ratio of copy to graphics, the length of your messages and other factors. Before embarking on heavy email campaigning — at the holidays or otherwise — it’s always wise to review your list and make sure the recipients are still valid.

8. Develop a cross-promotion plan

Make plans to use your website, social media and in-house media to cross-promote your email offerings, and use your logo and similar identifiers to promote your brand across channels. Your copy can include the same basic messages, but should be tweaked slightly so as to not be too repetitive.

9. Check your analytics tools

Finally, ensure you have the tools in place for ongoing measurement of your campaign. Advanced Reporting, available to Pro users of VerticalResponse and Deluxe Email Marketing, provides robust metrics that detail how and where your readers engage with your emails. You particularly want to keep on top of bounce rates, open rates and clicks to get a good idea of the effectiveness of your plan, and to put yourself in a position to make immediate improvements.

Part 2: Create timelines

Once you’ve set the stage for your holiday campaign, start creating timelines for getting everything done on schedule. Follow these six steps:

1. Assemble your tools

Familiarize yourself with the robust tools available in VerticalResponse and Deluxe Email Marketing. Take advantage of Email Automation, Landing Pages, Advanced Reporting, Inbox Preview and many more features to create email campaigns quickly and easily.

2. Decide which events to incorporate

Part of the fun of holiday marketing is the vast selection of events you can acknowledge and honor in your content. In general, your audiences should receive related messages several days ahead of the event or promotion in question, so they have time to plan and ship any gifts.

The most popular kickoff for holiday campaigns is during the first two weeks of November, though some businesses like to start earlier to include Halloween. After all, 40 percent of shoppers start buying holiday gifts prior to Oct. 31.

3. Decide how often to email

Email frequency varies greatly depending on your business and, more importantly, your customers. You might send messages daily as long as you have valuable, fresh and engaging content to share that’s not overly repetitive. Bombarding recipients with monotonous messages only increases your chances of being labeled spam. On the other hand, because of the number of significant events throughout the holiday season, the industry standard is to increase to several emails each week over that time period.

4. Establish a calendar with deadlines

Plan to stagger the email messages leading up to an event or promotion to reflect an increasing sense of urgency as it draws closer. In our example below, instead of sending one email campaign on Cyber Monday, you could offer a sneak preview of your sale the week before, announce it fully on Sunday, promote customers’ last chance to buy on Monday, and then remind them of their missed opportunity Tuesday (while also offering a teaser about your next sale). Likewise, if you intend to host a sale or promotion that runs several days, plan to send emails during the event to remind readers that time is running out.

vertical response

5. Determine how much time you’ll need

Ideally, you’ll have strategic copy, subject lines and graphics pulled together and ready to roll long before holiday shopping starts to ramp up. Many companies try to plan for their upcoming campaigns four to six weeks in advance, if not earlier. This task may take longer if you’re creating several different campaigns to segmented audiences, if you’ll be using a graphic designer or copywriter, or if you need to secure rights to certain images. You may also need extra time if you have to clean up an outdated email list or make changes so your messages look better on mobile devices. To prevent last-minute panicking, add in a little extra time to your schedules as padding.

6. Divide tasks and set schedules

Once you have an overview of your project, confirm who will take care of each part of the campaign:

  • Copywriting
  • Selection and securing of graphics
  • Design
  • Broadcasting the emails
  • Tracking the results

You’ll also need to decide at which times to send your emails. To do that you may want to experiment with A/B testing, varying when you send out emails to determine the time of day that produces the best results with your readers.

Ready for Parts 3, 4, and 5?

We share types of emails to send, what to measure, and how to get the best results. Download the entire Holiday Guide to Email Marketing to ensure this season is a success.


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