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Comprehensive Guide to Holiday Email Marketing: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know

Holiday email marketing

For many, the holiday season is synonymous with loved ones, food, celebration….and shopping! The merry and bright season opens up a plethora of revenue opportunities for all kinds of brands – including yours! So how can you leverage these opportunities to attract more buyers, push more sales, and convert more customers into super-fans?

With holiday email marketing!

A well-planned, well-designed holiday email campaign can help you make the most of the holiday period to connect with customers, grow your brand, and stand out from the crowd.

This detailed guide covers everything about holiday email marketing, including:

Why Holiday Email Marketing

According to the National Retail Federation, retail sales during the 2020 holiday season (November-December) grew at 8.3% to $789.4 billion, compared to $729.1 billion in 2019. This surge can be partly attributed to online store sales, which were up 23.9% at $209 billion. Clearly, holiday sales are nothing to be sneezed at – and brands must make every effort to boost their results in this area. And email marketing provides the perfect means to do so. 

It’s already well-known that email has the highest ROI ($42 for every $1 spent) of all other types of marketing mediums, including social media and paid search. Moreover:

Email is a low-friction, low-cost means of engaging with your audience with unique, branded, personalized content that promotes, impresses, and delights your subscribers. It’s great for content distribution, promotions, customer acquisition and retention, and brand-building.

So if email marketing can garner all these benefits, can you imagine what holiday email marketing can do for you? For one, it provides numerous opportunities to reach out to your subscribers with warm, personalized messaging that sparks greater joy and excitement for the upcoming holidays. It can also help you generate and nurture more leads by gently encouraging them to think of your brand for their holiday shopping needs. In addition, if done well, holiday emails can:

All in all, the holiday period can be hugely profitable, and holiday email marketing can help you end the year on a high note.

This guide unravels the mysteries of effective holiday email marketing with plenty of actionable suggestions, and holiday email marketing examples to inspire you.

Mobile-friendly Holiday Email Marketing

Mobile devices like Smartphones and tablets are immensely popular for a range of digital offerings, including for reading email.

Mobile opens account for 46% of all email opens.

Studies have found that 69% of mobile users delete emails that aren’t optimized for their device.

So, if your holiday emails are amazing and unique, but not mobile-optimized, a huge number of your subscribers probably won’t even open them. As a result, you will miss out on the opportunity to boost customer engagement, conversions, sales, and ultimately, profits.

Other research has found that more consumers are also doing their holiday shopping on mobile devices. In an October 2020 survey, 62% of U.S. consumers aged 21-45 said they used their mobile phones for their entire shopper’s journey. Earlier, in September, experts predicted that mobile sales would reach $314 billion in 2020, representing over 44% of all e-commerce sales. Moreover, in the days following Cyber Monday, mobile accounted for 39% of consumers’ online spends, 47% year-over-year.

Create mobile-ready holiday emails by following these strategies:

With mobile emails, less is usually more, so use limited content. Also use mobile-friendly fonts, not fancy fonts that don’t render well on mobile devices. Select a single column layout with easy scrolling and navigation. Also show the CTA text/button clearly and above the fold. You want the subscriber to take fast action, instead of trying to figure out the point of your holiday email.

Brit’s 4th of July email is mobile-friendly with a clean layout and simple structure. However, its CTA links are sub-par. The use of links instead of buttons, plus text color that doesn’t stand out makes it difficult for the user to understand what they’re supposed to do with this email.

(Gmail on Android 8)
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The email from GoPro does not have the same issues as the Brit email. Plus, it has a simple, mobile-friendly layout, limited text, and a clear value proposition.

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The Power of Email Automation for Holiday Email Marketing

Holidays are a time when people are in the mood to unwind, have fun, and shop. As a result, they’re likely to be more receptive to holiday emails. So should you take advantage of the opportunity by sending your Halloween email campaigns or a Merry Christmas email to everyone on your mailing list?

You can – but you shouldn’t.

The best way to increase holiday email open rates, click-through rates, engagement, and conversions is by ensuring that every email reaches the right people, with the right message, and at the right time.

List segmentation is a big part of achieving this goal. We’ll talk about this a little later. The other key aspect is email marketing automation.

Email automation is about using automated workflows, processes, and tools to reach your target subscribers with the most relevant message at just the right time.

With email automation, you can get rid of the busy work, and focus on:

Further, automation enables you to share interesting and unique content that improves subscriber engagement and retention, increases traffic to your website or store, and enhances your brand’s value. For all these reasons, email automation can be an incredibly powerful choice for your holiday email campaigns.

So what kind of automated holiday emails can you send with your brand’s unique flavor?

With email automation, you set up a holiday email campaign just once. Your automation platform or Email Service Provider will then ensure that the campaign continues to run by itself with very little effort from your side. 

In addition to sending unique holiday content, marketing automation can be used to clean up your email list and keep it up-to-date for every holiday email campaign.

Do You Know Your Holidays?

If a majority of your target audience is in the United States, you should know that the most important holiday season runs from late October or early November to the first half of January. These few months open up a wide window of opportunity for your brand’s promotional and marketing activities, since the emails you send during  this period can garner amazing benefits in terms of customer engagement, sales, and profits.

These important holidays are among the biggest “shopping days” of the year in the country:

This email highlights the spirit of Thanksgiving and asks viewers to pay it forward. It doesn’t sell anything and has no strings attached.
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This adorable Christmas email from Email Uplers prominently features a video recorded by “Santa”. The message is simple and lighthearted, yet genuine, and its goal was to spread cheer during the difficult 2020 holiday season. Email recipients can pass on the love (and hope) by simply sharing the message as a tweet.

This email starts with a punny top statement that immediately makes the recipient smile. It also shows the offers front and center, and includes a clear CTA to encourage action.
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While you should definitely promote your brand during these holidays, you should also plan holiday email marketing for other special days (not all of which are part of the winter “holiday season”), such as:

The picture of a father and his young daughter sets the stage beautifully for the rest of the email which encourages the subscriber to “Shop Now”, but is not too aggressive or pushy.
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Of course, you don’t have to create a campaign for each of these holidays. But if a particular holiday is significant for your brand, you should definitely invest time and effort into designing a special campaign for that day.

Don’t be afraid to include unusual days in your holiday email marketing strategy. In fact, the more unusual the day, the more your emails will be remembered! Just make sure the day is relevant to your brand and to your audience. So if yours is a fried chicken brand, why not send out humorous emails to celebrate National Fried Chicken Day on July 6th? But if you are a wine brand, it’s probably not a good idea to send emails out for Chocolate Milkshake Day on September 12th

Once you know which holidays are relevant to your brand, build a smart holiday email schedule.

This will help you start planning in advance, giving you enough time to:

In addition, creating a schedule will allow you to think of ways to prevent email fatigue among your audience:

Should you send emails early? Will this give you a leg up on the competition, or lead to your messages being ignored?

Or should you wait to send emails until 1-2 days before the start of the holidays? Is this more likely to get subscribers’ attention, or will you be competing for their inbox with dozens of other companies who had the same idea as you?!

There’s no right or wrong answer to these questions. However, getting your timing right is essential for engaging subscribers – especially during the holidays. By creating an early schedule, you give yourself the best chance of doing so. In addition, you should leverage your email platform to experiment with:

Other best practices to consider when building your holiday email schedule:

The Importance of Audience Segmentation for Holiday Email Campaigns

In the section on email automation, we briefly alluded to sending holiday emails to the right audience at the right time. In the previous section, we discussed the “right time” part. Here, we explore the “right audience” aspect by talking about segmentation.

AirBnB does a great job of segmenting its subscribers based on their interaction history, and expressed preferences. It also includes an enticing discount and adds urgency to encourage action.

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As with every other kind of email campaign, you want high audience engagement with your holiday emails. And this is not possible with a generic mass email sent out to every single person on your mailing list. Rather, what you need is targeted holiday emails that resonate with the people who receive them. This is why it’s vital to create messages tailored to a recipient’s demographics, interests or purchase history. And for this, segmentation is essential.

In general, segmented campaigns get 14.37% more opens and 64.78% more clicks than campaigns that are not appropriately segmented.

If your email tool includes a segmentation feature (ideally, powered by Artificial Intelligence), use it to create relevant customer segments for each holiday email. Some tools even let you generate predictive models that indicate each subscriber’s likelihood to open your holiday emails, or click on internal links. You can even create subscriber personas (e.g. loyalist, window shopper, dormant, etc.) and design different holiday campaigns for each in order to maximize engagement and conversions during the holidays.

Other best practices to segment your audience for holiday campaigns:

Create Unique, Personalized Content

There are many other ways to include personalization in your holiday campaigns. And this is easier to do if you have already segmented your audience. Segmentation will help you add the right type and level of personalization to each email for each subscriber to increase the chances that your holiday campaign will achieve its goals.

But why does personalization matter?

To improve audience engagement with your Thanksgiving emails or New Year emails (or any holiday emails for that matter), you must connect with them at a more personal level. Moreover, personalized emails garner 6X higher conversion compared to generic messages, and emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened.

You can use dynamic content to send different emails to different subscribers, depending on their actions, location, etc. This is a great way to drive traffic to your store or website through your holiday email messages.

Here are some ways to include personalization in your holiday campaigns:

Personalization is especially important if you plan to send any of the following emails before or during the holiday period:

This simple email is very effective at touching base with a subscriber without being aggressive or pushy. The message is simple: “We want to stay in touch with you.”
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So what kind of content should you create for holiday emails to clients?

1. Holiday Gift Guide

A holiday gift guide is a great way to showcase the products you want to promote for the holiday season. Ideally, create a guide that matches the subscriber’s interests. This is another way to include personalization in your holiday emails.

Useful tips to create holiday gift guides:

This gift guide from Tattly shows gifts by different categories, making it easier to navigate and shop. The design is minimalist, but very effective.

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2. Holiday Offers

Send exclusive offers to existing subscribers to wow them and boost your sales. Also inject early holiday messaging for early-bird shoppers. Don’t be afraid to run early specials, or use messaging that reference the coming holidays. Make the emails fun, interactive, and light-hearted.

Include discounts wherever possible, and include urgency by:

Make sure you don’t confuse urgency with aggression. Rather, position the copy so that the subscriber can clearly see the value of taking action by a certain date (“what’s in it for me?”). You can also create holiday emails with last-minute offers or deals for shoppers who couldn’t complete their holiday shopping on time, but are still looking for good deals – especially for gifts.

3. Contests and Advent Calendars

A holiday-themed contest is a great way to promote your products, grow your email list, boost  website traffic, and increase sales. Make it fun and time-bound. Display the terms and conditions clearly, either within the email itself or on the contest landing page.

Starbucks jazzes up its regular brand colors (white/green) with a touch of Christmas red, and entices subscribers to engage with the email with a contest featuring the adorable reindeer Juniper.
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You can also create an online advent calendar to ramp up your holiday email marketing campaign, and increase subscriber engagement throughout the holiday season. For instance, you can create daily emails reminding subscribers to click on today’s date and uncover a “freebie” inside. This freebie could be a downloadable resource (e.g. an ebook), a limited-time promotion, a discount code, a free gift on purchase, etc. You can use the calendar either to promote your products (“Best Christmas Gifts on a Budget”), or to showcase holiday-themed:

Some more tips to create memorable holiday email content:

Finally, you can spread holiday cheer with unique content and information about:

4. Referrals

The holidays offer the perfect opportunity to grow your customer base.


By encouraging referrals!

Entice existing subscribers with a special deal, promotion, discount or gift, if they refer a friend or purchase a gift subscription. The right incentive can be a big driver of increased sales and repeat business.

Crystal-clear referral incentives plus a play on “Thanksgiving” makes this a very effective email

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Remember: All holiday content should be warm, genuine, and unique. Use emotional triggers where relevant, but avoid using a mopey tone. It is the holidays, after all, so you want to retain a cheerful tone without going overboard. Don’t overdo the sales pitch, avoid too many promotional emails, use catchy headlines, communicate clear value, and always honor any offers you make.

A word about A/B testing

It’s important to A/B test your holiday email campaigns before you send them out. Set up A/B testing in your email tool to test two versions of every email. Each version will have one element that’s different from the other, e.g.:

Send each version to a different subset of your audience, and measure its performance. Select the “winner”, and send that as the final email. You can also test multiple elements in each email with multivariate testing to further increase the chances of meeting your email goals. A/B and multivariate testing require some time and patience, but you will find that the effort is definitely worth it.

Some More Best Practices to Create Memorable, On-brand Holiday Email Campaigns

There are plenty of other things you can do to set up amazing holiday emails that your subscribers will look forward to year after year.

1. Look Back On The Past

If you have sent holiday emails before, ask yourself: What worked well? What didn’t? Which emails performed the best, say, in terms of opens, clicks, or sales? Review the data in your email tool, and check if you can reuse the same strategy or success factor, such as:

Which brings us to…

2. Track Performance in the Present

If you didn’t track the performance of your holiday emails in the past, you won’t be able to reuse any successful strategies for your current campaign. Similarly, it’s important to monitor current performance based on a measurable goal, so you can gauge the ROI of your efforts on an ongoing basis. For instance, are this year’s holiday sales on target? Are they higher or lower than last year’s holiday sales?

Monitor real-time performance (your email tool should support it) to understand exactly what’s working, and what isn’t. Also important – if you find that something is not working, make sure you have a Plan B in place. But for this, you should plan your campaign early

3. Send Post-holiday Emails

For most people, the end of the holiday season rarely means the end of the holiday mood. Tap into this sentiment to grab the attention of two kinds of subscribers:

  1. Those who didn’t shop during the holidays, but would like to do so now, when the madness is all but over
  2. Those who did shop during the holidays, and would like to shop some more to take advantage of ongoing holiday sales or promotions

4. Pay Attention to Your Calls to Action (CTA)

A strong CTA is always important in every email, but especially so in holiday emails. It can persuade a subscriber to take a particular action, such as:

…all of which can move the subscriber down the sales funnel towards conversion.

However, your holiday campaigns will not perform well if the CTA:

Get your CTA right with these tips:

Swiss Chalet sends an attractive email with high-quality photos of its culinary offerings, plus a visible CTA button under each offering that just says “Order Now”. The red color is also evocative of Christmas. Simple, uncomplicated, and very tempting. 

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5. Include Deals They Can’t Say No To

If you have planned your holiday campaigns in advance, you should have enough time to design amazing deals that subscribers won’t be able to resist. Three particularly popular holiday deals are:

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For holiday shoppers, there’s no better combination that Santa and the words “X% off” – which this email from Rifle Paper achieves beautifully!

Include a compelling offer, back it up with attractive copy and visuals, and clearly mention the key points of the offer (“20% OFF until December 31st”). Also include a CTA button leading to your online store.

Ready to Start Planning Your Holiday Email Campaigns?

Your business can always benefit from a sales lift. And the holiday season provides the perfect opportunity to do so. Follow the strategies outlined above, and you can surely create unique holiday emails to engage with customers, garner their interest and loyalty, and entice them to stick with your brand well after the holidays are over.

All set for your cash registers to go ka-ching?! Get a head-start on your 2021 holiday email campaigns  with Email Uplers. Our team can help you with your holiday campaigns, segment your audience, create on-brand copy and visuals that attract, entice and delight subscribers, and analyze each campaign and optimize the next for even better results. Capitalize on the many brand-building opportunities the holiday season has to offer – with Email Marketing and Email Uplers. 

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