2023 Holiday Email Marketing Strategy and Optimization
Online shopping during the holidays seems to break new records nearly every year. Competition is fierce – and that’s just to get your offers and products seen by consumers, let alone acted on. Email remains the most reliable and effective medium for breaking through the clutter and reaching consumers directly, and that’s why you want to keep optimizing your holiday email marketing strategy.
In 2022, holiday shoppers broke records on Black Friday, spending $9.12 billion in online shopping – a 2.3% increase from the previous year. For the full holiday season, online revenue reached $211.7 billion, a 3.5% increase from 2022. With so much revenue in play and holiday email campaigns being such an effective driver of customers, it’s critical to optimize your holiday email strategy for all subscribers this season.
Sinch conducted a global consumer survey in September, which found that holiday shoppers prefer receiving promotional messages about Black Friday and Cyber Monday in their inboxes. In fact, nearly 70% of respondents from the U.S., UK, France, Germany, and Spain indicated email is their preferred channel for learning about Black Friday holiday deals.
Get more findings from the Sinch research when you check out our Black Friday infographic.
Holiday email marketing advice for 2023
Let’s check out 14 email marketing tips to improve your holiday campaigns. We’ll examine how to refine your overall strategy to increase engagement, conversion rates, and your bottom line during the last two months of the year.
We’ll get a little help along the way from everyone’s favorite, hapless holiday hero, Clark Griswold.
1. Have a holiday-themed welcome series
Surprise your new customers and subscribers this season (in a good way).
Consumers are familiar with welcome emails, but you can do one better – create a holiday-themed welcome series tailored to your goals for this year.
When optimizing your email strategy for the holidays, your welcome series is one of the most effective ways to engage new customers and prospects and sustain that connection into the following year.
A good welcome series sees significantly higher opens and clicks than other marketing emails. It’s when you have the full attention of many new subscribers and customers. Here are a few tips to getting the most ROI from yours:
- Offer a great deal to motivate more opt-ins, and deliver that discount code in the first email
- Send a holiday gift guide
- Add a volume discount to motivate larger order sizes
- Tease future campaigns coming up throughout the holiday season
- Give an early bird discount
- Include a video or high-quality product photos
- Introduce a holiday rewards incentive to keep people shopping with you, such as a prepaid gift card
- Inject holiday humor to be more memorable
If you can start teasing your holiday promotions sooner, you’ll get more early subscriptions, which will give more time to engage your new email subscribers. Research from Sinch found 35.5% of consumers want to know about Black Friday deals as soon as possible and another 21% want to hear about the promotion a month ahead of time.
Promote your biggest offer in your call-to-action (CTA) on your holiday-themed opt-in form. Then, add it as a banner on your website, or even use your social media presence to gain subscribers.
2. Segment subscribers for the holidays
Are your email subscribers lumped together in one tangled list?
You’ve probably heard the marketing saying, “It’s all about reaching the right person with the right message at the right time and with the right media.” That sounds great, but how do you do it? Since email marketers aren’t in the business of mind reading, email list segmentation can work wonders, especially during the holidays.
You can segment your list by simple things like age and gender, down to more granular characteristics like geolocation and the devices your subscribers use to read email.
You can also segment by browsing behavior, shopping behavior, cart profile, average order size, and holiday-specific preferences. Some people spend more on Halloween than other holidays, for example. You might try to create segments to avoid sending a Christmas email to people who only celebrate other holidays during this season. You can also use these eight email segmentation tips.
Remember that people buy many gifts for loved ones during the holidays, which means they’ll be shopping for others. So segmenting by product category for ecommerce – during the holidays – may not be as effective as at other times of year. Emails suggesting a myriad of gift ideas could perform better.
Segmenting your list by geolocation can be very effective, especially if you’re looking to drive traffic to a brick and-mortar store. Gathering this piece of information is as easy as adding a ZIP code to your opt-in form.
For the holidays, you can also create segments that will be uniquely effective with seasonal email campaigns. For instance, you can target people who like to shop early, wait until the last minute, download holiday gift guides, and are on the edge of a shipping cutoff date based on their location. Get specifics on how to implement these hyper-segmentation strategies.
3. Set up a preference center
If you don’t have enough data to segment your list, introducing a preference center gives subscribers the chance to segment themselves for you. This is a great item to promote in your holiday welcome series so subscribers can state their preferences up front for email frequency, product categories, and other aspects of segmentation and email customer service.
A preference center empowers your subscribers to tell you when they want to hear from you and what they want to hear about. This is especially helpful if you have multiple email lists and lots of different products.
By leveraging this strategy, you can deliver hyper-customized campaigns and mitigate unsubscribes. And you will very likely boost your open and click rates in the process.
While some will inevitably unsubscribe, offering a preference center early in the relationship will increase the number of holiday subscribers who stay with you after the shopping season concludes. This allows you to follow up with post-holiday emails. See more preference center benefits and examples of how they look.
4. Use subscriber data wisely
There are two general types of subscriber data – information they provide to you and information you collect based on their actions.
Data your subscribers reveal to you includes whatever they enter into opt-in forms, surveys, contest entries, and things of this sort. This is referred to as zero party data, and it’s the most valuable type of customer data because they voluntarily gave it to you.
Data collected from subscriber actions is largely based on things like opens, clicks, and purchases. And there are actually three subsets of this type of customer data: First party, second party, and third party. First party data (information you collect from your own tracking methods) is the most valuable of the three.
You can use your zero and first party data to optimize your email campaigns, create more relevant messaging, and stay on the right side of data protection laws like GDPR by not abusing or selling customer data without their consent.
For holiday email marketing campaigns, that means sending your subscribers content they want to read. And you’ll do even better if you can use your data to create dynamic content.
As your holiday campaigns progress, keep an eye on your analytics to see which campaigns performed better and why. Then, you can adapt your emails to work better for future holiday email marketing, beyond the winter months and into the new year.
5. Re-engage inactive subscribers for the holidays
The holidays are a good time to get disengaged customers and dormant subscribers interested once again. Maybe they shopped with you last year but have forgotten how great their experience was.
For the upcoming holiday season, your most effective re-engagement campaigns should go out before the rush arrives. October or early November would be good times to use this strategy. To get more responses, you can include a special and exclusive set of offers for them.
Also, use subject lines that speak to their inactivity so they’ll know that this email was sent to them specifically. If you can add personalization, that’s even better. Some re-engagement subject line examples include:
- It’s been a year. Still want to hear from us?
- We want you back – here’s your coupon code
- Before you leave, this sale is for you
Re-engagement campaigns do more than just boost sales revenue. They also help your email deliverability rates. Mailbox service providers use engagement metrics as part of their process for identifying spammers. By proactively purging inactive users from your list, you’ll increase your open rates and other engagement metrics, which will keep your sending reputation in good health.
Strong email deliverability is the unsung hero behind higher revenue and response rates.
6. Have a cart abandonment strategy
The cart abandonment rate for retail is over 70%, and it’s even higher for many other industries. That means you better have a cart abandonment email trigger and a lucrative incentive to draw shoppers back in. Otherwise, you’re missing out on holiday sales revenue from people who went through all the effort to shop for items from your online store – but didn’t complete the purchase.
Abandoned cart emails are some of the most effective and revenue-producing automated emails you’ll ever send out. If you don’t have holiday abandoned cart emails in place, this may need to be your top priority. Use proven strategies and examples of subject lines to get started.
7. Design and develop holiday email templates
Getting noticed is partly about repetition. If every holiday email you send looks too different, your subscribers may not realize they’re all from your company. A consistent, attention-getting, branded holiday-themed email template solves this problem.
But creating your own email templates entails a fair amount of work. There’s nothing wrong with using existing HTML email templates and adjusting them to fit your brand, as needed.
Here are a few advanced holiday email template tips that touch on styling, personalization, and deliverability. You can also browse through some newly designed holiday email marketing templates from our friends at Sinch Mailjet, and even more here, including Black Friday email templates. All of them are responsive email designs, which is important because lots of holiday shopping happens on mobile devices. More importantly, they’re designed with accessibility in mind.
8. Optimize holiday transactional emails
Transactional emails, not always as exciting for companies as promotional emails, are still an extremely important component of your holiday email marketing strategy. They can get much higher open rates and clicks than bulk marketing emails, and they are a key part of any online customer experience.
When Sinch asked consumers around the world about the importance of transactional messages over the holiday season, the results were clear. More than 80% of respondents said transactional messages are either somewhat or very important during holiday shopping.
Transactional emails often serve as the first impression on new buyers. And if you blow the first impression, there’s a good chance you’ll never get to make a second one.
What are some good transactional email practices?
For starters, show up on time. 41% of consumers wait no more than a minute for a transactional email to arrive in their inbox before losing patience. This is customer service, and you need to win at it with every transactional email.
Earning high deliverability on transactional emails is also a major consideration. You don’t want these messages landing in spam.
While transactional communications aren’t known for their eye-catching designs, there’s no reason they have to be completely boring, especially over the holidays. Why not add a little seasonal flair to your holiday order confirmations? Here are some transactional email design tips. You can also use dynamic content, especially in your shipment confirmation emails, which will improve the subscriber experience.
9. Don’t forget holiday email personalization
According to MarTech.org, personalized emails see up to a 600% lift in transaction rates and revenue compared to non-personalized emails. Many brands are stepping up their personalization game for the holidays. That’s because consumers want that sort of an inbox experience from retailers.
According to research from Celigo, 69% of holiday shoppers are looking for personalized offers in 2023. That means relevant product suggestions and offers based on past purchase history.
A name in the subject line does little to make the email feel truly personalized. If you really want to take the email’s relevance to the next level, use dynamic email content to personalize based on things like subscriber location, weather, expiring promotions, and low inventory on favorite products.
An even more effective form of personalization is to make content and product recommendations based on past purchases. The Inbox Insights 2023 report from Sinch Mailjet found that using advanced email personalization strategies correlates with higher email marketing success. That means more purchases and a longer consumer lifetime value (LTV).
10. Decorate holiday email subject lines
There are numerous images associated with the holiday season that everyone recognizes, from Christmas trees to pies to turkeys to candy canes to sleds, and many others.
You can give your holiday email subject lines a visual boost using holiday emojis. These will get your emails a little more attention from subscribers as they sift through their inboxes, because they align with the season’s festivities.
While emojis don’t guarantee higher open rates, when you use them well, they tend to have a positive effect, especially in the holiday season. Take a minute to learn some tips for using emojis in your email subject lines.
However, choose to use emojis wisely. Not every list will respond well to them. Try split-testing some subject lines with and without all the decorations to see how they perform.
11. Try interactive holiday email marketing
Another way to boost engagement and response rates is to use interactive email design in your holiday emails.
Interactivity may mean allowing a shopper to preview different colors or styles of a product from within their email. It also includes gamification if you can create graphics that let subscribers engage in fun ways that lead to different outcomes. Interactivity can also mean using GIFs, animations, and videos, although that’s not the textbook definition of “interactive.”
You can also use dynamic content that changes based on the situation. This could alter the email content based on the customer’s past behavior, which is also a form of personalization. It could also include things like countdown timers, contests, sales deadlines, and order tracking.
The more you get subscribers to engage with your email, the more you convert. This truth goes back to direct mail pieces that made you cut things out, paste them on order forms, and do all sorts of silly and technically unnecessary steps. Why? Because interacting with it makes you more invested in the outcome.
12. Improve email deliverability for the holidays
Avoid deliverability disasters this holiday season. Emails that get blocked or land in spam won’t do you any good at all.
There are several deliverability mistakes that companies often make during the holiday season, usually because they don’t plan ahead. For example, suddenly surging your email volume from a trickle to a deluge can trigger problems with spam filters. There’s a bit of an art to increasing your email frequency while remaining in good graces and not sacrificing holiday email deliverability.
Holiday email deliverability tips
- Don’t increase your sending volume overnight: Warm up your IP address to slowly prepare it to send your email campaigns. This way, MBPs will be less likely to flag your ecommerce marketing campaigns as spam.
- Check your email list: While it’s always good to maintain your mailing list hygiene, remove disengaged users from your list before you hit send. This will reduce your spam or abuse complaint count and help you stay off blocklists. If you want to run a re-engagement campaign, this is another reason to do so in October, so you can trim the list before the holiday rush.
- Have a clear way to opt out: It’s sad to see your subscribers go, but it’s worse if they want to leave and you’re sending them email after holiday email. Have a clear way to unsubscribe so your readers don’t mark your emails as spam.
- Use inbox placement testing: You want to know where your emails are landing in subscriber inboxes. Inbox placement testing can tell you if emails will end up in spam, the promotions folder, or the primary inbox – before you send the email.
For advanced tools to help improve email deliverability, check out Mailgun Optimize – a complete suite of solutions for email verifications, blocklist monitoring, and inbox placement support.
13. Use holiday email marketing for good
Use email marketing to align your company with the reason for the holiday season. Consider adding some cause marketing to your holiday email marketing campaigns. Consumers are drawn to businesses that actively seek to positively impact the world.
By dedicating a portion of proceeds from a sale to a specific charity, you’re giving customers not only another reason to shop from you but also a reason to spend more. Reinforce the campaign by featuring it on the landing page the emails link to, and you’ll increase its effectiveness.
Employees also appreciate working for a company that gives something back to people and places in need. Mentioning this in marketing helps remind them of the company’s efforts.
Also, you don’t have to make this all about sales. Macy’s sent an email asking people to write a letter to Santa and bring it to a store, leading to up to $1 million in donations to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
The holidays are a great time for brands to give back. Just make sure you avoid value-washing in your seasonal email campaigns.
14. Test and preview holiday email templates
Wrapping paper is the first thing people see when getting a gift. How it looks matters. That’s why, after you’ve created your holiday email campaigns and used the strategies and tips in this article, there’s one more thing to do before sending them out.
Even if you perfectly segment your emails and your holiday offers to resonate with your customers, none of it matters if your email shows up looking like a tangled mess of holiday lights in the inbox.
Your readers won’t trust your product or brand if your emails don’t render properly, aren’t accessible, or have silly mistakes. There are at least 12 reasons to test every email campaign before you send it.
This is what Sinch Email on Acid makes possible – access unlimited email testing across more than 100 devices and email clients so you know that every subscriber can engage with every email as intended.
Author: The Email on Acid Team
The Email on Acid content team is made up of digital marketers, content creators, and straight-up email geeks. Connect with us on LinkedIn, follow us on Facebook, and tweet at @EmailonAcid on Twitter for more sweet stuff and great convos on email marketing.