Holiday stocking with an interactive email

How to Use Interactivity and Dynamic Content in Holiday Emails

When I was a kid, I would look back on the holiday season and wonder to myself, “How could it ever get any better than this year?”

Holiday email marketing strategy can be a little like that too. You finish up a season full of successful sends and realize it’s going to be tough to top your strategy next time around.

More and more, email marketers are turning to dynamic content and interactive elements to take their holiday email campaigns to the next level.

For subscribers, opening an email with something fun and unexpected inside is a lot like getting a surprise gift. Of course, interactivity and dynamic email content can also be useful -- sort of like a practical holiday gift you really need.

Are you planning to implement dynamic content or interactive elements into your brand’s holiday email marketing? That’s something Pathwire asked in our holiday email marketing survey. Find all the results when you download the free report, Email is the New Black [Friday].

Holiday email marketing tactics

Black Friday and Cyber Monday mark the start of the holiday shopping season. Campaigns for these events set the tone for holiday email marketing efforts for the rest of the year.

In the survey, Pathwire and research partner Ascend2 asked B2C marketers about email sending frequency, the ROI of Black Friday emails, and which advanced tactics were part of their holiday email marketing strategy.

Respondents could select all tactics that applied, and a few rose to the top of the list:

Bar chart with advanced holiday email marketing tactics

At 39%, dynamic email content about product price and availability was tied for first as the most-used tactic. Plus, nearly a quarter of these marketers are using dynamic content based on subscriber location. More than a third of respondents planned to implement interactive email design in Black Friday emails.

When we break down the numbers by company size, it does appear that Enterprise organizations and Mid-market companies are more likely to use these advanced tactics. However, a healthy number of small businesses implement interactivity and dynamic content too.

Chart illustrating dynamic and interactive email content use among different business sizes.

Among six different B2C verticals, more than half of Retail marketers (52%) planned to use dynamic content based on products. And at 44%, Entertainment was the vertical most likely to use interactive email designs.

If you see your email program as innovative and best-in-class, dynamic content and interactivity should be part of your holiday email marketing strategy. Of course, that implies you have a strategic reason for these tactics beyond wanting a cutting-edge program. 

Interactive emails vs. dynamic content

Let’s be clear about the difference between interactive and dynamic emails. 

Dynamic content is anything that updates and potentially changes whenever a subscriber opens an email. It’s an ideal way to provide the most up-to-date information while creating a more personalized experience. That’s because dynamic content updates are often (but not always) based on data you have about individual subscribers.

Interactive email content defines elements that involve subscribers taking an action within an email campaign. People interact with the content that’s inside of an email without leaving the message itself. That could be as complex as a survey or a game, or as simple as a hover/rollover effect on an image or button.

It’s certainly possible for there to be some crossover between these tactics. To put it another way, interactive content could be dynamic, but not all dynamic content includes interactivity.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s take a look at some ways to use these advanced tactics for holiday email marketing.

7 ideas for dynamic content in holiday emails

Staying up-to-date is crucial for both consumers and B2C brands over the holidays. That’s likely why dynamic content based on product information was one of the most-used tactics in the Pathwire survey. Here are some ways dynamic content makes holiday email marketing more efficient and effective.

1. Inventory updates

Remember the mid-90s when parents were storming stores for Tickle-Me Elmo dolls? That was without the help of going viral on the internet. Let’s say something like that happens to a product you sell online over the holidays.

Dynamic emails displaying the latest information about your inventory let customers know when they need to hurry up and place an order. It can also help remove and replace hot-ticket items in emails when inventory runs low.

Using dynamic content in emails this way prevents customer service calls from frustrated online shoppers who’ve had orders canceled because something they wanted was out of stock.

2. Shipping and order tracking

Holiday transactional emails are just as important as any marketing campaign this time of year. Topping the list are messages telling customers when they can expect packages to arrive.

People shouldn’t have to cross their fingers and hope that holiday gifts arrive on time. Dynamic shipping and order tracking emails let them know exactly what to expect. And, they can return to the same message for some reassurance.

American meadows order tracking email
Dynamic order tracking email made with Zembula

These updates provide a convenient way to check an order’s status. There’s no need to click through to a separate page. Instead of a static estimation of the package’s arrival, there is a graphic that updates dynamically.

3. Promotions

There are so many special promotions and sales events over the holidays, it’s impossible for consumers to remember when one begins and another ends. That’s where the countdown timer becomes a handy tool for dynamic email content.

Every time a subscriber opens a promotional email with a countdown timer, they can see exactly how much time they have to take advantage of your brand’s special offer. This tactic is both informative and creates a sense of urgency. Plus, watching the timer tick down makes the email feel alive!

Samsung email with a dynamic countdown timer for TV promotion
Countdown timer email made with Nifty Images

4. Price changes

When you can dynamically update product pricing in emails, it creates a more consistent and cohesive online shopping experience.

What happens when the price changes on a product you’ve sent out via a holiday marketing email that went out 24 hours ago? Will subscribers land on a product page and see a higher price that makes them feel duped? Or will they balk at an outdated price listed in your email that seems higher than the competition’s pricing?

If you’re creating memorable holiday emails, subscribers may very well search their inbox to find your offer days after it arrived. Dynamic price updates ensure important info is always accurate.

This kind of dynamic email content may be especially useful for email marketers working in travel and tourism as ticket prices and rates change often -- especially over the holidays.

5. Loyalty programs

B2C brands will be relying on their loyal customers to make purchases over the holidays. But, you know the competition is out to steal them away. What better time to make use of a rewards program?

A dynamic email that updates loyalty points based on recent purchases encourages customers to make another visit to your site so they can use their rewards during holiday shopping. The email below is a double-whammy of abandoned cart and loyalty points!

Dynamic email made with Zembula

6. Geolocation

For businesses with physical locations (aka brick-and-mortar stores), attracting foot traffic from holiday shoppers could be as important as driving web traffic.

Dynamic emails that show a map of store locations based on where a subscriber lives (or where they are in real-time) make it easy for folks to find your business. The example below from Movable Ink includes a dynamic map as well as updates on inventory and loyalty points. That’s a dynamic email content hat trick!

Dynamic content in a retail email showing inventory, loyalty points, and store locations.
Dynamic email content made with Movable Ink

7. Dynamic email design

There are plenty of other ways to get creative with dynamic email content. How can subscriber data help you build a more personalized email experience?

The ability to dynamically update copy and imagery inside emails will make your campaigns more relevant. Updates based on the weather in different regions represent just one example. 

Let’s say Fargo, North Dakota is expecting an unseasonably warm Christmas, or New Orleans, Louisiana is getting snow for the first time in years. With blocks of dynamic content, email marketers could change up images and messaging for subscribers in those areas.

Here’s how the athletic shoe brand, Brooks, used local weather forecasts to create dynamic emails. Beyond the images, they also updated the copy and the CTA button to match the weather and the mood.

a weather-triggered email by Brooks

Adding dynamic content to holiday email marketing

If you don’t have the time or development skills to code your own dynamic content into emails, some great third-party solution providers can make it much easier:

4 ideas for interactive holiday emails

Whether it’s to boost email engagement or brand recall during the noisy holiday season, interactive email content is a surefire way to create an unforgettable campaign. Interactive emails can also bring the online shopping experience to a new, more personal place.

Here’s how interactivity can make holiday emails more fun and more profitable.

1. Previewing products in the inbox

Personalized product recommendations were also at the top of the list of advanced email tactics in Pathwire’s Black Friday survey. It’s an excellent way to bring the shopping experience to the inbox and get subscribers one step closer to making a purchase.

Adding interactive elements to these emails enhances the experience even further. Think about how you can replicate the ecommerce product page experience within an email. 

For example, you could code a rollover effect that magnifies the product for closer inspection. Normally, you’d need to code an effect like that with javascript (which doesn’t work in emails). However, it is possible to create an image zoom with HTML and CSS as well. You can also check out how developer Dan Cortes does it using SCSS and Jade.

Interactive product photo galleries showing different angles and options could be embedded in emails. You could also add an interactive carousel to showcase product categories or multiple holiday promotions.

Remember that some interactive elements may not create the best user experience when viewed on mobile devices. Keep those subscribers in mind, and include fallbacks for interactive email content.

2. Purchasing in the inbox

In the Pathwire Black Friday survey, one of the most commonly selected tactics among the retail segment was the ability to click to add to cart or purchase. This represents another useful type of interactivity in email. It also complements personalized product recommendations.

Here’s a slick email from the Google Store that adds interactivity for previewing Pixel earbuds in different colors and adding them to a shopping cart from inside an email.

Google pixel buds interactive email
See the live email and code at Really Good Emails

3. Surveys and quizzes

The framework AMP for Email as well as features like Outlook 365’s Actionable Messages are two ways to embed interactive elements such as surveys and quizzes into emails.

If you send pre-holiday surveys and quizzes to subscribers, you can tailor them to collect info that helps you personalize the experience and segment your lists for gift-giving. While it’s not a holiday email, the example below shows how the brand Handy uses a simple survey to find out about customer pain points.

Handy email with subscriber survey on preferences.

Alternatively, you can always send subscribers to a separate landing page to take surveys and quizzes.

4. Holiday gamification

Give subscribers the gift of some holiday fun this year with a game they can play without leaving their email inbox. A few years ago, Taco Bell added gamification to a holiday email with a campaign that let people choose their own adventure.

Once the fast-food chain got the attention of its hungry subscribers, the email team throws in a CTA prompting people to order a few tacos. 

Interactive email gamification in holiday email marketing from Taco Bell
Play the live version and view code on Really Good Emails

Your holiday email marketing checklist

Email teams put a ton of hard work into their holiday campaigns. The last thing you want is to have an important email go out with an easily preventable mistake

Email on Acid’s pre-deployment testing platform is your best friend. Use it to catch typos, issues with deliverability or accessibility, and see how campaigns render on dozens of clients with email previews. Team management features on the platform also help designers, developers, and email marketing managers work together on finalizing everything before hitting send.

Santa Claus only checks his list twice. But Email on Acid users can take advantage of unlimited tests. You’ll never hit a ceiling. And that’s how you deliver holiday email perfection.

Even Great Emails Need to Be Tested

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