Introduction

For entrepreneurs, marketers and sales people, Christmas doesn't come as a surprise; it's a special time they prepare for, many months in advance.

This year, the revenue pie that's up for grabs is forecasted to reach $586.1 billion - total anticipated U.S. spending on Christmas gifts and decor. That means a typical U.S. resident will spend around $749.51 during the 2012 Christmas season.

(Source: National Retail Federation (NRF). The figures don't include the shopping frenzy that starts after Christmas Day.)

Sales and marketing campaign coordinators in many industries think big and try to grab as much of the Christmas revenue pie as possible. They use above-the-line (ATL) advertising to dominate public spaces with ambient media, using marketing strategies that target specific groups of customers - typical for the holiday period.

Among today's must-have marketing tools is email marketing - a channel that influences almost 20% of all shoppers (NRF). To help you maximize the impact on Christmas revenues, we have prepared this special guidebook to help you optimize various email marketing elements of your Christmas campaigns.

In addition to theory and practical tips, we've included two handy tools you can use in holiday mailings. We know that marketers typically struggle to come up with unique Christmas wishes and images. So this year we decided to take this problem off your shoulders and equip you with ready-to-go Christmas wishes for 12 specific industries, plus a gallery of Christmas themes, motifs and graphics you can edit, customize, and add to your emails.

This complete compendium of know-how, inspiration, best practices and creative ideas can be applied in every industry and every email marketing campaign.

Happy reading!

Start with a Plan

All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Sun Tzu's assertion is the essence of all marketing and business strategies. How you interpret these words depends on context. But it clearly means that focusing on tools and techniques without defining your target, objectives and benchmarks is just a shot in the dark.

That's why you should plan your Christmas email marketing campaign by deciding what you want to achieve, such as:

  • Increase monthly sales by 30%
  • Increase Christmas revenues 10% over last year's
  • Increase brand recognition
  • Change brand image
  • Boost your audience by 20%
  • Collect more fans

So define your objectives first then devise the most effective strategy:

  • Assess your current situation (an email marketing audit)
  • Examine your competitors' activities
  • Determine strengths and weaknesses
  • Review last year's holiday campaign
  • Decide upon your target market
  • Identify minimum goals for your campaign
  • Plan types of messages to send (follow-ups, transactional emails, notifications, newsletters)
  • Define your campaign budget

Remember that your best marketing strategy is "keep the customer happy".

Plan Your Calendar

The next step is to plan the timetable of activities.

Your long-term strategy for email marketing can be quite general. But for a holiday campaign, you need a precise day-by-day schedule. Even a small breach of the planned timetable can degrade campaign results. So approach your campaign calendar from several perspectives and include at least two types of action.

Remember peak sales days, such as Cyber Monday, Free Shipping Day (December 17) and the week before Christmas (December 17-23). To help you optimize your campaign schedule we've analyzed messages sent by GetResponse customers in December 2011. We identified days that have the highest engagement and conversion rates, as measured in open rate and click-thru-ratio (CTR).

(Source: GetResponse analyzed more than 50 million emails sent from customer accounts worldwide from Dec. 15, 2011 - Dec. 31, 2011)
Send dateNo. of sent emailsOpen ratioCTR
12/15/1142965715197004.28%
12/16/1129242283904515.32%
12/17/1119619742558535.50%
12/18/1124469522767603.99%
12/19/1125365343249874.04%
12/20/1145560416111214.61%
12/21/1132462024309125.56%
12/22/1138836604547344.59%
12/23/1131212103629924.06%
12/24/1120480802324594.73%
12/25/1114465861167522.04%
12/26/1125645433171485.69%
12/27/1129365793522445.32%
12/28/1127155843737275.95%
12/29/1137041804573155.40%
12/30/1137319534518044.64%
12/31/1125637123100094.03%

As you can see, days with increased consumer activity are the 5 hectic days of December 15-20. After that, subscriber engagement goes a bit down. Then shoppers get back to their inboxes on Boxing Day in search of after-Christmas deals. The peak of that rush is the day before New Year's Eve.

Analyze your past campaigns and draw conclusions from the behavior of your subscribers. The periods with top sales performance should definitely be included in this year's timetable.

When planning your campaign, spend a few moments reviewing your target audience, as it's not a homogenous group. One thing that impacts your schedule is the starting date for Christmas shopping. Shoppers can be classified as follows:

Jump Starters

These shoppers normally know their budget and what to buy. They buy early to avoid the Christmas shopping fever.

And they're quite numerous. According to NRF 22.1% of Americans say they'll start their Christmas shopping in October. Jump Starters want to make sure they get what they want, even at a higher price. They normally aren't motivated by hot prices around Christmas time.

A relevant Christmas email for this group needs to be delivered long before the standard Christmas shopping period. Send them customized "first minute" offers or encourage them with bonuses for shopping by a certain date.

Rush-Time Shoppers

Most shoppers (almost 40% according to NRF) go with the flow - starting the search for gifts in November and continuing during the first two weeks of December (16%). They often go for discounts, deals and extra bonuses. They also jump at special offers such as those on Free Shipping Day. They don't mind joining the Christmas shopping spree as long as they can benefit and buy cheaper. They haven't finalized their shopping list, so they can be inspired by ads and marketing offers.

Because they're the largest group, they're also your largest revenue source, so address them with email offers when they are actively searching for gifts. They'll welcome tips, gift sets, and Christmas guides, as well as limited offers and price bonuses, such as: 2 for the price of 1; buy 2 get 3rd free, etc.

Last-Minute Shoppers

They procrastinate until the last minute, e.g. Christmas Eve. They do that for one of two reasons: genuine lack of time or an intentional strategy to wait for last-minute deals. They don't have a shopping list, so they can be motivated by discounts and special offers. When planning content to get their attention, try time countdowns, last-minute discounts and digital gifts.

When thinking about your campaign timing, remember that it should go beyond Christmas - at least to New Year's Eve. December 27 is the beginning of an after-Christmas sellout you don't want to miss. Remind your subscribers about it on the day after Christmas.

Additional Tools

According to DMA email ROI can reach 4000%. This means that you can get $40 for every dollar spent on your email marketing campaign. The best results can be achieved when email is one component of a multichannel campaign that includes PR, social media, and other marketing tools. These actions should complement each other to optimize campaign performance.

To make sure your plan gets done, put all your marketing actions on a timeline. This helps you visualize the sequence, so you can spot and eliminate overlaps.

Use apps and programs to automate some of your communications, e.g. pre-scheduled newsletters, action trigger emails, social media announcements, etc.

Less Is Better

1 newsletter = 1 product the less is better rule

Michigan University professor Don Conlon proves that when a customer receives a ready-made product offer, he's more apt to purchase than when he has to search for the product. If your business has many products, you might want to segment them into customized chunks to increase the relevancy of your offer. Remember: an offer for everybody is an offer for nobody.

When you create your offer, stick to the following rule: one dominant product and a maximum of three side products, thus taking up much less newsletter space.

You can further narrow the market groups by analyzing clicks then send offers that are even more customized.

Regular Communication

Email marketing is best used for building lasting customer relationships, so sending one email offer per year in the hot holiday season won't help you much. Your marketing activities should be regular, systematic and coherent year-round and only slightly intensified during the Christmas season. But if you're starting your email marketing program with a Christmas campaign, email frequency should be higher than normal to help with brand recognition.

Focus on Benefits

At Christmas time, luck is on your side, as most subscribers are glad to see money-saving gift ideas. However, that doesn't mean they'll wait for your offer. You're competing for attention not just with companies in your niche but with companies in all industries. So your newsletter needs to be unique, starting with the subject line. Follow this outline:

  • Benefit - Address the what's in it for me factor: save money, receive a bonus, be first to get it, etc.
  • Clarity - Make the subject line clear and simple,
  • Unique - Make sure your offer is different from others,
  • Exclusive - Make subscribers feel that the offer is especially for them.

Take a look at the inbox examples to get inspired:

  • Get In The Holiday Spirit With Free Shipping.
  • Get a Headstart on Gifts!
  • Embrace Your Inner Elf.
  • Holiday Classic!
  • Happy Holidays (and Something Special for You)
  • Santa's Sleigh Is Filled with SAVINGS.
  • Light Up their Christmas with a Little Luxury!
  • On the 14th Day before Christmas, Land's End Gave Me... 40% Off Any Item

Test Before You Send

One of the biggest challenges of the Christmas promotion is that it's time-limited - only a few weeks. This means that if you make a mistake or faux pas, there's no time to clean up the spilled milk. The loss might impact your results severely.

To make sure your message is perfect, try split testing. Also called A/B testing, it lets you test any element of your campaign to find out which variant produces the best results. Consider testing these elements:

  • Subject line
  • From field
  • Pre-header and header
  • CTA (color, position, size, etc.)
  • Images (position, size, links, etc.)
  • Text (content, length, font, layout)

How does split testing work? Create two versions of the same message and send each to 10% of your list. Then check the engagement results (open ratio or clicks) and send the winning version to the remaining 80% of your list.

Note: if the difference in results is small, it means it won't affect the overall results very much.

If Necessary, Change Your Course of Action

Monitor campaign metrics continually, and if the results don't meet your expectations, change your strategy before all is lost.

  • Change the offer - different bonuses, or discounts
  • Test other message variants
  • Reach out to a different audience segment
  • Integrate more marketing channels

Calculate whether the new plan will be profitable. If the cost is greater than the expected results - don't be afraid to let it go and use the lesson you've learned in next year's campaigns.

Use Christmas Offers to Build Your List

At Christmastime, customers pay attention to offers they'd otherwise ignore. So seize the moment and get them to sign-up for your newsletter offer. This helps you gradually increase the longterm effectiveness of your ongoing campaigns.

Your sign-up form should be everywhere your customers visit, including home page, social media sites, and company blog. Don't forget about offline places where you can get more subscribers - provide a paper sign-up form in your store at checkout.

The list you create can be used year-round to build customer-brand relations, and you can also use it next Christmas.

Remember the Basics

While planning a holiday promo campaign don't forget about the basic tools and best practices that are the keys to effective email marketing:

Follow-up emails
Follow-ups are newsletters sent in a series via autoresponder to a defined group of subscribers at a defined date and time. This is a great way to build longterm relationships with customers.
Confrmed opt-in
In this subscription model, the subscriber receives a message at the email address he gave at sign-up. The email contains a confirmation link the new subscriber must click. The subsciber's email address is added to the list only after the link is clicked.

Note: Email marketing is a form of permission-based marketing, meaning that the sign-up process is based on expressed consent and confirmed by the subscriber.

From field
Recipients are wary of messages from people they don't know. That's why an appropriate email address in the From field is so important, as it identifies the sender. We recommend including the name of the company or product that the message is related to.

Structure of a Holiday Newsletter

How does a holiday promo newsletter differ from other newsletters sent during the year? Even a layman would say that the difference is surely in the images. Holiday campaigns tend to be filled with Santas, gifts, snowflakes and Christmas trees. These elements create the holiday spirit and help promote Christmas shopping.

But holiday graphics are not all. Other elements make navigation easier and help persuade recipients to shop:

  • Include a navigation bar in the email header, to group the products offered and help recipients find the category they're interested in.
  • In the email footer (in addition to unsubscribe link and sender details) provide information about estimated delivery time and free delivery options. You might include information about opening hours, especially if they change during the holidays. Provide detailed contact info for the Customer Service Department and let subscribers know they can contact you with questions and comments. If there's not room in the footer for all this, use the bottom of the newsletter, just above the footer,
  • If your store offers gift cards, make sure you mention them in your newsletter. It's a great way to attract the attention of those who are undecided about buying a product and need an easier option.

Segment Your List to Avoid Being Labelled a Spammer

Email frequency rises during the holiday season. Companies from almost every industry want to sell something or display their offer. A single company may send several emails in a day. No wonder subscribers start marking newsletters as spam.

So how do you get your message to them? In theory, it's simple: create an interesting offer. And this is where an important email marketing feature comes in - Segmentation. It helps you adjust your holiday offer to the needs and interests of a defined group of subscribers.

In the holiday season, you might especially need two types of segmentation:

Segmentation Based on Behavior

Group subscribers according to email-open and click-through rates: those who opened the emails but didn't click a link; those who clicked but didn't buy, or those who didn't click at all. Create a custom offer for each group.

Segmentation Based on Subscriber Data

Use subscriber data provided at sign-up or in surveys - gender, location, age, interest - to create tailored offers. Remember that at Christmas, men might be especially interested in products aimed at women.

Use last year's sales data - what customers bought during the last holiday season - and create a similar offer.

Remember the Pareto rule: 20% of your Customers generate 80% of your income. So present special holiday offer for your loyal customers! They'll feel appreciated for buying frequently.

Time-Limited Offers

Create an offer that is valid "Today only" or "Only for X more days." These encourage subscribers to make a quick shopping decision - especially if the offer is really attractive. Consider two types of emails:

  • 24-hour offer with a huge discount or an attractive bonus that is valid only for one day, so the recipient will have to make an instant decision. If the offer is really attractive, it's possible a lot of them will make that purchase.
  • An offer valid for several days. Structure it as an offer that is valid for 3 days, with 3 email messages, each counting-down to the end of the promotion.

Tip: The subject line for a time-limited offer should contain key information: the duration of the offer and why it's attractive.

Example subject lines:

  • 40% OFF Everything - Valid Today Only w Buy 2 Get the 3rd One Free - Last Day w 3- Day Special Holiday Promo!
  • Two Days Left for 30% Discount on Christmas Decorations

Mobile Newsletter Version

Our latest research shows that smartphones are used most often (apart from calling) to check email (18.3%). The holiday season only increases this trend, and many subscribers browse their inboxes while shopping, waiting in line or in a weekend trafiic jam on the way to a crowded shopping mall.
So creating a mobile version of newsletters is definitely something to consider.

When creating a newsletter for mobile devices, pay attention to the number of words, size and images used:

  • Don't include more than 1 or 2 call-to-action buttons
  • Reduce the size of the email to 20 kB max
  • Limit the subject line to 60 characters or fewer

Don't forget that when reading email on a mobile device, subscribers use their finger instead of a mouse, so the navigation should differ from traditional email:

  • Make sure your email is no wider than 640 pixels. The average width of a smartphone display is 320 to 480 pixels.
  • Clickable icons should be 29x44 pixels or larger.
  • Keep headline font at 30 points minimum.

Don't Forget about Christmas Wishes!

Our research shows that email is the preferred way to wish customers and business partners a Merry Christmas.

Christmas wishes should come at the end of your holiday campaign message cycle - around December 22-24.

In addition, you should also thank subscribers for being part of your company. You could even offer a special gift or promo code they can use in the New Year.

Tip: For holiday wishes, choose graphics that create feelings of warmth and safety.

Remind Subscribers about Post-Holiday Promos

Christmas doesn't mean the end of the battle for Customer attention. After Christmas is the time for a second round.

Post-holiday campaigns should also be included in your overall holiday campaign strategy. They can use the pattern of the holiday promo and be based on sales and discounts. But use a completely new narrative to help engage recipients, e.g. Not happy with your Christmas presents? Pick out something you like.

Landing-Page

A landing page - sometimes called a squeeze page, microsite, micropage or product site - is the page your recipients see when they click a link in your newsletter.

It can be a separate site, a microsite or part of a larger website that is related to a particular promo, or e.g. a special offer for an individual segment of subscribers.

A landing page is a logical extension of the information contained in a newsletter. Take extra care to make the email and the landing page similar in design, so subscribers know they reached the right destination.

The main goal of a landing page is to increase conversions. It encourages readers to take several basic actions:

  • Start the buying process
  • Submit contact details
  • Register for an event
  • Share the offer with friends
  • Build brand loyalty
  • Gather additional subscriber data

Tip: GetResponse is just about to launch brand-new Landing Page Creator, which will enable you to create your own microsite with a few clicks. More information available here.

SUBJECTIVE REVIEW OF EMAIL CAMPAIGNS

Discount

The easiest and most common concept for an email campaign is the holiday discount. If you decide to use a discount code, remember to make it easy to copy or download. If your customers have to memorize or type the code, it could discourage them from buying.

Christmas Discounts 2011
Get Christmas sorted early with 25% off* and Free Delivery
Subject: Holiday Sneak Peak - Save Up to 50% on Books, Toys & More

Bonuses

Attract the buyer's attention by offering a gift with purchase, e.g. 3-for-2, a small bonus, or gift-wrapping.

Subject: Holiday Retail Therapy Is On! Free Treats With Purchases
Lomography.com gives you freebies with every purchase; (the more you spend, the more freebies you get). The service also reminds subscribers of the upcoming holiday season with a special gift guide and an offer for a gift voucher.
Subject: FREE DELIVERY + gift with purchase

FREE SHIPPING

During the holiday season, buyers are often busy and don't have time to shop. That's why attractive online offers with free shipping might do the trick.

Tip: December 17 is Free Shipping Day!

It's also worth reminding your Customers not to wait too long to place their orders to arrive in time for Christmas.

Subject: Here for the Holidays - FREE SHIPPING and new Wedges!
Subject: Last chance to get your goodies in time for Christmas.

CHRISTMAS CATALOGUES

One way to present holiday offers is to create special catalogues. Group the products in categories according to price or other criteria. Make your email design attractive enough to inspire readers to click and review the offer. Below are some examples that encourage subscribers to download their Christmas catalogue.

Subject: Discover our holiday gift guide
Subject: Discover our holiday gift guide
Subject: Discover great gift ideas and see our favorite party looks
Subject: A glimpse into the holidays
Tommy Hilfiger and Bumble&Bumble create special gift sections on their sites and invite visitors with attractive newsletter designs.

HOLIDAY NAVIGATION

Changing the navigation in the email is a simple and effective trick. Navigation can hint at where the reader should click, show promo dates or highlight special offers.

Subject: Up Your Gifting Game
Subject: Make an entrance with our party wear
Subject: FREE delivery worldwide! Shop gifts + our latest looks

LIMITED-TIME PROMOS

Holiday promotions are by nature time-limited, which motivates subscribers to buy. If you're planning a 24-hour promo, consider informing subscribers a few days before the actual date, so they won't be disappointed.
Using Today only ensourages the subscriber at least to open the email and check the offer.

Subject: TODAY ONLY! FLASH SALE! 40% OFF GREAT GIFTS
Subject: TODAY ONLY! FLASH SALE! 40% OFF GREAT GIFTS
Subject: TODAY ONLY! FLASH SALE! 40% OFF GREAT GIFTS

GIFT IDEAS

One of the ways to attract subscriber attention is to present gift ideas in an email. Add value with social proof, such as customer reviews.

Subject: Lots of gift ideas from United Colors of Benetton!
Subject: The best gifts are opened again and again and again.
Subject: Good Design makes for great gifts
Subject: Give accessories for Christmas! Discover the best gift ideas in the collection

VOUCHER

Another way to help with gift dilemmas is to offer shopping vouchers..

Subject: FREE next day delivery 9-5 today, plus cool Christmas gifts, edited.
Subject: Grab a pre-Christmas bargain!

HOLIDAY CARDS

Sending personalized holiday cards is a great way to improve your relations with your subscribers. The message should not be commercial - if you need to present an offer, make it the background.

Subject: Grab a pre-Christmas bargain!

IS THAT IT?

Don't forget to talk to your customers just after the holiday fever. Post-holiday sales are a perfect reason to ask and a perfect end for the year.

Subject: After Christmas Sale Ends Today! Save Up To 75%

Christmas Wish Templates

Ecommerce

The online world can seem a little impersonal at times. But during this Christmas season, as we pause to be with our loved ones, we count you among our friends and wish you the very best for a happy Christmas - from [company name].

Here at [company name], we're so glad you chose to be our customer. We appreciate your loyalty and hope to serve you for many years to come. May you and your family have a joyous Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Education

The learning community of [name of education organization] would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May peace and love fill your Christmas holiday, and may new and exciting opportunities come your way in the coming New Year.

In this season of joy and goodwill, we realize how fortunate we are to have you in our lives. Here at [name of education organization], we celebrate this Holiday Season with you and wish you good luck and great joy in the coming year.

Finance & Banking

At this time of fun and celebration, we are reminded of our greatest riches - good health, a happy family and valued friends. We want you to know that we at [company name] consider you a great friend and look forward to serving you in the New Year.

As we pause to enjoy the Holidays with our loved ones, we'd like to thank you for being part of the [name of business] family. We wish you a very Merry Christmas and look to forward to a New Year filled with hope and excitement.

Hotels & Restaurants

Time to celebrate! The holidays are best enjoyed with those we care about. At [name of business], we thank you for sharing your special moments of celebration with us. And in the coming New Year, may those moments be plentiful.

We and the entire staff of [name of business] would like to wish you and yours a joyous Christmas Season. We hope to see you often in the coming year and look forward to serving you.

Cars

'Tis the season for the joy and excitement of the Christmas Season. At [company name], we pause amid the holiday rush to wish you a truly joyous Christmas. Hope to see you soon in the New Year.

Your friends at [name of business] would like for you to know that you are in our thoughts during this season of joy and hope. May all your Christmas wishes come true. And may you be blessed in the New Year.

Real Estate

At [company name], we hope you'll be celebrating this joyous season with friends and family in your wonderful home. We're proud that you entrusted us with your home purchase and hope it brings you and your family much happiness in the New Year.

They say that home is where the heart is. At [company name], we're dedicated to the idea that a home is a very special place, and we hope you'll be with those who are special in your life this Christmas Season. Here's wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year.

IT/New Technology

At [company name], we're glad to be connected with you in a very special way throughout the year. And here's our holiday wish for you: may you have a very Merry Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year.

Ho-ho-ho and a Merry Christmas to you! At [company name], we hope all your Christmas wishes come true. Our wish for you and your family is that you have a very Happy New Year.

Sport

Family and friends are what this season is all about. The folks here at [organization name] hope your holidays are filled with good times and good cheer. May you have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

We'd like to pause just for a moment and offer you our best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Our family here at [organization name] hopes you and your family enjoy the Holiday Season, and we look forward to seeing you in the New Year.

Health & Beauty

At this time of the year, we turn to what is most important - friends, family, and good health. May all your Christmas wishes come true and your New Year be filled with happiness . . . from your friends at [business name].

Your friends at [business name] want you to know that you are in our thoughts. In this season of gift-giving, our wish for you is a beautiful Christmas season and a healthy and happy New Year.

Travel

In this special season, let the holiday Spirit spread throughout the world - a spirit of peace and love. Wherever life may take you in the New Year, know that your friends at [business name] wish you the very best.

Whether the weather outside your window is frightful or delightful, the folks at [business name] send you Holiday good wishes. Here's hoping your Holidays are filled with good cheer and your New Year with good fortune.

FMCG

At [business name], we consider it a privilege to serve you throughout the year. And at this special time, we'd like to take a moment thank you for making us part of your life. Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

We don't say it often enough, but we feel it every day. So during this Holiday Season, we want you to know that we consider you a member of the [business name] family and look forward to serving you in the New Year. Merry Christmas!

Fashion

Christmas is one of the most beautiful times of the year. Here's wishing you lots of Holiday cheer and family fun. Thanks for being part of the [business name] family, now and throughout the New Year.

As you enjoy Holiday frills and thrills, we want you to know that we value your friendship, during the Holidays and throughout the year. Best wishes for a joyous Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Got questions? Contact us:

Maciej Ossowski - Education Director
Maciej Ossowski
+48 784 639 386
Education Director
maciej.ossowski@getresponse.com