During the last few months of the year, we tend to burn the candle at both ends. We’re juggling Christmas shopping, family in town, end of year revenue goals, and email campaigns that need to perform well. That’s a lot of pressure for just a few months. 

While we can’t help with the holiday shopping (unless your S.O. wants a super cool email provider 😉), we can help you get your ducks in a row for your holiday email campaigns. This post outlines what you need to do before, during, and after the holidays so that you can have a successful holiday email program that will carry you into the new year. 

Here’s a preview of the different sections. Jump into any of the sections for advice on the given topic. 

  1. Prepare for the holidays
        1. List hygiene
        2. Preference center updates
        3. Personalize
        4. Holiday templates
  2. During the holidays
        1. Testing
        2. Frequency
        3. Email Examples
  3. Post-holidays
        1. Manage post-holiday churn
  4. TLDR

H2

Preparing for holiday sending

Before you get started with your holiday email campaigns, prepare your email program for an influx in sending. This means cleaning out your list, freshening up your templates, and segmenting your lists with plenty of time to test out any kinks before the big holiday bonanza.

Email list hygiene

A surefire way of preventing your emails from being delivered is to send to an unkempt list. Sending to old email addresses or addresses that haven’t engaged with your email recently increases the likelihood of landing in spam traps and increasing your spam complaint rate.

Inbox providers process these negative signals and can decide to filter your emails more heavily or block your emails entirely.

If these signals occur enough, your IP or email domain may even become blacklisted.

These are all very expensive problems to have during this important sending season.

Ensure that the recipients you are sending to are the ones who are opening and clicking your messages. We suggest never sending to an email address that has not opened or clicked a message of yours in the past 6 months. Quite often, it is best to only send to addresses that have positively engaged in the last 3 months.

If you must send to less engaged emails, do so at a reduced frequency and consider segmenting those sends to a different IP group and subdomain/domain combination than your engaged recipients.

Preference center updates

Exhausting your customers with too many holiday emails is never worth it, but a safe way to increase your sending volume (assuming you have more valuable content to share!) without losing people who dislike the increase in communication is to update your preference center with an option to down-subscribe.

Include an additional check box on your unsubscribe or email preference center page that allows users to opt-out of your holiday mail altogether. When email subscribers choose this option, you’ll add them to your suppression list (a list of contacts that you don’t send to) until January rolls around. Then, after the holiday dust settles you can add them back into your regular sending list.

In addition to a down-subscribe, you can also keep traditional down-subscribe options to reduce communication frequency. For example, if you’re sending a daily update, give users an option to choose a weekly digest instead. Your preference center is a win-win because it puts communication frequency in your subscribers’ hands while you still get to send them mail.

Personalize 

Getting recipients to open the message is only half the battle for retailers. The other half is convincing your recipients to take action. 

One of the most effective methods of engaging recipients is through personalization. Customize the content of your message to reference a customer’s location, what they previously purchased, or their current plan type. To craft personalized emails, you’ll need to segment your list according to your available data. This does require legwork prior to your holiday sending, so start early to discover any quirks in your segmented lists.

VIPs

While all of your subscribers are important, there is likely a portion of your list that is more engaged with your emails than others. Consider segmenting these VIP subscribers who have, for example, opened more than 10 messages in the past 30 days (or a higher than average percentage of your overall email sends). 

You can then send your most engaged users holiday emails a couple of hours prior to sending to the remainder of your list. 

Holiday templates

While it’s a great idea to spruce up your holiday sending with fun, holiday-themed templates, test out any changes or new templates before the holiday season begins. If your template does not render correctly across inboxes or devices, you risk losing the confidence and interest of your recipients. 

For pre-designed holiday templates that have already been tested across providers and devices (like the one to the left), explore our Email Template Gallery.

Prep is the hardest part

So much goes into preparing your email program for holiday sending, so let’s hammer home the point one more time: start early! This will give you the best shot at creating an engaging holiday email program. 

To find more info on holiday sending, listen to our webinar: Holiday Email: What to Know Before You Send. You’ll hear from our email marketing and email delivery experts about how to make your holiday email program a success.

An aside to email infrastructure

While the above is a great start from an email marketing standpoint, don’t forget about your email infrastructure.

If you’re just starting out your email program or are planning to send quite a bit more than average during the holiday season, it’s vital that your email infrastructure is ready to handle the increase in sending. 

This often involves warming up your IPs and completing your sender authentication. We won’t go into detail in this blog post on email infrastructure best practices (the post is long enough as is!), so check out the following resources for more information: 

The holidays have arrived!

At this point (early to mid November), your list should be pristine, your templates are ready to roll, and your segments are well-defined. But you know as well as I do that there’s still work to be done! You may not be able to make big changes, but you can certainly test small adjustments in your campaigns. You’ll also need to keep an eye on your metrics as well as frequency of your sends. 

Testing: Subject lines, CTAs, and sending times

Testing is what takes your email program to the next level. By sending out virtually the same email with one isolated variable changed, it allows you to directly attribute the greater success (or failure) of that email to that specific variable change. 

So what do you test? Say you’re interested in increasing your open rate. You could test your from address, your email subject line, or the pre-header, just to name a few. When you’re testing, it’s best to choose just one of these variables to test at a time. Otherwise, you won’t know which change you made had the most (or least) impact. Here are a few ideas:

For your holiday subject lines, consider testing:

  • Emojis vs. no emojis
  • Revealing the sale promo vs. keeping it a mystery
  • Using discounts vs. dollar amounts

When testing CTAs, play around with:

  • Bold colors vs. muted ones
  • Action-oriented copy
  • Buttons vs. links
  • The number of CTAs

Lastly, an important element you should consistently test is the time you send. Start with larger windows like morning vs. afternoon or afternoon vs. evening. Then narrow down the time frame till you find the sweet spot. 

We’ve also found it helpful to send at an “off” time. Most email marketers will choose to send their emails on the hour, 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 30 minutes after the hour, so sending at say, 10:37am, should help you avoid swamped servers and potential email delays. 

The possibilities for testing are endless, so don’t get overwhelmed. Remember that even though it will take you longer to test each variable one by one, it’s worth it in the long run. Your subscribers matter, and learning what they respond to best is just one way to show them you care.

Check out our guide on A/B testing for more detailed testing advice and tips. 

Frequency

Email is a communication tool often abused by senders around the holidays. What was typically a weekly newsletter can morph into multiple daily emails.

Yes, recipients will probably anticipate a slightly higher volume of emails hitting their inbox because the holidays are exciting and worthy of more communication. But, forgetting to honor email preferences is a quick way to turn any recipient into Scrooge with the spam button. 

Make sure your messages are valuable, timely, and are in line with the expectations you set during the rest of the year.

How do you know if you’re sending too much?

Your engagement metrics (opens, clicks, unsubscribes) are your window into your recipients’ inbox. Your subscribers’ engagement (or lack of engagement) tells you what kind of content they like to receive. If you see a steady decline in engagement after you increase your sending frequency, then you probably need to reel back your sending. 

With an increase in frequency, both your engagement rate and your unsubscribe rate are likely to worsen, but decide before you send what is too much. This number will depend on each email program as well as the goals for the campaign. But, having the number determined ahead of time will help quell any anxiety that comes up when you start to see lower engagement rates and higher unsubscribes. 

Holiday email marketing ideas

To inspire your holiday campaigns, we’ve included a couple examples that caught our eye and convinced us to take action. Think about how you can use similar concepts for your holiday email marketing campaigns.

Holiday gift guide

This email from Anthropologie promotes holiday offerings in a gift guide, suggesting different items for your family members. Sent at the end of October, the goal of this email is to get people thinking about their Christmas shopping list and to position Anthropologie as a great place to start your Christmas shopping.

A gift guide is an excellent strategy to help recipients discover what they need to purchase for their loved ones without feeling the overly sales-y push to buy.

 

 

A message from the founder

In the spirit of the holidays, take a step back from the rigmarole of holiday sales and send a simple, caring message from the CEO or founder.  

In this email from ThirdLove, the CEO stands out with a plain-text email that explains their initiative: for every bra purchased, ThirdLove will donate a bra to a victim of the California wildfires. 

A simple message from the CEO can also be used to express thanks to subscribers for making this year possible or to reflect on the year. 

The promo email

You’re in the thick of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, or Cyber Monday sales, and you want to make a splash. So you decide to write “Black Friday” in all caps with 5 exclamation points, and a few emojis at the end. That will get their attention, right? Nope! We’ve found that the emails that stand out the most are the ones that don’t include “Black Friday” in the subject line

This email from Nordstrom got my attention on Black Friday because it plainly shared the offer in the subject line, “Boots up to 60% off.” And when clicked on, it provided exactly what was promised. 

When you’re thinking about your Black Friday emails, keep it simple and straightforward.

For even more holiday email examples, check out our blog post, Email Marketing Tips From Holidays Past

You survived the holidays 

Phew! You made it through the holidays in one piece. The hard part is over and it’s time for you to cruise into the new year chock full of ambition and newfound motivation. Just a couple things to keep in mind as you start the new year and continue to monitor your email program.

Post holiday churn

A lot of people may sign up for your emails during the holiday season because they are shopping for their family or significant other, not because they are personally interested in your holiday offers.

This can lead to an increased rate of unsubscribes and spam complaints post-holiday season. 

To help you identify who may unsubscribe ahead of time, consider segmenting your list by signup date and/or source.

Segmenting allows you to quickly identify cohorts of your list that signed up during the holiday season.

You can then monitor the open rates and click rates for those holiday signups to identify any drops in engagement after the holidays are over.

Next, if you begin to see your engagement metrics drop after the holidays, or if spam complaints are increasing, consider:

  • Reducing your frequency to those subscribers
  • Sending a targeted series of campaigns that sells your value and re-establishes why they want to continue receiving your mail
  • Sending those subscribers a targeted campaign that asks them to take action, like click a link to continue receiving your emails–this can help eliminate those who are uninterested in your mail but not willing to take steps to opt out from your list
  • Establish a tighter sunset policy for those email addresses that suppresses them after 30-60 days of non-engagement

Want more information on what to do post-holidays? Read our blog post, Post Holiday Churn: How to Deal.

That’s a wrap

Let’s not kid ourselves—the holidays are a doozie. They’re fun and magical, but also super stressful and ridiculously busy. Use the guidelines above to help manage your holiday email campaign adventures without going gray in the process. 

If you were to take away anything from the guide, let it be these 3 things:

  1. Before the holidays: Clean out your list before you send for the holidays to protect your sending reputation and ensure your emails are delivered to the inbox.
  2. During the holidays: Do not go rogue with your email sending! It’s okay to send more emails during the holidays, but keep an eye on your engagement metrics to see how your recipients are handling the increased frequency.
  3. Post-holidays: Monitor the subscribers who signed up for your emails during the holiday season.

Looking for additional email marketing advice? Check out our guide, 24 Email Marketing Best Practice Tips for 2020, to learn everything you need (holiday and otherwise) for your email marketing program. 



SendGrid Team
Expert advice and insight about all things email including best practices tips, examples, and advice for marketers, developers, and everyone in between.