12 Tips for Holiday Email Marketing Success

a selection of wrapped gifts to denote holiday email marketing

The holiday season is the biggest time of year for most e-commerce brands, a time when a lot of companies take their books from the red to the black. With stakes that high, you need to be prepared to make the most of the season.  How? One word: email.

A recent holiday marketing survey of ecommerce businesses at or above $10 million in annual revenue rated email as both the number one and number two “very effective” channel for customer re-acquisition: (1) segmented email at 80.4% and (2) general emails at 74.5%.

In this post, we will cover 12 tips to help your business put together really effective email marketing that reaps the most from the holiday season.

Holiday marketing prep breaks down into 4 distinct phases, and I’ve broken out the 12 tips to align with these:

  • Planning
  • Building
  • Black Friday Cyber Monday (BFCM)
  • Post-BFCM


1. Document your plan of attack

The planning phase starts by looking at the next 3-4 months from a 30,000-foot view. Planning is often overlooked because we tend to jump into tactics and execution, getting lost in the trees without ever thinking about the forest. It is really important that you take the time to put together a comprehensive picture of your strategy. That means understanding what your goals are, how you think you are going to achieve them, what messages will speak to particular groups of people, and who those groups are.

Make sure you WRITE THIS DOWN! Your strategy will change with time (you should always be iterating)  but once you come up with a plan, make sure you stick to it and know exactly when things need to happen for you to be successful. This structure will help you get those thoughts onto paper.

2. Map & build out your segments

Targeted marketing is the name of the game. In a time when we have unparalleled access to data and insight about our customers, it is important to use that info to send your customers information that is relevant to them. Think about the different segments of your subscribers and start to piece together the messages that will speak to those groups and get them to engage with your emails, ultimately leading to more sales.

For example, which customers who are waiting for a WOW! moment from your brand? Who only purchases during the holiday seasons? Isolate those groups, speak to them about what they are looking for, and you will see an increased return. Mike, over at Taylor Stitch began segmenting his list and saw revenue per recipient skyrocket by 60%.

3. Design your discount strategy

Discounts are a tricky beast. They can be a great way to get someone in the door and engage with the brand for the first time, and also to win people back if they have fallen by the wayside. However, it doesn’t mean that everyone needs to get a discount. You will have groups of your customers who may respond really well to discounts and those who will purchase your product anyway.

In a business where margins can get thin, there is no need to discount those customers who are willing to pay full price or deeply discount those who don’t need it. Find out who those different customer groups are: your VIP customers, customers who only buy on a discount, etc. Then think through your message to each group and what discount will pack the most punch. You can use discounts to drive a purchase or to build relationship value, adding the feeling of exclusivity for a high-value segment of your customers. Try doing an early release to your VIP customers and your potential VIP customers with a targeted incentive.


4. Let your subscribers know what to expect

Surprises are cool; I personally enjoy a great surprise. That being said, don’t show up in front of your customers on BFCM with unannounced deals and expect great returns. To give some perspective, Klaviyo customers sent almost 200 million emails between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. If you think about this from your customer’s perspective, it means that their inboxes are being flooded on those days and it can be really tough to sift through the noise.

There are two approaches you can take to prepare your customers for what to expect.

Announce a scheduled sale/offer. Pre-announcing a sale allows your customers/subscribers to prepare. A good example of this is Bird and Stone’s “cocktail hour”. For this event, they emailed customers a pre-announcement of a deeper discount during certain hours of a specific sales day, ensuring that people set their alarms for it and took advantage of the sales.

Build anticipation for an undefined big event. Blender’s Eyewear did a big announcement campaign, letting their customers know that something big was coming and that they needed to be checking their inboxes to know what it was. On BFCM, their customers were actively looking for their emails to find out what the deal was, giving the sale a day-of lift.

5. Align your email and social marketing

Multi-channel marketing is super important, especially during the holiday season. It rarely takes just one touchpoint to get a new or existing customer to buy and if it does, hold on to those people! For everyone else, you can combine your social ads and email marketing efforts to target existing subscribers. Some examples of segments you can target this way are product specific purchasers, holiday buyers, and VIP customers. As we mentioned in tip #2, targeted marketing is the name of the game so make sure that you are sending the right message to the right group.

Combining your social ads and email marketing should be an easy process, no matter what tech you’re using. Klaviyo lets you automate this process by allowing you to dynamically sync your segments directly into Facebook Audiences, making sure your audiences are always up to date. By targeting customers with a coordinated Facebook and email campaigns, Pair of Thieves saw its YoY revenue increase by 5x and reached a $1:$1.15 return on ad spend.

on left is email on right is corresponding Facebook ad

6. Ensure the first purchase is not the last

BFCM shoppers have a lower LTV than any other shopper during the year. So it’s really important to get as much out of these shoppers as you can while the shopping iron is still hot. This is your opportunity to use your customers’ behaviors on the day of to upsell and cross-sell them on items related to their initial purchase.

Do you have products that pair well together? Set up an autoresponder – or as well call it at Klaviyo, a flow – to cross-sell that item. Do you have small items that tend to sell quickly? Try setting up a fast-follow flow to promote those quick-sell items. An example of this is what Drew Sanocki calls a bounce-back email. A bounce-back email is an automated message that goes out shortly after someone makes a purchase, giving them an opportunity to add an additional item to their order within a limited time (i.e. within 12 hours of receiving the email). Although these offers may create challenging logistics for your inventory provider, they can drive up the average order value on these critical days.


7. Set your customers up for a great experience

I had the chance to speak at the recent San Francisco Klaviyo workshop where many of the attendees said that the BFCM weekend is their most insane and stressful time of the year. Don’t transfer your stress to your customers! Create clear communications that give them all the important information they need to have a great experience with your brand. Add a personal touch to the copy and images as well. By making this first brand experience positive, you start the relationship with your customer on a positive note and seed future sales.

There is fundamental information that each new customer needs to know when first engaging with your brand.  Tell them about your business and illuminate the difference between buying from you vs a big box retailer. Show them where to go if they have questions. Help them understand the process if they need to make a return. Explain how they can unlock other benefits with your company, like being part of a rewards program. A great example of this is The Elephant Pants’ welcome series which gives the recipient all of the information they need to know to have a great first (and following) customer experience and become part of the “Phamily”.

8. Don’t forget your email basics

Although it is important to engage and get in front of your subscribers during the holidays, it is equally important to make sure that you are keeping future deliverability in mind. A cornerstone of deliverability is how your recipients interact with the content that you are sending them – if they open or send to trash, if they click on links, etc. If most of your subscribers aren’t engaging with your emails, there’s a greater risk of your emails across the board going into the spam folder.

The best way to avoid this is to understand who is engaging with your content. The people who engage with your emails are the ones who are most likely to buy from you. Sending to the people who continuously don’t engage with your emails may provide a short-term lift if some of those people engage, but in the long run, will steadily push your emails out of the inbox. Moral of the story is to double down on those people who engage with what you are sending, not those people who don’t. For more on this and how inbox providers decide to send your content to the inbox or not, check out the our post and video on email deliverability.

9. Update your flows for the holidays

We tell customers that even though your automated emails are always running in the background, triggered by behaviors, they are not something you set and forget. This is especially important to remember during the holidays when you may have special messaging and offers.

For example, maybe you offer a 10% discount in your abandoned cart email and for BFCM, you are offering 25% off everything. If someone abandons their cart and gets the 10% off coupon, is that a coupon that can be added to the 25% off or so you choose which discount to use? Reduce potential confusion reviewing your flow content and making sure it works seamlessly with your holiday offers. An added benefit is you’ll also reduce your day to day workload because fewer people will write in with questions.


10. Remember the holidays don’t end with BFCM

BFCM is an event in itself. It is an absolute sprint for most companies, but the full race doesn’t end here because people’s wallets aren’t closing for the holidays. There are plenty of opportunities to engage your subscribers after the big event.

Sale extension and BFCM cart recovery. Build out a segment of your subscribers who showed strong buying signals during the weekend, but did not complete a purchase. Extending a sale or incentive to those folks may be just what’s needed to push them across the line.

Gift promotions. Promote the products that people purchased as future gifts for their friends and relatives. If you can collect information about who someone is buying for when they purchase from you, it can help you tailor future communications. For example, I once bought a wallet for myself from NOMATIC and loved it so much that I bought the same wallet for each of my brothers. There is a great opportunity to prompt people like me to share the love and pass on your products to their network if you know who they’re buying for. Try asking your customers in a post-purchase sequence who the product is for and split their journey in the post-purchase flow based on their response.

11. Give people a reason to hear from you

The first purchase someone makes with your brand is the most the most expensive for you, meaning that the customer acquisition cost (CAC) is at its highest. This is why it’s so important to get your customers accustomed to hearing from you through email. A common mindset is to use BFCM as a time to focus on customer acquisition, leaving the nurturing piece to later once the season has passed. This can result in months going by without your new customers hearing from you, weakening the relationship and making those customers less “sticky” than they might be.

Consider what you can offer them between their first purchase and the end of the holiday season. Do you have a rewards program you can get them in? Is there interesting content that is relevant to their purchase? Are there intangibles that are helpful for the customer to know about your brand, like a charity aspect or unique selling point? Communicate these things to your new customers to turn them into brand loyalists.

12. Review what you learned

It is really important to reflect back on what you did this year and understand how well it worked. Find a baseline from the year before that you want to compare against. If you don’t have one, creating a baseline for next year is a great place to start.

Get granular when you’re evaluating your performance. Look into segments that responded well to certain messages, or segments that didn’t. Was there a tactic that you thought was going to be a slam dunk and it tanked, or a tweak that caused a significant revenue spike?

Make sure you write down these findings. A year is a long time, and without written notes, it can be difficult to remember the details next year. Save segments and email templates that worked well in a BFCM folder so you can review and/or reuse them next year.

Use your data to understand performance. Some success metrics you can look at are open rate, click through rate, total sales, and revenue per recipient (RPR). Revenue per recipient is a really important number to take into consideration. It tells you exactly how effective each one of your emails was, and if it was something that should be replicated. At the end of the day, the higher your RPR, the more each member of your list is worth.

Put it all together for the holiday season

At the end of the day, finding success in your email marketing this season requires careful planning, timed execution, and an understanding of what success looks like for you. Remember that the better the relationship you have with your customers, the better customers they will be for you. Understanding what they do and don’t care about will help you to personalize the experience for each one of your subscribers and see higher returns from them.

For more holiday marketing advice, check out more of our blog as well as the BFCM and holiday-focused presentations from the San Francisco Klaviyo Workshop.

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